Edgar Allan Poe Had An Early Life As Filled With Misfortune As The Stories In His Writings

(Original daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe taken by Edwin H. Manchester, on the morning of November 9th, 1848, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)


Few authors have mastered channeling the dark, eerie and macabre nature of the world like the great poet and author, Edgar Allan Poe. Even in his earliest years, Poe was intimately aware of the frustrations and burdens that can plague a life cursed with misfortune.

Elizabeth Arnold Poe gave birth to Edgar in 1809, in the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Elizabeth was an actress from Britain working in the United States, and her husband, David Poe Jr., also worked in the acting business in Boston. David and Elizabeth Poe, however, did not raise their son for long. Unfortunately, David Poe abandoned the family shortly after the birth of his son, and Elizabeth Poe died in 1811, when Edgar Allan Poe was only three years old. When he grew up he had little, if any, memories of his real parents.

With no immediate family able to take care of him, Edgar Allan Poe was taken in by the Allan family in Richmond Virginia as a foster son. Edgar’s relationship with his new foster father, John Allan, was rarely, if ever, stable or friendly. Mr. Allan wanted his foster son to be a businessman, but Poe stubbornly strived to be a poet and a writer. John Allan never adopted his foster son and would continue to have a tense relationship with Poe for the rest of his life.

When Edgar Allan Poe reached his mid-to-late teens, his life began to look up. Yet, in keeping with his mystique, soon most of his ambitions and ventures came crashing down on top of him. Between 1825 and 1826, he left home to attend the University of Virginia, leaving a fiancé or sweetheart named Sarah Elmira Royster to wait for him as he completed his education. Poe’s foster father, John Allan, however, did not provide his ward with enough money to pay his foster son’s tuition and living expenses. To make up the difference, Poe turned to gambling. Unfortunately, this only made him fall into debt. In less than a year, Poe was dismissed from the University of Virginia for lack of funds. If that was not bad enough, another sad surprise was waiting for Poe back in Richmond. Sarah Royster had become engaged to another man during his absence.

With little family support and no relationship tying him to Richmond, Edgar Allan Poe headed to the city of Boston and eventually joined the United States Army in 1827. He spent the next few years in the military, estranged from his foster-family. Yet, when his foster mother, Frances Allan, fell seriously ill with tuberculosis in 1829, Poe quickly traveled back to Richmond, Virginia. Unfortunately, she died before he arrived home. With the death of Frances, John Allan and Poe tried to mend their broken relationship. That same year, in 1829, Edgar Allan Poe received an honorable discharge from the military at the rank of regimental sergeant major. Soon after, John Allan helped his foster son gain attendance to the prestigious U. S. Military Academy at West Point.

Yet, the weak façade of a good relationship between Allan and Poe quickly shattered with time. Edgar Allan Poe was eventually dismissed from West Point for ignoring his duties. The cause remains unclear, but it resulted either from John Allan ending the funds for his foster son’s education or Poe intentionally seeking dismissal to anger his foster father. Another theory is that the former incident caused the latter.

With no family support and no major income coming from his two published poetry books, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827) and Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829), Edgar Allan Poe wandered the east coast, trying to find a way to get by. His life would only begin to turn around when he settled down with his aunt, Maria Clemm, from 1831-1835. There, he began to increase his reputation as a writer and met his wife, Virginia Clemm, whom he married in 1836. Yet, despite periods of success and happiness, he unfortunately continued to struggle for the rest of his life.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.


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