Edgar Allen Poe, the man who would later become father of the modern mystery story, was born January 19, 1809. Orphaned by the age of three, he suffered from alcoholism. He gambled heavily, got dismissed from West Point, and completed less than eight months at the University of Virginia. Because of the drinking, he also lost his editing job at the Southern Literary Messenger in 1838, but not before marrying his cousin, Virginia Clemm, two years earlier. He was twenty-seven, she thirteen.
The marriage did not last long. Virginia died in 1847, three years after Poe published what is arguably his most famous work: "The Raven." Her death drove him into deep alcoholism and drug use. He would follow his wife to the grave two years later, at the age of 40. Two days after his death, "Annabel Lee" was published in the New York Daily Tribune as part of his obituary.
"I was a child and she was a child
In this kingdom by the sea.
But we loved with a love that was more than love,
I and my Annabel Lee.
With a love that the winged Seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me."
What's all this got to do with Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita? Reader's of that novel know that "Annabel Lee" is Nabokov's inspiration and provides the rationale for Humbert Humbert's obsession with his so-called "nymphet." The doomed narrator of the 1955 novel believes that Lolita is the reappearance of his own lost childhood love. Without this understanding, Humbert Humbert is merely a pervert, child molester and, yes, murderer too. But with Poe's "Annabel Lee" providing the basis for his disturbed psychological state, readers can at least understand what's driving him to behavior that will lead to his undoing.
For this reason alone, we can refer to Poe as a seminal influence. But there are other reasons too: "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Cast of Amontillado," and many more.
On the anniversary of his birth, then, here is a Storify slide-show presentation on the life and work of Edgar Allen Poe. You will find here readings of "The Raven" by James Earl Jones, Vincent Price, and Christopher Walken. There are also six creepy tales and a couple of animated shorts about Poe from the Peanuts characters and Mr. Peabody from the Rocky and Bullwinkle TV show.
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