If you are a fan of horror and mystery, you probably know the name Edgar Allan Poe. He is one of the most influential and celebrated writers of the 19th century, and his works have inspired countless adaptations, parodies, and references in popular culture.
But how much do you really know about the man behind the macabre stories and poems? Here are some surprising facts about Edgar Allan Poe that will make you appreciate his genius even more;
1 – He was born as Edgar Poe, not Edgar Allan Poe. His middle name came from his foster parents, John and Frances Allan, who took him in after his biological parents died when he was very young. He never formally adopted the name Allan, but used it as part of his pen name.
2 – He was a champion swimmer. He once swam seven miles upstream in the James River in Virginia, setting a local record. He was also good at boxing, rowing, and long jumping. He was not the moody and reclusive figure that many people imagine him to be.
3 – He dropped out of college and the military academy. He enrolled in the University of Virginia, but had to leave after a year because of his gambling debts and his foster father’s refusal to support him financially. He then joined the army under a false name and age, and rose to the rank of sergeant major. He later entered West Point, but deliberately got himself expelled after a year to pursue his writing career.
4 – He published his first book at 18. It was a collection of poems titled Tamerlane and Other Poems, and he used the pseudonym “a Bostonian”. The book was not a success, and only 12 copies are known to exist today. It is considered one of the rarest books in American literature.
5 – He had a potentially bright military future. Despite his rebellious attitude and his dismissal from West Point, he impressed his superiors with his intelligence and skills. He was offered a commission as an officer in the army, but he declined it to focus on his writing. He also received a letter of recommendation from the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun.
6 – He married his 13-year-old cousin. His wife was Virginia Clemm, who was his first cousin once removed. They lied about her age on their marriage certificate, claiming that she was 21. They had a close and loving relationship, but she died of tuberculosis after 11 years of marriage. Poe was devastated by her death, and it influenced many of his later works.
7 – He was one of the first writers to make writing a full-time profession. He did not have any other source of income besides his writing, which was very rare at that time. He struggled with poverty and debt throughout his life, and often had to move from one city to another to find work. He also campaigned for better pay and rights for writers in America.
8 – He wrote more than just horror stories. He is best known for his tales of terror and mystery, such as The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Murders in the Rue Morgue. But he also wrote stories that explored science fiction, fantasy, humour, satire, and romance. Some of his lesser-known works include The Balloon-Hoax, The Gold-Bug, The Purloined Letter, and Eureka.
9 – He invented the detective story genre. He is widely regarded as the father of detective fiction, as he created the first fictional detective character, C. Auguste Dupin, who appeared in three of his stories: The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, and The Purloined Letter. He also established many of the conventions and elements that are still used in detective stories today, such as the locked-room mystery, the red herring, the sidekick narrator, and the deductive reasoning method.
10 – He was nicknamed “Tomahawk” for his harsh criticism. He worked as an editor and critic for various magazines and newspapers, and he did not hesitate to express his opinions on other writers’ works. He often attacked them with sarcasm and ridicule, earning him many enemies and rivals in the literary world. Some of his targets included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Rufus Wilmot Griswold, James Fenimore Cooper
Well, there we have it. Hopefully at least one of these facts will surprise you. If so, let us know which one(s) in the comments below. If you know of any more surprising facts about Poe you can also leave a comment all about it.
© Colin Lawson Books