Considered by many to be the father of modern detective fiction, and the master of horrific literature, Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19th, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Best known for his unnerving poem, The Raven (1845), Poe’s dark style captured the imagination of readers around the world, reeling them in with his twisting of the everyday; often making normality macabre in the most unexpected ways.
His creative talents were influenced by his own life, which was steeped in tragedy. Poe never knew either of his parents. His father left the family when Edgar was very young, and his mother died when he was only three. Removed from his siblings, he was raised by a tobacco merchant, John Allan, and his wife Frances, in Richmond.
Poe and John never really got on, and with money tight, when it was time for Poe to go to university in 1826 John didn’t provide him with enough to cover costs. Soon in debt, Poe turned to gambling, but this only increased the problem, and so he returned home. Yet when he did so, further trouble befell him, as he found his fiancée had become engaged to someone else.
Poe’s first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, fuelled by his own personal disappointments, was published in 1827, followed by Al Aaraaf, Tamberlane, and Minor Poems in 1829. Joining the army in 1830, Poe did well for a while, but later he was kicked out of the West Point army training academy, and so turned to writing full time. In 1835, Poe went to work for a magazine called the Southern Literary Messenger, where he developed a reputation as a cut-throat critic. He also continued to publish his own works, including his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.
It was in the late 1830s, that the first truly chilling works of Poe were published, within Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, a collection which included The Fall of the House of Usher. Further, by 1841, Poe had initiated a new genre of detective fiction with The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
In 1843, Poe won a literary prize for the suspense tale The Gold Bug, but it was the publication of The Raven in 1845 which secured his place as a literary sensation.
Within The Raven, Poe explored the two common themes associated with his work; death and loss. Poe captured the very essence of morbidity and fear, with mysterious figures lurking in shadows, moonlit cemeteries, troubled souls, and the creepiness of crumbling buildings.
Despite extreme poverty, the death of his beloved wife, Virginia, rumours of mistresses, and his own poor health, Poe continued to write up until his death in 1849.
Poe’s unique way of shocking his reader’s makes his work is as compelling today as it was over a century ago, and has inspired many other ground breaking authors, including H P Lovecraft and James Herbert.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.