January 19, 1809: Edgar Allan Poe is born.

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to an actor and actress, who named their son after a character from William Shakespeare’s King Lear. In 1827, Poe (by then a private in the U.S. Army) released his first book, which was published anonymously (he was credited as “a Bostonian”) and received virtually no attention from the public. He published a third book after being court-martialed and kicked out of West Point, after which he attempted to make a living off writing - which did not quite work out for him, thanks to a lack of international copyright laws and widespread economic strife; for much of his life, Poe, unable to make ends meet, lived in some state of destitution. In 1840 he published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, a collection of short stories that was unsuccessful both critically and commercially but includes “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “Ligeia”, and other relatively well-known works. Poe’s 1845 poem “The Raven” finally launched him to mainstream fame, although that was published under a pseudonym as well, and Poe only received $9 for its publication. In 1835, a twenty-six-year-old Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, who died just twelve years later, two years after “The Raven” was published. His wife’s failing health and eventual death may have inspired his various poems about women and death, most notably “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven” itself. 

Poe died delirious, poor, wearing clothes that were not his own, and of unknown causes. His legacy was further marred by Rufus Wilmot Griswold, a critic chosen to become Poe’s literary executor; Griswold’s first act of defamation against Poe was his writing an unpleasant obituary that claimed him a “genius” but characterized him as a man often struck by spells of “madness or melancholy”. Griswold’s influential portrayal of Poe as a passionate, enigmatic, and morally dissolute (even “evil”) man may have actually attracted readers to his work, which featured stories and characters possessing similar qualities. Whatever his life or personal character, Poe remains a key figure in the American Romantic and Gothic movements/subgenres, and he is often cited as having written some of the earliest modern detective novels. 

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