Friday, July 13, 2012

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Author, Poet, Essayist, Critic, Editor
Born January 19, 1809, Boston, Massachusetts
Died October 7, 1849, Baltimore, Maryland

If we tell a story of an author who wrote tales of mystery, crime, horror, and science fiction for popular magazines; a man who--wandering from city to city--struggled to find work and to win recognition (and remuneration) for his writing; an orphan and an alcoholic who was disowned by his family and endured other losses and tragedies, finally to die in poverty, you might guess that he was a pulp fiction writer of the 1920s and '30s. Instead, you would be reading something of the life of Edgar Allan Poe.

The facts of Poe's life are well known and can be found in any number of sources. He was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, child and orphan of two actors. Raised by a wealthy Southerner (from whom he took the name Allan), Poe was educated in Great Britain and in the South. Although he attended the University of Virginia and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he never completed his degree. Instead, Poe served successfully as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army and worked as a writer, editor, and critic for a number of magazines and newspapers, including the Southern Literary Messenger, Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, and Graham's Magazine. Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, but died childless. His legacy was instead his very influential oeuvre of fiction and verse.

Edgar Allan Poe was among the first American authors to attempt to support themselves solely by their writing. His first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, was published in 1827 when its author was still in his teens. It came and went without notice. "MS. Found in a Bottle," from 1833, won him a prize from a Baltimore newspaper and a position as assistant editor at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, Virginia. From there, Poe's career was more assured and stable, though personal problems and the death of his wife took their toll. Poe died mysteriously in Baltimore on October 7, 1849. In the centennial year of Poe's death, the mysterious "Poe Toaster" began his annual visit to the author's grave. The ritual ended with the bicentennial of Poe's birth.

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most well known and influential American authors of the nineteenth century. He is credited with having created the genre of detective fiction and as one of the originators of the genre of science fiction. As such, his work was a forerunner to two of the most popular categories of pulp fiction. (If Poe's work led to twentieth century detective fiction and science fiction, it must also have led to the two most popular types of comic book superheroes, the detective hero--e.g., Batman--and the science fictional hero--e.g., Superman. Only the mythological hero, the magical hero, and the supernatural hero would have predated Poe and his time.) Jacob Clark Henneberger, founder of Weird Tales magazine, was a particular admirer of Edgar Allan Poe. In the magazine to which he was so devoted, Henneberger attempted to revive the effect and spirit of Poe's tales of mystery and terror. In the early essay, "Why Weird Tales?" (Weird Tales, May/June/July 1924), Henneberger's editorial staff recognized their debt and obligation to Poe, writing, "Had Edgar Allan Poe produced that masterpiece [The Murders in the Rue Morgue] in this generation he would have searched in vain for a publisher before the advent of this magazine." The closing of the essay begins with these prescient words:
[Poe's] works are immortal and stand today as the most widely read of any American author. The publishers of Weird Tales hope they will be instrumental in discovering or uncovering some American writer who will leave to posterity what Poe and Hawthorne have bequeathed to the present generation.
Perhaps unknowingly, the magazine had already begun publishing the work of that writer and a worthy successor to Edgar Allan Poe, for in its October 1923 issue, Weird Tales had printed the first of many tales by another New Englander who struggled to make his living as a writer, a man who endured his own personal problems, yet triumphed in his art, only to die tragically young like Edgar Allan Poe. That writer and Poe's successor was Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

Works by Edgar Allan Poe, published in his lifetime
Tamerlane and Other Poems (as by "a Bostonian") (1827)
Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems (1829)
Poems (1831)
Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1839)
The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe (1843)
Tales (1845)
The Raven and Other Poems (1845)

Edgar Allan Poe's Stories and Poems in Weird Tales
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (June 1923)
"The Pit and the Pendulum" (Oct. 1923)
"The Tell-Tale Heart" (Nov. 1923)
"The Black Cat" (Jan. 1924)
"Never Bet the Devil Your Head" (Mar. 1924)
"The Conqueror Worm" (poem, Nov. 1925)
"The Haunted Palace" (poem, Dec. 1925)
"Lenore" (poem, Jan. 1926)
"The Masque of the Red Death" (Mar. 1926)
"Eldorado" (poem, Sept. 1926)
"Ligeia" (Nov. 1926)
"The Thousandth and Second Tale" (Nov. 1927)
"Metzengerstein" (Jan. 1928)
"A Descent into the Maelstrom" (Jan. 1930)
"Berenice" (Apr. 1932)
"The Premature Burial" (Nov. 1933)
"William Wilson" (Nov. 1935)
"Israfel" (poem, Sept. 1938, one of Virgil Finlay's poetry series)
"The Fall of the House of Usher" (Aug. 1939)
"The Raven" (poem, Sept. 1939, one of Virgil Finlay's poetry series)
"Lenore" (poem, Mar. 1940, one of Virgil Finlay's poetry series)

In all, Weird Tales reprinted twenty poems and stories by Edgar Allan Poe. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" was the first. The illustration is by the incomparable Harry Clarke (1889-1931), the artist most closely associated with Poe's work. 
Born in Ireland, Clarke worked as an illustrator and stained glass artist. His black and white illustrations are well known and often reprinted. His work in color is less well known. Here is a color illustration for "The Tell-Tale Heart." The pose of the murderer here is strikingly similar to that of the razor-wielding orangutan in the previous picture. Clarke's technique imbues his color illustration with the luminosity of stained glass.  
"The Premature Burial," a truly terrifying image by Clarke. 
Another color image by Clarke. I'm afraid I don't know the title of the story. Can anyone help? 
Clarke was influenced by art nouveau, as in this illustration for "The Masque of the Red Death," but his work was his own. Working in his native Ireland, he may have been on the fringes of European art movements, thus free to develop as he would.
Another illustration for an unknown story. I have included it here because it is such a striking departure from Clarke's other illustrations and because it presages Lovecraftian horrors to come.
Finally, Clarke's drawing for "The Fall of the House of Usher," the last story by Poe to appear in Weird Tales.
Harry Clarke's work never appeared in Weird Tales. Gahan Wilson on the other hand was the last artist to see his work printed in the pages of "The Unique Magazine." Here is Mr. Wilson's cover for the Classics Illustrated version of "The Raven and Other Poems." 
Mr. Wilson also created this cover for Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine (Aug. 1985), portraying monsters from the imagination of H.P. Lovecraft, a writer who--more than any other--can be considered an equal to Poe.
September 1939--World War II began and the image of Edgar Allan Poe appeared on the cover of Weird Tales magazine. He may have been the only author so honored. The artist was Virgil Finlay. Update (July 8, 2015): Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok also appeared on the cover of Weird Tales, but not as themselves as authors. Instead, they drew anonymous self-portraits as part of their respective cover illustrations.
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this interesting reading, especially for the beautiful images of Clarke!

    I also recommend the illustrations of Arthur Rackham for "Tales of Mystery & Imagination", featured in this video: