Edgar Allan Poe and Gothic Booze

Edgar Allan Poe; portrait by Gabriel Harrison, 1896

Few writers are remembered so distinctively as Poe, whose haunting tales of dungeons and macabre characters in distress were extremely influential on writers in America and abroad. Many American writers up to the mid-twentieth century were quite addicted to alcohol, and Poe was no exception. One perceptive writer, in fact, termed him the chairman of the board of American writers with a fondness for drink, and such a title deserves some merit. Poe’s humble origins and distinctive upbringing both had a hand in making him the unique writer that he became, an uncommon individual who merits attention as an exclusive voice in literature.

Poe was born as the second child of two actors in Boston, Massachusetts, who could not afford to raise him so that he became the ward of a couple in Richmond Virginia.  Mr. Allan, the source of Poe’s middle name, was a bit strict with his young charge, and alternated between being his charge’s savior and a strict disciplinarian. The young man’s journey to adulthood consisted of a series of unfinished alliances, including a military academy, the Army, the University of Virginia and West Point. Alcohol, drugs and gambling contributed to his inability to achieve success with established institutions, leaving him alone to his own solitary reminiscences. Alcoholism, as a disease, is very creative in nature, as liquor has a different effect on the person who imbibes it, making them addicted not only to the physical consumption of liquor, but also to the all powerful feelings that it produces. Yet such feelings are at variance with reality, for the imbiber is not really so powerful as a number of drinks makes them feel. Thus there is a constant struggle of the tension, the imminent doom, the possibility of impending disaster that this strange consciousness produces. As a professional adult, Poe worked for a series of different literary magazines, but was forever quitting in a huff because he supposed that he was responsible for the magazine’s great increase in circulation, but did not share in the profits. Near his mortal end, Poe was attempting to establish his own magazine, where he would have to hated boss to struggle with, but passed on before it became a reality. It is not, of course, Poe’s professional life that makes him still a household world, but his eerie tales and poems, like the Raven, the Tell-Tale Heart, Masque of the Red Death, the Pit and the Pendulum and many others.

Such stories and poems are left to the ages, and his writings have been very influential on countless writers. Here is an example of one that you might enjoy.

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