A concise new biography marks the 200th birthday of Edgar Allen Poe.
Hippocrates’s classic pronouncement that life is short but art is long could have been coined with Edgar Allan Poe in mind. Although he died in 1849 at age 40, his literary legacy endures – not just in lugubrious stories and poems like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “Annabel Lee,” but in his influence on literature, including 19th-century French Romantic poetry and detective and science fiction.
Just in time for the bicentennial of Poe’s January 19, 1809, birth, master biographer Peter Ackroyd – born 100 years after Poe’s death – has written the brief but still amply detailed Poe: A Life Cut Short.
Ackroyd has demonstrated his adeptness at distilling masses of information with lively, full-gore biographies of such long-gone literary lights as T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, William Blake, and Thomas More. In “Poe,” he provides a pared-down but rich portrait of a productive but dismal existence.
Poe dwelt, like the narrator of his poem “Eulalie,” “in a world of moan” against a backdrop of “midnights dreary” not unlike that in his most famous poem, “The Raven.” Ackroyd writes, “He was dogged by poverty, and cursed by lack of success.... His entire life was a series of setbacks, of disappointed hopes and thwarted ambitions.”