Friday, 25 February 2011


Most of us have ideas and associations relating to particular authors, and it's always interesting when these are refined, brought into sharper focus or even dispelled by more information. My wife and I recently watched an absorbing documentary on Edgar Allan Poe's work and life - and especially his relationship with women - called Edgar Allan Poe Love, Death and Women. This programme led me on to the short but very worthy biography by Peter Ackroyd, Poe: a Life Cut Short.

This book opens, dramatically, with the mysterious last week of Poe's life, which ended with his undiagnosed death, and the details of which have never been definitively established, beyond the great likelihood that these days were tainted by the desperate alcoholic abuse that characterised his life. Ackroyd is deft at drawing connections between the writer's life and his art, never taking this approach too far, and writing with perception and clarity throughout.

The dominating theme that emerges from the book is Poe's obsessive need to be loved, trusted and welcomed by women, although his attempts to realise this need were fatally undermined by is own behaviour and character. At times, he performed extraordinary mental, emotional and logistical juggling acts when courting such approval from different women simultaneously, especially after the death from tuberculosis at a young age of his wife (and first cousin) Virgina.

Ackroyd also briefly but helpfully discusses the range of contemporary reactions to Poe's work, and the enormous influence exercised by Poe's prose and poetry over whole genres and literary movements, from detective fiction through to the French symbolists.

We published a Poe short story collection - The Dupin Mysteries - in January 2010 which is as good a place to start your Poe research as any.


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