Edgar Allan Poe, the American poet, and short story writer, is one of the most influential writers in all of world literature. Many of Poe’s works have been adapted to the big screen and still influence audiences today.
His work has been studied over the past century by academics who try to understand what it is about his tales that makes them so compelling. And why they remain relevant almost 200 years after their initial publication.
He is often cited as being “the Godfather” of mystery, detective fiction, science-fiction stories, and other genres. His work has been referenced in so many ways that his influence can still be seen today.
Although he mysteriously died in 1849 at the age of 40, we still have a lot to learn from him about life and death. Below is a collection of interesting Edgar Allan Poe facts that many may not have heard before.
17 Interesting Facts about Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on 19 January 1809. He lived in Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, and became a man known for his dark and mysterious writings.
Poe was well known as somewhat of a controversial figure during his time. He was known for his heavy drinking habits and often wrote about death, decay, mental illness, and other morbid topics.
But what is fact, and what is fiction? We’re here to help figure that out. Here are 17 fun facts about Edgar Allan Poe’s life, work, and strange death.
Edgar Poe was born to actors Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and David Poe Jr. His father abandoned the family, so his mother raised him and his siblings alone. It’s believed that baby Edgar was named after a Shakespearean character from a play his parents were acting in the year he was born, King Lear.
His mother, known professionally as Eliza Poe, was married to Charles Hopkins when she was 15 years old. He died three years later. David Poe Jr. abandoned his family’s plans for him to study law when he saw Eliza performing on stage and decided to join her acting troupe instead. They married six months later.
Edgar Poe was one of three children. His older brother, William Henry Leonard Poe, was born in 1807, and his younger sister Rosalie Poe was born in 1810.
All three Poe children were gifted in the arts of literature, with Rosalie becoming a teacher of penmanship. William was an amateur poet and an American sailor.
Rosalie was possibly intellectually disabled and had some struggles throughout her life. It didn’t stop her from becoming a poet in her own right though. Her brother, William, named a few characters after her in his own works.
3. His Mother Died When He Was a Toddler
Poe’s mother died in 1811 when he was just two years old. Elizabeth’s cause of death was tuberculosis. His father never returned to the family and eventually ended up dying of alcoholism.
His cause of death is still only alleged though, as David was never seen again after he abandoned his family. He suffered from stage fright and started drinking to ease his nerves, eventually developing a dependency.
He would later write about this experience in an autobiographical essay called ‘The Autobiography of Auguste Dupin,’ where the protagonist loses his beloved wife.
4. Poe Had a Tense Relationship With His Foster Father
After Edgar’s mother died, he went to live with John and Frances Valentine Allan of Richmond, Virginia. The Allans were wealthy members of the merchant class, dealing in a variety of goods including tobacco, cloth, wheat, tombstones, and slaves. That’s quite a business though. Imagine buying your wheat where you buy your tombstone.
They had no children together and ended up christening the young boy Edgar Allan Poe. Although they never legally adopted him.
Frances died before Poe was 11 years old. And while John Allan had plans for Edgar’s future, the boy did not agree. Poe received very little financial support from John Allan and was left out of Allan’s will when he died. He was formally disowned when it came out that Poe had fathered children outside of his marriage to Louisa Patterson.
5. Edgar Allan Poe’s Nickname Was “Eddy”
Poe was known to call himself “Eddy” and would sign off letters using this shortened version of his name. This is a nickname many close friends and family members continued to use for him even after his death.
6. Poe Published His First Work at Just 18 Years Old
At school, Edgar didn’t get along with many teachers and students because he had little patience for formal education. He preferred to focus on reading literature than attending classes.
While Poe was studying at the University of Virginia, he published his first work titled “Tamerlane and Other Poems.”
7. He Married His Teenage Cousin
Edgar Allan Poe’s first marriage was to his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm, whom he married at age 27. Unfortunately, tragedy struck when Virginia passed away from tuberculosis after a long battle with the illness. This was only shortly before her 25th birthday in 1847.
8. He Was More Than a Writer
For a time, Poe worked as an editor at Graham’s Magazine and later became the assistant editor of The Broadway Journal. He was also known to be skilled in painting, poetry recitation, and storytelling!
But the young Gothic boy was also quite the athlete. He competed in boxing, running, and long jump. He was also a skilled swimmer.
9. Poe Dealt With a Lot of Loss in His Life
Edgar Allan Poe was no stranger to struggles, loss, and grief. And perhaps this is why much of his writing was centered around more somber topics.
In addition to the loss of both his mothers, his first wife, childhood crush, and father, Poe also suffered from financial problems throughout most of his life.
Edgar Allan Poe’s first love, Sarah Elmira Royster, broke off their engagement just before he left to join the army. His second fiancée, Sarah Helen Whitman, dumped him after only a short time of dating because she considered Poe “disagreeable.”
At the age of 14, he fell in love with a friend’s mother who was twice his age. This woman encouraged Poe’s love of writing. When she died, young Poe went through a deep depression and never got over her death. He later wrote a poem eulogizing her called “To Helen.”
11. Edgar Allan Poe Paved the Way for Many Literature Professionals
Poe is credited to have created the term “short story” after he announced that he had invented the genre during an address at Philadelphia’s Young Men’s Association.
In addition, he also coined the word “tintinnabulation,” which means a sound that resembles bells tolling or ringing. The writer also wrote some of the first detective-themed pieces of literature, and many of his short stories and poems have been adapted into movies.
In addition to his poems and short stories, Poe also wrote several essays about the state of literature at that time. He even contributed a letter in defense of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow after critics accused him of being too old-fashioned for modern times.
Poe also dabbled in scientific journals and textbooks, writing a couple of articles for Alexander’s Magazine and Graham’s.
13. His Most Famous Work Was Published Just Four Years Before He Died
Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous work is called “The Raven.” This piece was only published in 1845 after Poe’s friend, a poet named Thomas Dunn English, submitted it for publication.
This spooky poem still holds up today as one of the greatest works of literature ever written.
How did Edgar Allan Poe die? Well, nobody really knows since his death was shrouded in mystery. He passed away at the age of 40 after being found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, in October 1849.
A few theories have been put forward, including that he died of drug or alcohol abuse. Others believe that the writer might have had a brain tumor that led to seizures and hallucinations in his final days before death. There were also theories of syphilis, heart disease, and even rabies.
When Poe’s body was found on 19 October 1849, it was said that a newspaper was covering his face. It’s not clear if this happened before or after he died, so it has never been known whether Poe’s death came as the result of foul play or simply natural causes.
15. Poe Was Incredibly Close With His Cat
Poe’s beloved cat, named Catterina II, was a gift from his fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman. Poe adored the little kitty and had her pet name “Reynolds” engraved on one side of the gold locket she wore around her neck.
Poe would often sit and work with his cat sitting on his shoulder. The writer once said, “Her fondness for me amounts to idolatry. She is always in my lap or by my side.”
After his death, Poe’s rival Rufus Wilmot Griswold wrote the infamous obituary for him. Griswold had a long-standing feud with Edgar and did not like that he was gaining more popularity than himself at the time.
It’s believed that many of the allegations against Poe — like those saying he was a drunk with a drug problem — were lies made up by Griswold.
17. Poe Wrote His Final Work Just Before He Died
Poe’s last work was called “Eureka: A Prose Poem”, and it’s a philosophical work that explores the nature of the universe. Over time, many have speculated that this may be his greatest literary achievement because he wrote it in his 30s.
18. Poe attained the rank of Sergeant-Major, the highest possible rank for a non-commissioned officer.
Poe enlisted as a private in the US Army on May 26, 1827, for a five-year term. He entered under an assumed name and lied about his age, claiming to be 22 years old when he was only 18.
Poe was assigned to Battery H of the First Artillery at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor. On October 31, 1827, Battery H was ordered to Fort Moultrie to protect Charleston Harbor. He sailed on the Brigantine Waltham, arriving for duty in Charleston on November 18.
At Fort Moultrie, Poe was promoted to artificer, the rank of a noncommissioned officer or enlisted man who had a mechanical specialty. On December 11, 1828, Poe’s battery sailed for duty at Fortress Monroe, Virginia where he attained the rank of Sergeant-Major, the highest possible rank for a non-commissioned officer.
His quick progress up the ranks can be attributed to his education, high social standing, and competence. Despite his accomplishments, Poe left military service in April 1829 and hired a substitute to complete his obligation.
Edgar Allan Poe: A Summary
Edgar Allan Poe was a prolific writer who produced works in multiple different genres. He made his way through life being an editor, author, and poet while still finding the time to be an athlete, painter, and storyteller!
He was a writer, editor, and literary critic, but lived in poverty for most of his life. His most famous work is “The Raven,” which is still a classic today. If you’ve never read any of Poe’s work, now is a good time to start. Some of Edgar Allan Poe’s major works include Lenore, The Gold-Bug, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Tell-Tale Heart.
He might have been a prolific writer and poet, but he suffered through terrible financial issues throughout his life, and never managed to settle down and have a family. He was disowned, depressed, and painted as a madman after his death.
Although the writer was never rich or famous while he was alive, his poems have stood the test of time. He is now remembered as one of America’s greatest literary figures.