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About the Author
EDGAR ALLAN POE was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. Following the deaths of his actor-parents soon after his birth, Poe was informally adopted by a wealthy tobacco merchant, John Allan of Richmond, Virginia. Poe thus grew up in a prosperous household, with opportunities for travel abroad and education, but his relationship with his adoptive family was unstable. After being expelled from the University of Virginia and, later, from West Point, Poe was disowned by Allan in 1831.
Poe moved to Baltimore in the early 1830s to live with his paternal aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm; there he began his career as an editor and critic for various literary journals. These jobs were usually short lived, either because Poe soon quit or was fired for erratic behavior, possibly as the result of alcohol. He began to acquire a literary reputation, however, for his essays, tales, and poems, which appeared in various magazines. Poe's story "MS Found in a Bottle," which he had entered in a contest sponsored by the Saturday Visitor, won a prize of fifty dollars.
In 1836, Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, whose fragile beauty and early death in 1847 inspired the pale, moribund heroines of his fiction. It was during his marriage that Poe wrote his most famous stories and poems, including "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Gold Bug," and "The Raven." Poe's own premature end at the age of forty, on October 7, 1849, is traditionally ascribed to his dissolute ways, including heavy drinking and drug taking. However, a recent medical study of the events surrounding Poe's final days at Washington College Hospital in Baltimore attributes his death not to alcohol (to which Poe was extremely sensitive), but to encephalitic rabies. It is suggested, then, that the cause of Poe's death was either misunderstood or else deliberately falsified to make Poe an object lesson for the temperance movement of his day.
Though he was often maligned by his countrymen in his lifetime, after his death Poe's literary works, brilliantly imaginative, innovative, and often macabre, began to attract a wide readership abroad: He was enthusiastically taken up in France by Baudelaire and, later, the "decadent" and "symbolist" poets. And in England, Poe's ratiocinative character, Detective Auguste Dupin (of "The Purloined Letter" and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"), inspired Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Today Poe stands as the creator of detective fiction and the American Gothic tale. Despite lingering criticism, he is recognized as one of the greatest American writers of the nineteenth century.