Similarities Between Edgar Allen Poe's Life and His Literary Works
In Edgar Allan Poe's lifetime and today, critics think that there are striking similarities between what Poe lived and what he wrote. His melancholy, often-depressing stories are thought to reflect his feelings. There is truth to this, although his entire life was not miserable. In fact, in some of his poems, the good characters are modeled after him. Edgar Allan Poe's writing was affected by many things in his life, including his turbulent childhood, his poverty, and his many tragic losses.
In Poe's childhood, he had five parents. His original mother and father Elizabeth Arnold and David Poe ,Jr.; John Allan and Fanny Allan who took him in after his mother died and his father left him; and Jane Mackenzie whom he thought of as his mother. Elizabeth Arnold was a famous actress who everyone loved. Kenneth Silverman thinks that she initially instilled a love of the arts in Poe.(9) Unfortunately however, she died when he was only two years old. David Poe Jr. was also an actor, but he did not gain nearly as much critical acclaim because of his stage fright and a tendency to mumble. He left soon after Edgar was born and went to Baltimore where he lived for a few years and gained a reputation as a drunk. It is thought that he died at age twenty-seven in either New York or Baltimore.
After his mother's death, Poe was sent to live with John and Frances Allan who gave him a life radically different from the one he had known. Kenneth Silverman says that in his new life, Poe found material wealth and love instead of poverty and abandonment .(11) At age thirteen, Poe went with John Allan to London where he received a strict boarding school education. He enjoyed the challenges this school brought to him. William Wagenknecht says that in Poe's later story, William Wilson, about a man who struggles with the concept of good and evil, the good character was based on Edgar's happy times in England.(15) With Poe's newfound wealth, he immersed himself in the arts. He would often quote Cervantes or Shakespeare and add that he was envious of their literary genius. At the tender age of fifteen, someone offered to publish a book of his works. Allan would not allow it though, as he was afraid of Poe's ego swelling. Poe strived to excel in everything he did, swimming, long jump, running, and writing. This will to succeed showed up in his work later in life when he wrote constantly to keep up with the demand for his stories. Poe eventually broke away from Allan as a result of an argument between Allan and his second wife with Poe taking the wife's side. He did briefly reconnect with Allan to get his recommendation for West Point. Poe eventually purposely failed our of West Point by missing classes and lost touch with his father all together.(18) These tumultuous times had great highs and lows which greatly affected Poe's later writings.