Once upon a time, young readers enjoyed the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s “tales of terror” are both horrifying and unforgettable; they bear the stamp of deeply felt nightmares. Poe’s “tales of ratiocination” are fascinating as detective stories, and Poe was of course the inventor of the genre. Not even being required to read Poe in school could destroy the pleasure provided by his work. Does anyone now read Poe, either voluntarily or otherwise?
Professor Kenneth Silverman has written a classic, compelling account of Poe’s life, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. In Silverman’s telling, Poe’s life is the counterpart to Poe’s tales of terror. Poe lost both his mother and father by the age of three, was divided from his brother and sister to be raised by a family friend, and suffered the mortal illnesses and deaths of every other person he loved in the course of his life with the sole exception of his mother-in-law, to whom he was unfailingly loyal. At the same time, Poe struggled manfully with alcohol and destitution. Nevertheless, by the time he died at the age of 40, he had created the impressive body of fiction, poetry and literary criticism that stands as his monument. Silverman’s reconstruction of Poe’s life is itself a pleasure and an inspiration.
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