Edgar Allan Poe and American Romanticism
Biography of Edgar Allan Poe - an American author, poet, considered part of the American Romantic Movement, one of the earliest practitioners of the short story Edgar Allan Poe`s figure in literature. American Romanticism in Edgar Allan Poe's "Ligeia".
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Biography of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe`s figure in literature
American Romanticism in Edgar Allan Poe's “Ligeia”
Biography of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most celebrated of all American authors. Heavily influenced by the German Romantic Ironists, Poe made his mark in Gothic fiction, especially through the tales of the macabre for which he is now so famous. Although he regarded himself primarily as a poet, he is one of the few indisputably great writers of the short story, alongside Guy de Maupassant and O. Henry. Besides redefining that form as a vehicle for literary art, Poe also contributed to the modern detective genre and wrote highly influential literary criticism.
Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809 to David Poe, Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins - both of whom died before their son was three. Young Edgar went to live in Richmond, Virginia with John Allan, a wealthy tradesman, while his older brother William Henry and his half-sister Rosalie were sent to other families.
The Allans regarded Edgar as a son and financed his private school education, but in Edgar's adolescent years, conflict arose between Edgar and his guardians over his literary ambitions. Poe enrolled in the University of Virginia but received very little financial support from John Allan, and was prevented from returning when Allan refused to help him with his hefty gambling debts. In 1827, Poe enlisted in the U.S. Army and rose in two years to the rank of sergeant major, but he chose to leave the Army with the understanding that he would enroll at West Point. Prior to enlisting, Poe had published a volume of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems. After his army time and while a student at West Point, he published a second volume: Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems, which critics favorably received. Physically weaker and older than most of his classmates, Poe felt out of place at the school, and he devoted much of his time to studying the Romantic poets such as Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. He played pranks involving bloody ganders posing as decapitated heads, and he was eventually dismissed in 1831.Poe followed up his previous publications with a third collection of poems, Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, while he moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt Maria Clemm and his nine-year-old cousin Virginia. In an attempt to remain afloat financially, he wrote prolifically and in 1832, five of Poe's short stories were published in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier. They were exclusively comic, satiric tales. Around this time, Poe discovered opium, soon to become a prominent feature of his life. In 1833, his tale of dread, "MS Found in a Bottle," won a $50 prize from the Baltimore Saturday Visitor. His exploration of horror fiction, which was to define Poe among future generations, thus began - and so, perhaps not coincidentally, began his lifelong dependency on drugs and alcohol.
Returning to Richmond in 1835, Poe began writing for the Southern Literary Messenger. He quickly began to garner a reputation with vitriolic reviews, essays on the theory of literature and literary criticism, and, of course, his short stories. One of his most famous reviews was a pan of Theodore S. Fay's novel Norman Leslie, with criticism so devastating it helped earn Poe the nickname "tomahawk man”. Later in the year, as he finally gained a grasp on his finances, Poe married Virginia Clemm (not yet fourteen at the time) and became an editor of the Messenger. In 1837 he resigned from the Messenger, which he had helped transform into one of the country's leading journals.
The next two and a half years were somewhat aimless, as he moved with his aunt and wife to New York City and Philadelphia while working various freelance jobs. During this time, he released more poems and short stories, including "Ligeia", a story about death and love, which he considered his finest tale. In July 1838, Harper's published his only novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, about the strange adventures of a young man on the South Sea. Despite these publications, however, Poe found that he could not successfully support his family.
In 1839, Poe became an associate editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in Philadelphia, for which he wrote "The Fall of the House of Usher" that year. In 1840, he published a collection of his short stories, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. Discharged from his job due to quarrels with William Burton, he served as editor of Graham's Magazine until 1842, where he wrote a number of works, including the groundbreaking story of "ratiocination" (reasoning), "The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Hard times followed and, barely managing to scrounge together carfare for his family, Poe moved to New York in 1844 to work for the New York Mirror.1845 finally saw Poe crowned as a literary sensation in his country, with the publication of his hugely popular poem "The Raven”. Tragedy, however, was just around the corner. While gossip surrounded his potentially adulterous relations with Frances Sargent Osgood, Virginia's health was rapidly decreasing due to tuberculosis, leading Poe to seek refuge in increased drinking. Although he briefly held a job with Godey's Lady Book, he was incapable of maintaining a steady job and could not afford enough food for his family.
Virginia died on January 30, 1847, causing the further deterioration of Poe's mental health. Poe's violent mood swings became common as drugs and alcohol wore away at his body and mind, although he continued to publish works such as Eureka. He made an attempt at rehabilitation, and he traveled to Richmond in 1849 to court a former friend, Mrs. Shelton. Unfortunately, soon after their engagement, Poe was found in a stupor on a Baltimore street and was taken to a nearby hospital. Four days later, on Sunday, October 7, he died at the age of 40.
Edgar Allan Poe`s figure in literature
Poe's stature as a major figure in world literature is primarily based on his ingenious and profound short stories, poems, and critical theories, which established a highly influential rationale for the short form in both poetry and fiction. Regarded in literary histories and handbooks as the architect of the modern short story, Poe was also the principal forerunner of the “art for art's sake” movement in nineteenth-century European literature. Whereas earlier critics predominantly concerned themselves with moral or ideological generalities, Poe focused his criticism on the specifics of style and construction that contributed to a work's effectiveness or failure. In his own work, he demonstrated a brilliant command of language and technique as well as an inspired and original imagination. Poe's poetry and short stories greatly influenced the French Symbolists of the late nineteenth century, who in turn altered the direction of modern literature. It is this philosophical and artistic transaction that accounts for much of Poe's importance in literary history.
Poe's father and mother were professional actors who at the time of his birth were members of a repertory company in Boston. Before Poe was three years old both of his parents died, and he was raised in the home of John Allan, a prosperous exporter from Richmond, Virginia, who never legally adopted his foster son. As a boy, Poe attended the best schools available, and was admitted to the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1825. While there he distinguished himself academically but was forced to leave after less than a year because of bad debts and inadequate financial support from Allan. Poe's relationship with Allan disintegrated upon his return to Richmond in 1827, and soon after Poe left for Boston, where he enlisted in the army and also published his first poetry collection, Tamerlane, and Other Poems. The volume went unnoticed by readers and reviewers, and a second collection, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, received only slightly more attention when it appeared in 1829. That same year Poe was honorably discharged from the army, having attained the rank of regimental sergeant major, and was then admitted to the United States Military Academy at West Point. However, because Allan would neither provide his foster son with sufficient funds to maintain himself as a cadet nor give the consent necessary to resign from the Academy, Poe gained a dismissal by ignoring his duties and violating regulations. He subsequently went to New York City, where Poems, his third collection of verse, was published in 1831, and then to Baltimore, where he lived at the home of his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm.
Over the next few years Poe's first short stories appeared in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier and his “MS. Found in a Bottle” won a cash prize for best story in the Baltimore Saturday Visitor. Nevertheless, Poe was still not earning enough to live independently, nor did Allan's death in 1834 provide him with a legacy. The following year, however, his financial problems were temporarily alleviated when he accepted an editorship at The Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, bringing with him his aunt and his twelve-year-old cousin Virginia, whom he married in 1836. The Southern Literary Messenger was the first of several journals Poe would direct over the next ten years and through which he rose to prominence as a leading man of letters in America. Poe made himself known not only as a superlative author of poetry and fiction, but also as a literary critic whose level of imagination and insight had hitherto been unapproached in American literature. While Poe's writings gained attention in the late 1830s and early 1840s, the profits from his work remained meager, and he supported himself by editing Burton's Gentleman's Magazine and Graham's Magazine in Philadelphia and the Broadway Journal in New York City. After his wife's death from tuberculosis in 1847, Poe became involved in a number of romantic affairs. It was while he prepared for his second marriage that Poe, for reasons unknown, arrived in Baltimore in late September of 1849. On October 3, he was discovered in a state of semi-consciousness; he died four days later without regaining the necessary lucidity to explain what had happened during the last days of his life.
Poe's most conspicuous contribution to world literature derives from the analytical method he practiced both as a creative author and as a critic of the works of his contemporaries. His self-declared intention was to formulate strictly artistic ideals in a milieu that he thought overly concerned with the utilitarian value of literature, a tendency he termed the “heresy of the Didactic.” While Poe's position includes the chief requisites of pure aestheticism, his emphasis on literary formalism was directly linked to his philosophical ideals: through the calculated use of language one may express, though always imperfectly, a vision of truth and the essential condition of human existence. Poe's theory of literary creation is noted for two central points: first, a work must create a unity of effect on the reader to be considered successful; second, the production of this single effect should not be left to the hazards of accident or inspiration, but should to the minutest detail of style and subject be the result of rational deliberation on the part of the author. In poetry, this single effect must arouse the reader's sense of beauty, an ideal that Poe closely associated with sadness, strangeness, and loss; in prose, the effect should be one revelatory of some truth, as in “tales of ratiocination” or works evoking “terror, or passion, or horror.”
Aside from a common theoretical basis, there is a psychological intensity that is characteristic of Poe's writings, especially the tales of horror that comprise his best and best-known works. These stories--which include “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”--are often told by a first-person narrator, and through this voice Poe probes the workings of a character's psyche. This technique foreshadows the psychological explorations of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the school of psychological realism. In his Gothic tales, Poe also employed an essentially symbolic, almost allegorical method which gives such works as “The Fall of the House of Usher,”
“The Masque of the Red Death,” and “Ligeia” an enigmatic quality that accounts for their enduring interest and also links them with the symbolical works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. The influence of Poe's tales may be seen in the work of later writers, including Ambrose Bierce and H.P. Lovecraft, who belong to a distinct tradition of horror literature initiated by Poe. In addition to his achievement as creator of the modern horror tale, Poe is also credited with parenting two other popular genres: science fiction and the detective story. In such works as “The Unparalleled Adventure of Hans Pfaall” and “Von Kempelen and His Discovery,” Poe took advantage of the fascination for science and technology that emerged in the early nineteenth century to produce speculative and fantastic narratives which anticipate a type of literature that did not become widely practiced until the twentieth century. Similarly, Poe's three tales of ratiocination--”The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget”--are recognized as the models which established the major characters and literary conventions of detective fiction, specifically the amateur sleuth who solves a crime that has confounded the authorities and whose feats of deductive reasoning are documented by an admiring associate. Just as Poe influenced many succeeding authors and is regarded as an ancestor of such major literary movements as Symbolism and Surrealism, he was also influenced by earlier literary figures and movements. In his use of the demonic and the grotesque, Poe evidenced the impact of the stories of E.T.A. Hoffman and the Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe, while the despair and melancholy in much of his writing reflects an affinity with the Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century. It was Poe's particular genius that in his work he gave consummate artistic form both to his personal obsessions and those of previous literary generations, at the same time creating new forms which provided a means of expression for future artists.
While Poe is most often remembered for his short fiction, his first love as a writer was poetry, which he began writing during his adolescence. His early verse reflects the influence of such English romantics as Lord Byron, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, yet foreshadows his later poetry which demonstrates a subjective outlook and surreal, mystic vision. “Tamerlane” and “Al Aaraaf” exemplify Poe's evolution from the portrayal of Byronic heroes to the depiction of journeys within his own imagination and subconscious. The former piece, reminiscent of Byron's “Childe Harold's Pilgrimage,” recounts the life and adventures of a fourteenth-century Mongol conqueror; the latter poem portrays a dreamworld where neither good nor evil permanently reside and where absolute beauty can be directly discerned. In other poems--”To Helen,” “Lenore,” and “The Raven” in particular--Poe investigates the loss of ideal beauty and the difficulty in regaining it. These pieces are usually narrated by a young man who laments the untimely death of his beloved. “To Helen” is a three stanza lyric that has been called one of the most beautiful love poems in the English language. The subject of the work is a woman who becomes, in the eyes of the narrator, a personification of the classical beauty of ancient Greece and Rome. “Lenore” presents ways in which the dead are best remembered, either by mourning or celebrating life beyond earthly boundaries. In “The Raven,” Poe successfully unites his philosophical and aesthetic ideals. In this psychological piece, a young scholar is emotionally tormented by a raven's ominous repetition of “Nevermore” in answer to his question about the probability of an afterlife with his deceased lover. Charles Baudelaire noted in his introduction to the French edition of “The Raven”: “It is indeed the poem of the sleeplessness of despair; it lacks nothing: neither the fever of ideas, nor the violence of colors, nor sickly reasoning, nor drivelling terror, nor even the bizarre gaiety of suffering which makes it more terrible.” Poe also wrote poems that were intended to be read aloud. Experimenting with combinations of sound and rhythm, he employed such technical devices as repetition, parallelism, internal rhyme, alliteration, and assonance to produce works that are unique in American poetry for their haunting, musical quality. In “The Bells,” for example, the repetition of the word “bells” in various structures accentuates the unique tonality of the different types of bells described in the poem.While his works were not conspicuously acclaimed during his lifetime, Poe did earn due respect as a gifted fiction writer, poet, and man of letters, and occasionally he achieved a measure of popular success, especially following the appearance of “The Raven.”
After his death, however, the history of his critical reception becomes one of dramatically uneven judgments and interpretations. This state of affairs was initiated by Poe's one-time friend and literary executor R.W. Griswold, who, in a libelous obituary notice in the New York Tribune bearing the byline “Ludwig,” attributed the depravity and psychological aberrations of many of the characters in Poe's fiction to Poe himself. In retrospect, Griswold's vilifications seem ultimately to have elicited as much sympathy as censure with respect to Poe and his work, leading subsequent biographers of the late nineteenth century to defend, sometimes too devotedly, Poe's name. It was not until the 1941 biography by A.H. Quinn that a balanced view was provided of Poe, his work, and the relationship between the author's life and his imagination. Nevertheless, the identification of Poe with the murderers and madmen of his works survived and flourished in the twentieth century, most prominently in the form of psychoanalytical studies such as those of Marie Bonaparte and Joseph Wood Krutch. Added to the controversy over the sanity, or at best the maturity of Poe (Paul Elmer More called him “the poet of unripe boys and unsound men”), was the question of the value of Poe's works as serious literature. At the forefront of Poe's detractors were such eminent figures as Henry James, Aldous Huxley, and T. S. Eliot, who dismissed Poe's works as juvenile, vulgar, and artistically debased; in contrast, these same works have been judged to be of the highest literary merit by such writers as Bernard Shaw and William Carlos Williams. Complementing Poe's erratic reputation among English and American critics is the more stable, and generally more elevated opinion of critics elsewhere in the world, particularly in France. Following the extensive translations and commentaries of Charles Baudelaire in the 1850s, Poe's works were received with a peculiar esteem by French writers, most profoundly those associated with the late nineteenth-century movement of Symbolism, who admired Poe's transcendent aspirations as a poet; the twentieth-century movement of Surrealism, which valued Poe's bizarre and apparently unruled imagination; and such figures as Paul Valery, who found in Poe's theories and thought an ideal of supreme rationalism. In other countries, Poe's works have enjoyed a similar regard, and numerous studies have been written tracing the influence of the American author on the international literary scene, especially in Russia, Japan, Scandinavia, and Latin America.
Today, Poe is recognized as one of the foremost progenitors of modern literature, both in its popular forms, such as horror and detective fiction, and in its more complex and self-conscious forms, which represent the essential artistic manner of the twentieth century. In contrast to earlier critics who viewed the man and his works as one, criticism of the past twenty-five years has developed a view of Poe as a detached artist who was more concerned with displaying his virtuosity than with expressing his “soul,” and who maintained an ironic rather than an autobiographical relationship to his writings. While at one time critics such as Yvor Winters wished to remove Poe from literary history, his works remain integral to any conception of modernism in world literature. Herbert Marshall McLuhan wrote in an essay entitled “Edgar Poe's Tradition”: “While the New England dons primly turned the pages of Plato and Buddha beside a tea-cozy, and while Browning and Tennyson were creating a parochial fog for the English mind to relax in, Poe never lost contact with the terrible pathos of his time. Coevally with Baudelaire, and long before Conrad and Eliot, he explored the heart of darkness.”
American Romanticism in Edgar Allan Poe's “Ligeia”
allan poe american romanticism
The American Romantic period was essentially a Renaissance of American literature. “It was a Renaissance in the sense of a flowering, excitement over human possibilities, and a high regard for individual ego”. American romantics were influenced by the literary eras that came before them, and their writings were a distinct reaction against the ideology of these previous eras. In this sense, American Romanticism grew from “... the rhetoric of salvation, guilt, and providential visions of Puritanism, the wilderness reaches of this continent, and the fiery rhetoric of freedom and equality...” as they eagerly developed their own unique style of writing (English). American romantic authors had a strong sense of national identity and pride in being American. For this reason, American authors during this time had a distinct desire to develop their own unique character separate from British literature. In order to accomplish this goal, the poet Edgar Allan Poe was defiant and individualistic in his writing; and this explains the remarkable creativity found throughout his work. One short story in particular, “Ligeia,” which Poe published in 1838, demonstrates all the major aspects of the American Romantic revolution: rejection of classicism, fervent idealism, and unusual remoteness regarding time and space.
The story of “Ligeia” follows an unknown narrator and his wife Ligeia, who is a beautiful, mysterious, and intelligent character. Ligeia dies, and she mutters passages from an odd poem entitled “The Conqueror Worm” in her last breaths. Later, the narrator remarries--this time with a woman named Rowena who is not nearly as beautiful, mysterious or intelligent as Ligeia. Rowena is the stereotypical woman, a classical example of what women were supposed to be during the era. Interestingly, Rowena also dies, and the narrator, who we learn is an opium addict, supervises the body overnight. The story ends with Rowena coming back from the dead, transformed into Ligeia. Throughout the entirety of the story, Poe provides the reader with countless examples of his bias towards romantic ideals and his mastery of American Romantic literature.
The most obvious aspect of American Romanticism in this short story is the rejection of classicism. During the romantic period, America was thriving economically and the focus of most people's lives was on economic and material success. The Romantic Revolution that took place in 19th-century America was a revolt against the economic realities of the day and the theories of Locke and Franklin. American romantics sought to break away from traditional literary forms; they did not agree with the commonly accepted principals of “classicism” and “formality” as being indicators of literary merit. On the contrary, these romantics believed that “inspiration, enthusiasm, and emotion” mattered much more than outdated standards of merit that required conforming to a set of rules. The world is emotional and organic, not mechanical or rational. “Good literature should have heart, not rules...” This explains why Poe makes the narrator's first wife, Ligeia, have such remarkable beauty; for the narrator, Ligeia's beauty serves as a source of love and endearment. As the narrator of the story puts it “... the character of my beloved... made their way into my heart by paces so steadily and stealthily progressive that they have been unnoticed and unknown”. Ligeia's “singular yet placid cast of beauty” is in sharp contrast to Rowena's “fair-haired” and “blue-eyed” classical beauty. Poe repeatedly points out the superiority of Ligeia's beauty because it does not conform to the typical definition of beauty. Ligeia's features “were not of that regular mould which we have been falsely taught to worship in the classical labors of the heathen”. Poe undoubtedly sees flaws in the narrator's second wife because she fits the mold too easily. And perhaps the most extreme example of Poe's rejection of the ordinary and embracing of the strange can be seen in certain passages describing Ligeia's mysterious characteristics. He describes the narrator's beautiful wife as one would describe a ghost: “She came and departed as a shadow.” He describes her eyes as unreal and superhuman because of their large size: “far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race.” Ironically, at times Ligeia even frightens the narrator with her “grotesque” appearance. However, throughout the entirety of the story, these odd appearance traits are objects of reverie for the narrator, and he makes clear to point this out repeatedly. Poe rejects classical values and welcomes the supernatural through the vivid descriptions of Ligeia's uncanny beauty. Poe also manages to display another key trait of American Romantics--fervent idealism--in this morbid and frightening tale. Idealism was embraced by American romantic writers because they firmly believed in the lofty goals of democracy, even though at many times these goals were never realized. In this sense, American romantics were optimists. They were champions of individualism and believed firmly in the possibilities of humankind and man's good nature. This optimism can be seen in the narrator's account of his wife's reincarnation in the body of another woman. Although the narrator's story appears sincere and is certainly not lacking in detail, he is a self-proclaimed opium addict, which makes him an unreliable narrator. However, the romantic optimism of Poe is apparent because upon seeing Rowena rise from the dead, he assumes that it is Ligeia that has actually come back from the dead in Rowena's body, however unlikely. This exaggerated optimism could have been caused by Ligeia's knowledge of “metaphysical investigation,” knowledge described as “... wisdom too divinely precious to not be forbidden.” In this sense, the narrator's opium addiction can be seen as a form of optimism--even idealism. Indeed the narrator even admits this optimism to himself: “... in the excitement of my opium dreams, I would call aloud upon her name, during the silences of the night... as if... I could restore her to the pathway she had abandoned... upon the earth.” Of course, these dreams are nothing more than hallucinations and false hopes caused by the opium drug. Still, they contain embedded within them a sense of “optimism against all odds.” Nowhere is this clearer than Ligeia's assertion that “Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will”. This implies that Ligeia's return from death could actually be literal, and that a strong will can actually keep someone alive. This type of extreme optimism--stubborn idealism--like keeping someone alive by sheer will of force, is typical of American romantic authors. The last trait of the American Romantic period which Poe demonstrates in the short story “Ligeia” is an unusual remoteness regarding time and space. During the 19th century, American romantic writers were trying to disconnect themselves from past literary styles; writers often added a “theme of unusual remoteness regarding time and space” to make this disconnect literal and obvious to the reader. In “Ligeia,” Poe accomplishes this by making the narrator lose track of time. The narrator cannot even remember how he knows his wife or when or where they met: “I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia.” He doesn't even know his beloved wife's last name. Ligeia has completely taken control of the narrator's mind and altered his perception of time and events. In this sense, she is supernatural and can control time, at least for the opium-addicted narrator, anyway. Furthermore, Ligeia's identity has no clear-cut beginning (since we don't know when or how she met the narrator) or end (since she never really dies in the mind of the narrator). Additionally, we don't know how Ligeia is able to manipulate time and space to come back to life in the body of another woman. It appears that under the influence of drugs, the narrator epitomizes romantic idealism. He takes no note of time when observing Ligeia's revival: “It might have been midnight, or perhaps earlier, or later, for I had taken no note of time, when a sob, low, gentle, but very distinct, startled me from my revery...” Without a sense of time, space, or reality, the narrator's first-hand account is questionable at best, but serves its mysterious and misleading purpose. It's this sort of innovation and defiance of other 18th-century writer's philosophies that makes Poe a romantic.
“The world of Poe's tales is a nightmarish universe. You cross wasted lands, silent, forsaken landscapes where both life and waters stagnate”. However, surprisingly, Poe demonstrates many characteristics of American romantic writers. For one, his stories constantly challenge classic authority, a cornerstone of the American Romantic Movement. His eerie idealism and uncertain description of time and space also tag him as a prime example of a romantic American author. For these reasons, Edgar Allan Poe will forever be remembered as a leader of the American Romantic Movement and one of the greatest authors to ever live.
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