Famous Failures 1: Edgar Allan Poe

The life, the failures, and the eventual success of a literary legend.

Famous Failures 1: Edgar Allan Poe

Lord Toussaint, Editor in Chief

I decided that I wanted to start a segment on the failures of famous individuals, who eventually gained success. Edgar Allan Poe was an American poet, editor, and writer. His life was a hard one and he failed constantly. Edgar Allan Poe was known for his dark and twisted ways of writing, most notably, “The Raven”, and with the “darkest” season of the year approaching, I thought, why not start off this segment with a seasonal theme?

“And everyone died.” This phrase describes the life of Edgar Allan Poe, both literally and figuratively. All those that Poe loved died or left him during his life. Poe also battled alcoholic addiction and the prejudice that came as a consequence of his adiction. Poe’s hardships contributed to his success in more ways than one. His creative mind seized his hardships and turned them into the beloved works he would gain fame for, both in life, and more importantly in death.

His father left him, his mother died when he was three, he wasn’t able to marry his beloved, his stepmother died, his wife died, his stepfather died, and he was kicked out of the will. His emotional and financial instability helped mold his creative mindset. He attended the University of Virginia, but due to a lack of financial support from his stepfather Allen, he was forced to turn to gambling to accrue funds. This resulted in him having to leave the university. He returned home to find that his sweetheart and neighbor, Sarah Emiliar Royster, was engaged. Heartbroken, Poe moved to Boston. Eventually, Poe would join the army under a false alias in order to avoid debtors’ prison. He also attended West Point Academy, where he excelled in his classes, but eventually got expelled. Afterwards, he went around the country in shorts stints as an editor, critic, and publisher, in the cities of Richmond, New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. He would usually be fired from work due to concerns of alcoholism. All the while, he was writing his short stories and poetry. On May 16th, 1836, Poe married his younger cousin Virginia Clemm who was only thirteen, he on the other hand, was twenty-seven. Mrs. Poe died on January 30th, 1847. Poe was distraught but continued his writing and working. Poe struggled financially until his death, despite gaining national recognition for his poem “The Raven.” He died on October 7th, 1849 in Baltimore, Maryland, after getting engaged once more. His cause of death is still unknown and is disputed to this day.

Poe’s early life was a hard one that molded his character, but it was his later life that was truly grotesque. During these times, he truly endured the hardships of not only loss, but financial hardship, alcoholism, and professional prejudice. Poe worked as an editor, writer, and critic for multiple magazines across the country. Some of the more notable magazines included the Southern Literary Messenger of Richmond, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine of Philadelphia, and Graham’s Magazine of Philadelphia. None of these jobs lasted for more than two years, Poe contributed massively to the success of these magazines through his talents, but his hardheadedness, inability to work with others, and alcoholic addictions, all resulted in him being fired. During this time period of his life, Poe published multiple stories and poems such as “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” and “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.” These publications made little money. Soon, Poe would publish “The Raven”, which gave him relative fame and success, but produced little actual money as well. Poe was not only supporting himself, but his wife and mother in-law throughout this time, which made things even more difficult. To make matters worse, his wife, Virginia’s health also began to deteriorate, around this time, until her eventual death. Which would soon be followed by his own untimely, and mysterious death, only two years later, on October seventh, 1849, at the age of forty.

Poe’s creative mind reflected his was tragic life. The numerous deaths, tragedies, and setbacks defined his creative personality, molded him, and gave him his signature dark writing flare. Despite that fact that he did not vanquish the challenges he faced in life; Edgar Allan Poe gained posthumous fame. He lives on forever in literary history. It was his tragic life that gave him the most crucial instruments that would help him attain his fame, and those instruments were his ways of writing and thinking. It was these failures that led to his success, as they influenced his writing style, which is what made him truly famous.

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” (Edgar Allan Poe). This is yet another phrase that describes the life of Edgar Allan Poe. Horrible bouts of tragedy during the life of a sane man can drive a man to madness and paranoia. Although he wasn’t insane, these feelings were manifested in his writing, it was this ability to write his emotions that kept Edgar Allan Poe sane, for if he hadn’t, he would have become insane. No human could cope with the difficult life he went through had they not written their emotions the way Poe did. Yes, his life made him cynical, yes, his life made him an alcoholic, yes, he suffered prejudice, but he wasn’t insane, because he expressed himself. Despite all of the emotional and physical trauma that he faced in life, Edgar Allan Poe gained fame for his work, not only in life, but in death. His works are still beloved to this day, and it was his tragic life and numerous failures that were able to make his success reality.

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