Edgar Allan Poe, outstanding romantic poet, romancer, and short-story writer, was one of the first professional writers of the United States. From a general point of view the creative work of this singular, original writer belonged to the romantic trend, but the exclusive artistic principles expressed by Poe’s writing carried him far away from conventional Romanticism. He lived at a time when the dollar had already become “the American standard”.
The country seemed to have gone mad in a wile rush for gold. But Poe was not the kind of man to be drawn into that turmoil. The writer had his own unique aesthetic principles. He gave expression to his protest against the flourishing of the bourgeois system in his country in a story “The Fall of the House of Usher”. He described a decaying Southern manor house and the sad end of its last inhabitants.
During his lifetime Poe was more popular in Europe than at home. In America he was often accused by critics of leading a disreputable life; and many readers did not understand him, though he had a sinister mind and could not fully grasp his rich imagination. Poe paid much attention to the human soul terrified during the interaction with the world in which it did not have its own place. The writer could not even imagine that all the horrors he described, crowded in his own soul because he considered himself to be a literary engineer who could operate the souls of others.
Among the psychological conditions Poe singled out the fear as the main one. The fear of death, life, loneliness, people, madness, and knowledge was the leading theme of his short stories. The outstanding top of psychological works was again the story “The Fall of the House of Usher” where he truly described the fear of life before death. That was a special fatal form of horror, which led to complete destruction of a person. Poe exposed the dialects of soul in contiguous situations.
He followed every nuance of thought and emotion. In his story “The Pit and the Pendulum” he created the whole symphony of emotional states. The author showed the appearance of mad hope in defiance of evident. He revealed the human soul’s ability to struggle to an end against inevitable death. In his “The Black Cat” Poe showed the inner sense of such a feeling as jealousy and vengeance. Also he drew a clinical picture of maniacal state, which resulted in crime, and outburst of violent insanity.
Love for Edgar Poe was also a strange and important feeling. He analysed the all-conquering strength of love that dissolved the will of a loving person in beloved one. The writer could describe how love regenerated into hate and even the desire to kill the truly loved woman.
The theme of death went along with other themes in every story. Natural and violent death had a lot of descriptions in Poe’s stories. He told us about dying of incurable disease, horrible revenge or just described the slow death with its naturalistic features. The death of young beloved women Poe depicted with great poetic skill. Poetic style was closely connected with baring of death. The author was always interested in the moment of transition to non-existence.
Poe’s interest to death was explained by several reasons – personal, philosophical, religious. Death as difficult suffering attracted Poe-romancer. Poe-philosopher considered death to be a painful transformation. As his characters he also thought that our present incarnation was temporary and our future would be perfect and permanent. He considered our future life to be a fulfilment of our destiny. Edgar Poe tried to free himself from death complex ascribing his own contradictory thoughts to his heroes.
Poe’s works represented a psychological study of anxiety and terror, of passion, anger, revenge and other emotions suffered by lone men who thought they were destined for some strange fate. All his life Poe himself struggled against anxiety and fear and strove to perfection in life but managed to do it only in his literary works.
Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume A – B. W. W. Norton and Company, 2002.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. Cooper Square Press, 1992.
Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
Wellek, R. A History of Modern Criticism. The Romantic Age. New Haven, 1986.