Virtually celebrating Edgar Allen Poe

Celebrating Edgar Allan Poe’s bithday

January 19th, 2021 marks the 212th anniversary of the birth of American writer, poet, editor, and literary critic Edgar Allan Poe, and to mark the event, the week of January 18th through 23rd will include a series of special Poe-inspired events and activities organised by Shandon Loring for the enjoyment of everyone.

Born in Boston, in 1809 as Edgar Poe, he never got to know his birth parents: his father deserted mother and children (he was the second of two boys born to David and Elizabeth Poe) in 1810, and his mother died the following year. This led to Poe’s informal adoption by John and Frances Allan, from whom he took his middle name. It’s not clear how “happy” his upbringing may have been – his adoptive father apparently alternately spoiled him and disciplined him – but his adoption led to travel to the United Kingdom, where he received his education in both Scotland and London, before the Allans moved back to the United States in 1820.

As a young man, Poe attended the fledgling University of Virginia to continue his education. However, and despite the strict rules there against tobacco, alcohol and gambling, he ran up significant debts to the point were he and John Allan – now a wealthy man – quarrelled with him over his time there, eventually refusing to provide money to cover Poe’s debts or pay for his education and accommodation, forcing him to leave the university after just a year.

Edgar Allan Poe

Moving from job to job in an attempt to earn an income, Poe eventually turned to the Army, enlisting under a false name and lying about his age. He initially did well in uniform rising to the rank of Sergeant Major in 1829, just two years after his enlistment. However, this period also also saw the publication of his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, and whilst not a significant success (the book was only credited to “A Bostonian”), the 40-page volume gave Poe more of a desire to be a writer. This in turn prompted him to try to seek an early discharge from the Army – which proved difficult to obtain until his estranged foster father agreed to help –  on the condition he attend West Point military academy.

However, fate again played a hand again as just before Poe started his West point studies in 1830, some of his poetry received a favourable review by the influential critic John Neal. This caused Poe to dedicate one of the poems in his second volume of work Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems, to Neal. It also made Poe more determined to continue as a writer, in part causing him to have himself dismissed from the academy. This happened in 1831, almost coinciding with the publication of his third volume of poems.

Being a writer in the United States at that time was not easy. There were no international copyright laws, so US publishers preferred to print unauthorised copies of works by British writers rather than pay American authors for original pieces. However, Poe persisted, and managed to win a modest literary prize from a Boston newspaper. This raised his profile sufficiently to bring Poe to the attention of novelist and lawyer, John Pendleton Kennedy, who in turn introduced Poe to Thomas W. White, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, who hired Poe as assistant editor.

Thanks to Poe’s drinking habits, his relationship with White didn’t initially go well: he was fired within weeks for being drunk on the job, but was re-hired following his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, Victoria Clemm, in1835. This marked the start of a career as an editor, writer and critic working for a number of publications over the next few years which enhanced Poe’s reputation as a critic of note and competent writer of short stories. At the same time, he published his first – and only – full-length novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, whilst increasing success caused him to – unsuccessfully, likely due to his drinking habits – try for a career in politics.

By the 1840s, Poe was well established as a writer, and the following years saw him publish what would become his most well-known works, including: The Fall of the House of Usher, The Murders in the Rue Morgue (credited as the first modern detective story), The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, The Black Cat, Lenore, and more. All of which led up to the publication of what is arguably his most famous piece, The Raven (January 1845); a piece which made him a household name at the time – although it only earned him $9 writer’s fee (about $308.23 today).

Victoria Poe died of tuberculous in 1847. Her death, together with the deaths of a number of women in his life, is often stated to be the driving force behind his literary focus on “the death of a beautiful woman”. Following her passing, Poe’s behaviour became increasingly erratic, and his attempts at with relationships with other women met with mixed success, although he did become engaged to former childhood sweetheart Sarah Royster in the latter part of Summer 1949.

However, before they could be wed, Poe left on a trip to New York in late September 1849, and on October 3rd, he was found wandering the streets of Baltimore, delirious and wearng clothes that were not his own. What he was doing there remains unknown, but he was taken to hospital, where he continued in an agitated, dire condition, finally dying on the morning of October 7th, 1849, after allegedly spending the night before repeatedly calling out the name “Reynolds” – although who that might have been, if true, also remains unknown.

One of the earliest practitioners of the short story, as well as later being regarded as leader of Romanticism and Gothic literature in the United States, Poe himself became a subject of Romantic and Gothic thinking as rumours about his death circulated, spurred by the mystery of of how and when he arrived in Baltimore and why he was there. At the same time, his reputation as a Gothic Romantic was cemented with the posthumous publication of his last complete poem, Annabel Lee.

To mark the anniversary of his birth, Shandon Loring will be leading readings of many of Poe’s most famous works in both Second Life and Kitely, supported by live video and audio streaming and the opportunity to read along with events. The celebration will also feature Seanchai Library alumni Dubhna Rhiadra, Corwyn Allen and Kayden OConnell, and include 24/7 audio listening rooms where you can hear Poe’s stories and poems, and stories and poems inspired by Poe at a time of your choosing – see below for links.

At the time of writing, the schedule for the event was as follows – please be sure to check the 2021 Edgar Allan Poe Celebration website (all times are SLT) for updates and additions to the programme:

Monday, January 18th
10:00 Stories and Poems

The Raven
The Fall of the House of Usher
Annabelle Lee
Tuesday, January 19th
10:00 Stories and Poems

Check the website for details

Stories and Poems

Check the website for details
Wednesday, January 20th
10:00 Stories and Poems

Check the website for details
Thursday, January 21st
10:00 Stories and Poems

Check the website for details

The Edgar Allen Poe Dance 1

Dance to Poe-inspired tunes – playlist

William Wilson

Shandon Loring reads Poe’s 1839 short story at Seanchai Library

Friday, January 22nd
10:00 Stories and Poems

Check the website for details
Saturday, January 23rd
11:00 Welcome with Shandon Loring
11:10 The Raven – Corwyn Allen
11:20 Eleanor – Corwyn Allen
11:40 The 10,002 Tale of Scheherazade – Dubhna Rhiadra
12:00 Dream Within A Dream – Kayden OConnell

SLurls and Links