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Poe: A Life Cut Shortby Peter Ackroyd
Synopses & Reviews
Looming large in the popular imagination as a serious poet and lively drunk who died in penury, Edgar Allan Poe was also the most celebrated and notorious writer of his day. He died broke and alone at the age of forty, but not before he had written some of the greatest works in the English language, from the chilling “The Tell-Tale Heart” to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”—the first modern detective story—to the iconic poem “The Raven.”
Poes life was one of unremitting hardship. His father abandoned the family, and his mother died when he was three. Poe was thrown out of West Point, and married his beloved thirteen-year-old cousin, who died of tuberculosis at twenty-four. He was so poor that he burned furniture to stay warm. He was a scourge to other poets, but more so to himself.
In the hands of Paul Collins, one of our liveliest historians, this mysteriously conflicted figure emerges as a genius both driven and undone by his artistic ambitions. Collins illuminates Poes huge successes and greatest flop (a 143-page prose poem titled Eureka), and even tracks down what may be Poes first published fiction, long hidden under an enigmatic byline. Clear-eyed and sympathetic, Edgar Allan Poe is a spellbinding story about the man once hailed as “the Shakespeare of America.”
"Noted author Ackroyd (Thames) adds to his one-man Brief Lives series this exploration of the short — and predominantly miserable — life of Edgar Allan Poe. Bringing his novelist's skills to bear, Ackroyd opens with Poe's mysterious death in 1849: 'Like his narratives and his fables, Poe's own story ends abruptly and inconclusively....' Born in Boston in 1809 to traveling actors and orphaned in 1811, Poe was adopted by Richmond, Va., merchant John Allan. Their relationship soured, and Poe left for a rocky academic career at the University of Virginia and a stint at West Point, and in 1836 he married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia. Despite critical acclaim for his work — from 1839's 'The Fall of the House of Usher' to his famous 1845 poem, 'The Raven' — Poe constantly struggled with alcoholism and poverty, alienating almost everyone he met. At age 40, Poe was discovered dying in a Baltimore tavern; his whereabouts for the previous week remain unknown. But Ackroyd never demonizes the melancholic man who influenced writers as diverse as Jules Verne and James Joyce, and his readable account should appeal to Poe devotees and newcomers alike. Illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“succinct and elegant … illuminating” Times Literary Supplement
“[a] deft, lively summary” The Spectator
“Poe’s brilliant, erratic, abbreviated career stands to gain rather than lose from the form of brief life patented by Ackroyd. A short biography is not a long one shrunk. Instead of patiently accumulated details, emotional complexity and architectural shaping, it operates by lightening strikes, atmospheric colouring, impressionistic techniques of concision and suggestion.” Observer
“informative and well-written” The Herald
“Such a Hammer horror biography–a veritable car-crash of a life–is tailor-made for a writer such as Ackroyd. He sustains its intensity in these 160 pages” Sunday Telegraph
“an apt biographer for Poe” The Irish Times
“With an adept ventriloquism Ackroyd weaves together contemporary testimony with his own crisp narrative…a vivid recreation of the life and sensibility that lay behind the work.” Evening Standard
"Often insightful, sometimes stunning." Kirkus Reviews
“Ackroyd…makes the reader want to re-read Poe, and indeed to read more of Ackroyd on Poe.” Scotland on Sunday
A fascinating new biography of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) — sure to be another bestselling biography for Peter Ackroyd.
Poe's life was Gothic, mysterious, theatrical, fatally flawed, original, dark, dazzling, satirical and inventive — in short, an ideal subject for Peter Ackroyd. In fact, Ackroyd's biography of Poe opens with his end, his final days — no one knows what happened between the time when friends saw him off on the steamboat to Baltimore and his discovery six days later dying in a tavern. This mystery sets the scene for a short life packed with drama and tragedy (drink and poverty) combined with extraordinary brilliance. Tennyson described him as the most original genius that America has produced.
Poe has been claimed as the forerunner of modern fantasy, and credited with the invention of psychological dramas (long before Freud), science fiction (before H.G. Wells and Jules Verne) and the detective story (before Arthur Conan Doyle). He influenced European romanticism and was the harbinger of both Symbolism and Surrealism. Peter Ackroyd claims that Poe found his family among writers — writers not only of his time but of the future generations who were influenced by the power of his imagination.
A view into the tumultuous and creative life of Edgar Allan Poe.
Today the name Edgar Allan Poe invokes a tragic genius whose mastery of horror seems inexorably tied to his tormented life. But in his own time, Poe was above all a craftsman—an editor and reviewer desperately trying to earn a living by transmuting the wild ephemera of early Victorianism into innovations in science fiction, horror, and detective literature. Indeed, the crime thriller would not exist without Poes sleuth Dupin, the deductive genius of “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter.”
With brilliant scholarship and storytelling verve, Paul Collins delves into Poes life and his professional world, from his stormy relationship with his rich adoptive father and interest in cryptograms to hits such as “The Raven” and flops like Eureka, his late-career crank literature outing. Edgar Allan Poe is an informative and supremely entertaining account of one of the most singular talents in American letters.
Gothic, mysterious, theatrical, fatally flawed, and dazzling, the life of Edgar Allan Poe, one of Americas greatest and most versatile writers, is the ideal subject for Peter Ackroyd. Poe wrote lyrical poetry and macabre psychological melodramas; invented the first fictional detective; and produced pioneering works of science fiction and fantasy. His innovative style, images, and themes had a tremendous impact on European romanticism, symbolism, and surrealism, and continue to influence writers today.
In this essential addition to his canon of acclaimed biographies, Peter Ackroyd explores Poes literary accomplishments and legacy against the background of his erratic, dramatic, and sometimes sordid life. Ackroyd chronicles Poes difficult childhood, his bumpy academic and military careers, and his complex relationships with women, including his marriage to his thirteen-year-old cousin. He describes Poes much-written-about problems with gambling and alcohol with sympathy and insight, showing their connections to Poes childhood and the trials, as well as the triumphs, of his adult life. Ackroyds thoughtful, perceptive examinations of some of Poes most famous works shed new light on these classics and on the troubled and brilliant genius who created them.
About the Author
Peter Ackroyd is the biographer of William Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Dickens, Blake, and Thomas More, and the author of the bestselling London: The Biography. The subject of his previous Brief Life was Isaac Newton. He has won the Whitbread Biography Award, the Royal Society of Literature’s William Heinemann Award (jointly) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and is the holder of a CBE for services to literature. He is the author of Thames: The Biography. His novels include The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (winner of the Somerset Maugham Award), Hawksmoor (Guardian Fiction Prize), Chatterton (short-listed for the Booker Prize) and most recently The Fall of Troy. He lives in London.
Table of Contents
1. The Child of Fortune 1
2. Manuscript Found in a Bottle 19
3. The Glorious Prospect 40
4. The Shakespeare of America 61
5. Nevermore 84
Selected Further Reading 114
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