Young Poe was fortunate to be taken in by prosperous, doting foster parents, Fanny and John Allan, who provided him with not just a middle name but also a stellar education in Virginia and England. Yet this relationship also ended badly, with Fanny’s death from consumption and Poe’s bitter estrangement from his foster father, who cut him off
without a cent in late adolescence.
Poe’s adulthood was a constant struggle against destitution and despair, frequently exacerbated by drunken binges. Even Ackroyd’s condensed account paints an exasperatingly repetitive cycle of “Nevermore!” followed by further rounds of self-destructive drinking.
In his search for “external discipline” and a source of income, Poe enlisted in the Army during his late teens and later enrolled in officers’ training at West Point – both poor fits. At the same time, he was writing and publishing poems.
At 27, Poe married his 14-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. He had met her when she was 9, when he moved into her mother (and his aunt) Maria Clemm’s household. Ackroyd comments that their relationship was “spiritual in temper” and notes delicately, “We can only speculate that physical intimacy with his child bride, if it occurred at all, came at a subsequent date.”