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The Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe

Updated on March 15, 2015

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most talented and influential writers in history. Poe’s life was filled with dark tragedy that would drive most people to insanity. He may have gone through bouts of insanity in his life but not without good reason. He had lost his wife, his career had been ruined at every turn, and he was an alcoholic. However this pain, suffering, and disparity is the main reason that he was able to write in the dark and superstitious way that he is so well known for today. Even though he would never have thought that it would be possible, he has created a legacy that has affected hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The tragic events in the life of Edgar Allan Poe influenced his writing and helped shape the works of later authors.

There were many tragedies in the life of Edgar Allan Poe. Many of Poe’s loved-ones died of tuberculosis. Poe’s mother died of tuberculosis, or as it was known at the time “consumption” while he was infant. His brother would later die of the same disease, deeply saddening Poe. The death that hurt Poe the most was the death of his wife Virginia. Her death traumatized Poe for the rest of his life, however, these tragic deaths would later lead to some of Poe’s finest literary works. An example would be from “Masque of The Read Death”. “And darkness and decay and the red death held illimitable dominion over all” (Poe 110). This quote is a reference to how Poe feels about the disease because so many of his loved ones were taken by the disease.

Throughout most of Poe’s life, he was an alcoholic. His life and career were ruined primarily because of his alcoholism. Poe was often hated by his colleagues and thought insane by them due to the fact that he was usually drunk around them. His alcoholism also affected his writing because of the fact that many publishers did not want to publish anything written by an alcoholic. Poe was, however, able to stay sober for certain lengths of time, such as during the heights of his career, but always went back to alcoholism.

During Poe’s career, he rarely made any money off of his literary works (Hockensmith Section 2). Many People did not see the genius behind Poe’s poems. Because of this he received little credit for his work and even less profit from them. His poem “The Raven” profited less than twenty dollars. His poems never made any large amounts of money until after his death. He was also in a great amount of debt for all his life due to his alcoholism. His lack of profit from his poems was a large cause for the death of his wife because he was unable to afford a doctor.

Because of Poe’s alcoholism, he was never able to keep a steady job (Meyers 245). Many of the people Poe had worked with in his life disliked him due to his terribly rude behavior. This behavior was not uncommon for Poe, he often spent much time in bars. This had pushed many of his friends and family away, making him estranged to those close to him. “But his habit of throwing drinks down his throat as fast as he could made him an ugly and abusive alcoholic-until he passed out” (Meyers 245). Poe had several jobs working for newspapers, however, he would always be fired due to his behavior and lateness to work because of his alcoholism. Many publishers refused to work with Poe due to his rude behavior that he always had because he was usually drunk. Because of Poe’s inability to keep a job he rarely made any money. This forced him to borrow money from whatever friends he had at the time. Because Poe never had much money, he was never able to afford a doctor to help treat his wife in someway.

Poe’s tragedies were the basis of many of His literary works. Many of His poems were influenced by the death of his wife. The death of Virginia was soul-shattering to Poe. This event in his life caused him to pour the majority of his time into his writing. Poe’s literary works were often filled with allegories of terrible tragedies that occurred in his life, the primary subjects of these allegorical writings were those of the death of his wife and the disease that killed her.

A notable use of his wife in his stories would be from “Annabelle Lee”, the story is about a man who loses his wife and is forever mournful of her. “That the wind came out of the cloud, chilling and killing my Annabel Lee” (Poe 533).

He also felt that he would never find happiness after the death of his wife “And my soul from out that shadow lies floating on the floor shall be lifted-nevermore” (Poe 519)! Poe used his wife’s death as way to pour out his feelings, not to achieve literary success.

Some of Poe’s characters dealt with alcoholism, much like he did. An example would be the main character from “The Black Cat”, who becomes an alcoholic, pokes his cat’s eye out, and becomes insane and kills his wife. “But my disease grew upon me-for what disease is like alcohol!” (Poe 130) There are also many allusions to the effects of alcohol in Poe’s stories. In “The Tell-Tale Heart”, The character has a great obsession and goes insane because of this, and kills a man. Poe’s alcoholism greatly influenced his literary works and is one of the reasons that his writing was so good. It added to the terrible tragedies he had experienced and gave him insight into the darkness in the world, which had never been written about at the time.
Poe’s powerful writing later influenced many great authors. He created several fictional genres, that later authors would write (Meyers 280). Poe created the horror genre with stories such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat”. He also created science-fiction stories like “Eureka”, which would heavily influence authors such as H. G. Wells in the creation of his famous novel “War of The Worlds” (Meyers 280). Bram Stoker, writer of the famous novel “Dracula”, was also influenced by Poe’s horror stories. He revolutionized the detective story by adding the puzzle element that is now so famous in the Sherlock Holmes stories. The most notable author to be influenced by Poe would be Stephen King.

King read many of Poe’s stories during his teenage years and commends Poe for giving him influence on what to write (Hockensmith Section 1). Poe has created great influence and inspiration to authors, years after his death.

Poe is continually praised by authors today, which is shown by the Edgar Allan Poe award. The Edgar Allan Poe award is an award for the best mystery writer of the year.

Many writers today consider Edgar Allan Poe to be the greatest mystery writer. The award is also partially used as a show of appreciation to the literary work that Edgar Allan Poe contributed. His many great literary works are the reason why many would consider him to be the best mystery and horror writer in history.

Joseph Conrad’s life and writing were heavily impacted by Poe (Meyers 292). Conrad thought of Poe as being someone just like himself; both of their literary works were undermined during their careers, and they also both wrote dark stories (Meyers 292). Both writers tried to commit suicide because of their tragic lives, however, the attempts had been intervened and were unsuccessful. He greatly respected Poe for his ability to write in the way he did, and do it so successfully (Meyers 292). Conrad once attempted to create a mysterious, supernatural story, much like Poe had written (Meyers 292). The story was a complete failure (Meyers 292). After writing the story, Conrad realized the difficulty that Poe had when creating these types of stories.

He was also fascinated by Poe’s dark view of humans in his literary works (Meyers 292). This is the reason why Conrad attempted to portray the characters in “Heart of Darkness” as cruel and terrible people. Joseph Conrad is the one writer who possibly gained the most influence from Poe’s literary work. Later in Conrad’s life he became more depressed and saddened than Poe had ever been (Meyers 292). He saw life as being a terrible misery and pain (Meyers 292).

Conrad and many other authors have made their reputation off of using the very same writing style that Poe first invented, using the dark and sad stories that happen in the sinful world we live in. Conrad’s attempt to follow Poe’s unique writing style of darkness and disparity is the primary reason that he has achieved the critical acclaim that he has today.

Some literary character creations were influenced by characters created by Poe.

Many famous writers in history have thought it has been necessary to show their appreciation of Poe’s work in one form or another. The most notable character would be Sherlock Holmes. In one of Sherlock Holmes’ stories, Watson suggests that Sherlock Holmes is much like Auguste Dupin, a main character in many of Poe’s detective stories (Hockensmith Section 2). Holmes, however, states that he is exceptionally more brilliant than Dupin (Hockensmith Section 2). This is thought to be a show of appreciation for Poe’s work in detective fiction. Poe’s work, has been one of the primary causes for the great novels and stories that we have today and will continue to be for years to come. Without characters that Poe created there may never have even been a Sherlock Holmes.

Poe’s passion for writing helped revolutionize literature in a way that no other writer has ever been able. He lost everything that he had, his family, his reputation, and his loved-ones. However unlike most people, he chose to use this pain to fuel his writing and create something truly amazing out of his pain. Sadly Poe was never given the appreciation that he deserved at the time, had he been given this appreciation he may never have created the powerful and moving stories that are so loved today. Poe had pushed the envelope beyond anything that had been seen before, showing tremendous heartache and pain through his writing to create great stories that would be loved for years to come. Poe has created a legacy that continues to affect writers to this day and beyond.


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