Reading Passage 3
The Life and Work of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe, one of the first prominent American authors, is perhaps best known today for his contribution to the short story form as well as his most famous poem, The Raven. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1809, Poe was the second child of two professional actors. In the second year of his life, 1811, the young Poe, his older brother Henry and younger sister Rosalie, found themselves orphaned following the death of their mother from tuberculosis, the family having been abandoned by Poe’s father a year earlier.
In 1811, Poe was adopted by the Allan family of Richmond, Virginia. Mainly as a result of financial pressures, Poe’s relationship with Frances and John Allan, his foster parents, was often tense. After completing secondary school, Poe attended the University of Virginia in 1826 at the age of seventeen. Despite excelling academically, notably in French and Latin, Poe quit university before completing his first year, after falling out with John Allan over the cost of his education and debts that he had accrued. In 1827 Poe moved to Boston and enlisted in the United States Army using a false name, publishing an anonymous collection of poetry entitled Tamerlane and Other Poems in the same year.
After two years of military service, during which time Poe rose to the rank of Sergeant Major, he was granted a discharge to enter the United States Military Academy at West Point as a cadet and further his education. During this time Poe clashed again with his foster father regarding financial support for his studies, and it is said that the young writer deliberately broke rules and neglected his duties while at West Point so that he would be dismissed. In 1831, Poe was court-martialed for disobedience, afterwards moving to New York City for a brief period. He had resolved to devote himself to his writing on a fulltime basis, publishing more poetry but having all of the short stories that he submitted to magazines rejected.
Towards the end of 1831, Poe left New York City and moved into the house of his aunt, Maria Clemm, in Baltimore, Maryland. He stayed in Baltimore for the best part of four years, writing and selling a number of both poems and short stories during this period. However, the young writer still struggled financially, in no small part as a result of the lack of international copyright laws at the time, meaning that the editors of literary magazines preferred to reprint British works rather than publish those of new American authors. One of the short stories that Poe wrote while living under his Aunt’s roof, The Manuscript Found in a Bottle, won a magazine contest, helping him to secure a position as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in 1835.
As editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, Virginia, Poe was instrumental in lifting the publication’s readership, raising circulation from fewer than 1000 to 3500 copies. During this time, Poe established his reputation as a literary critic and began to focus on writing prose, rather than poetry. He quit the paper in 1836, however, citing the low salary and lack of editorial control as the primary reasons. In the same year, Poe married a woman many years his junior, before returning to New York in 1837. Over the following decade, the writer held a number of editorial positions with various leading literary journals of the day in both New York and Philadelphia, including the Broadway Journal, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and Graham’s Magazine.
The year 1839 saw the publication of Poe’s first volume of short stories, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, although he received no payment for the work, and supplemented his income from editing jobs by giving lectures and public readings. Continuing to write in different forms throughout this period of his life and career, in 1841 the author published what is generally considered to be the first story in the genre of detective fiction, entitled The Murders in the Rue Morgue. The following year, Poe quit his editing job with Graham’s Magazine, planning to start his own publication, Stylus. Unfortunately, this venture was not successful. Poe attained further literary recognition in 1843, however, winning first prize in a competition for his story The Gold Bug, a tale heavily influenced by his interest in cryptography.
In spite of winning one hundred dollars in prize money for The Gold Bug, Poe was still struggling to support his family financially. However, in 1845 the publication of his poem The Raven, arguably the author’s single most widely recognized work, won him lasting fame. Poe became an almost overnight literary sensation in his home country, and The Raven played a significant role in securing his international reputation as a writer. The poem explores a number of the gothic themes common to Poe’s writing, including those of love, beauty, death and loss. While he was now a household name in the country of his birth, Poe continued to have difficulty in making ends meet, and was overcome by grief and sorrow following the death of his wife, Virginia, from tuberculosis in 1847.
After the loss of his wife, it is said that Poe’s behaviour became more erratic, and that his lifelong battle with depression worsened. He left the Bronx, in New York, where he and Virginia had been living and stayed in Rhode Island for a brief period, before returning to Richmond. The precise details surrounding Poe’s death and his final days are a matter of considerable debate. It has been reported that the author left Richmond by train on September 27, 1849, supposedly with the intention of travelling to Philadelphia for an editing job. However, for reasons unknown, Poe ended up in Baltimore, where he was found in the street on October 3, semiconscious and in a state of delirium. He was taken to the Washington Medical College and died four days later, on October 7, 1849.
While he was alive, Edgar Allan Poe was most widely recognized in the country of his birth as a literary critic and editor. At the same time, he was known as both a fiction writer and poet, and one of the first nineteenth century American authors to attain greater popularity in Europe than in the United States. Today, Poe is one of America’s most enduring writers, as well as being among the first to become a major figure in world literature. He is considered to be the originator of gothic fiction, as well as being a contributor to the development of science fiction and the modern short story form. The works of Edgar Allan Poe have inspired and influenced a host of other notable artists, writers and film directors, the likes of Salvador Dali, Charles Baudelaire and Alfred Hitchcock, to name but a few.
Reading Passage 3
You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 27 – 40 which are based on Reading Passage 3.