Edgar Allan Poe is regarded as one of the inventors of detective fiction. His character of C. Auguste Dupin was a direct forerunner of Sherlock Holmes and other intellectual sleuths. Poe also wrote celebrated gothic stories such as The Raven and The Pit And The Pendulum. Thanks to a his dark themes, a bizarre demise and some grim photos, Poe acquired a reputation as a tormented artist.
1/ Poe was born in 1809, the same year as Abraham Lincoln, and as a child spent five years living in London’s Stoke Newington.
2/ At the age of 26, he married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm. As she succumbed to the consumption that would eventually kill her, Poe’s writing began to take on its famously morbid aspect. His own health began to fail and within two years he was dead, at the age of 40.
3/ Poe was involved in one of the great newspaper hoaxes of the day when he supposedly covered the story of a gas balloon flight across the Atlantic. The story was soon discovered to be fraudulent and the New York newspaper, The Sun, was forced to print a retraction. Poe, who liked a good grudge, was unimpressed that he never received any money from the successful hoax. However, it’s been suggested Jules Verne was influenced by the story.
4/ His detective, C. Auguste Dupin made his first appearance in the story The Murders In The Rue Morgue in 1841. Dupin, a French gentleman reduced to humble circumstances, uses his powers of abductive reasoning to solve crime, and determined that the murderer was both hairy and ginger. The Dupin stories set in place many of the elements of detective fiction: the eccentric detective and his admiring narrator friend, the locked-room mystery. Dupin appeared again in The Mystery of Marie Roget and The Purloined Letter.
5/ All of Dupin’s powers of logical thinking are recquired to solve the mystery in the Rue Morgue. The murderer is revealed to be an orangutan who killed his lady victim accidentallly while shaving her in order to make her look like a sailor – I believe I saw something similar in an episode of Morse once. Realising his tragic mistake, the creature then stuffs her unfortunate daughter up a chimney.
6/ Such was his influence on the genre, that the Mystery Writers of America call its prestigious yearly awards the Edgars.
7/ The cause of Poe’s death has always been something of a puzzle. He left his home for Philadelphia late in September of 1849 and was found in early October in a tavern in Baltimore, incoherent and wearing somebody’s else’s clothes. There’ve been plenty of theories about what caused his state. Cholera, rabies, alcoholism and inflamation of the brain have all been suggested.
8/ The most-entertaining theory is that Poe was a victim of cooping. Vulnerable people were often kidnapped by political thugs and forced to vote for an election candidate several times. It would explain the change of clothes, at least, and the tavern where Poe was found was indeed being used as polling station. To this day, a ghost called Edgar is reputed to haunt the building.
9/ Poe was reputedly the kind of man who could start a fight in an empty room, and he was involved in a number of feuds and fallings-out during his short lifetime. One of his antagonists was a fellow called Rufus Griswold, who somehow managed to become his literary executor. He wrote a damning biography on Poe which cemented his later reputation as a depraved madman. Griswold’s biography portrayed him as a mentally-unfit alcoholic, depressive and womanizer – and the Edgar Allan Poe legend was born.
10/ Between 1949 and 2009 three red roses and a bottle of cognac were mysteriously left at Poe’s grave in Baltimore. The identity of the Poe Toaster has never been verified, but for many years the figure was seen approaching the grave, cleverly blending into the Baltimore night by wearing a derby and white scarf and carrying a cane.