Keen to learn but short on time? Find out everything you need to know about the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe in just 50 minutes with this straightforward and engaging guide!
Edgar Allan Poe was one of the most significant and enduring figures of the literary scene in 19th-century America. He was one of the first American authors to attempt to make a living solely by writing, with mixed success, and he was a pioneering influence in the development of a number of modern genres, including horror, fantasy, science fiction and detective fiction. Although he is best known for the Gothic-inspired atmospheres and the darkness that permeated his work, he was also a profoundly rational, methodical writer, who eschewed the tradition of populating fantastic fiction with supernatural creatures in favour of a more psychological brand of horror. This innovative style has been an inspiration for countless writers, poets and artists, cementing Poe’s legacy as a key figure in literary history.
In this book, you will learn about:
• Poe’s most famous works, including The Fall of the House of Usher and The Murders in the Rue Morgue
• The literary movements and earlier writers who influenced his work and ideas
• His personal life, including the misfortune that plagued him and inspired some of his best-known works
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The Art & Literature series from the 50MINUTES collection aims to introduce readers to the figures and movements that have shaped our culture over the centuries. Our guides are written by experts in their field and each feature a full biography, an introduction to the relevant social, political and historical context, and a thorough discussion and analysis of the key works of each artist, writer or movement, making them the ideal starting point for busy readers looking for a quick way to broaden their cultural horizons.
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Few figures from modern literary history are so heavily shrouded in myth as Edgar Allan Poe. His story is closely linked with his native land, the United States of America, but is also uniquely his own. At first glance, there seem to be few common threads linking the young, dynamic nation bent on shaping the modern world in its own image and the introspective, sickly writer with a flair for the macabre, but today Poe is regarded as one of the most emblematic figures of American literature.
Although his work still has its detractors, Poe’s name has become synonymous with a universe that is both captivating and terrifying, where beauty is born of terror. This is a world where ravens soar through bleak, stormy skies, while tormented souls haunt the halls of their abandoned homes, driven to anguish and despair by the memory of lost love. While there are those who find the overwhelming darkness of Poe’s work to be both laughable and unhealthy, they are easily outnumbered by generation after generation of readers who glimpse a darker side of their own souls reflected there. It could be argued that the continued debate over Poe’s work, over a century and a half after the author’s death, is the greatest testament to its originality.
However, Poe’s gift for horror alone, no matter how intuitive, would not have been enough to establish such a lasting legacy. He is also considered the inventor of detective fiction, and is sometimes credited with laying the foundations of modern science fiction. Furthermore, his explorations of the human subconscious echo common themes of the postmodern literary revolution that took place almost a century later. Poe’s subtle style is tinged with mockery, which could give the impression that he did not take his own work seriously, but do not be fooled: he was a keen critic of his own writing, and aimed for nothing less than perfection.
The United States was still in its infancy in the early 19th century. Although Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) first declared the 13 former British colonies that originally made up the United States to be an independent, unified country in 1776, the fledgling nation’s independence was not legally recognised by Great Britain until the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. However, relations between the two countries remained tense, and in 1812 a second war of independence broke out between them.
By 1809 (the year Poe was born), the United States had expanded to encompass around 20 states. Although these states were clustered together along the continent’s eastern coast and the country’s borders had yet to expand beyond the Appalachian Mountains (in fact, Poe’s nickname for America was “Appalachia”), the young nation was growing at a tremendous rate. Its territory tripled within mere decades, notably through the Louisiana Purchase (the acquisition of 828,000 square miles of land from France in 1803), the Oregon Treaty (which was signed in 1846, settling a boundary dispute with Great Britain) and the annexation of the formerly Spanish or Mexican territories of Florida, Texas and California in 1821, 1845 and 1848, respectively.
The lands of the “Wild West” were still uncharted, and were considered ripe for the taking. In 1805, the explorers William Clark (1770-1838) and Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) reached the Pacific coast, and it was not long before Americans began to talk of what they referred to as their “Manifest Destiny”: their belief that this New World was their birthright, and that conquering it was their duty. American nationalism, which was characterised by private ownership, pragmatism and a strong work ethic, was born under the banner of this belief in the necessity of advancing west. However, the darker side of nationalism was never far from the surface, and brought with it the avarice, individualism and the myth of the self-made man that would eventually combine to form the famous American Dream that has dashed so many hopes and dreams in the intervening centuries. Of course, the “original sins” that the so-called Land of the Free was built on were darker still: namely, the advancing colonists’ displacement of Native American nations and the widespread practice of slavery.
Towns and cities were springing up seemingly overnight and developing quickly, but poverty and illness (particularly tuberculosis) were rife in their gloomy, unpaved streets. At the dawn of the 19th
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