This episode of Biography tells the story of the uncontested master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s haunting poems and chilling stories established him as one of the most important men of American letters. But behind his popularity and artistic success was a personal life defined by broken hopes and failures. The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe explores the bouts of depression and addiction that tormented the man and gave birth to his dark and brilliant art. The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe would be useful for classes on American Literature, American History, and American Culture. It is appropriate for middle school and high school.
The legend of Edgar Allan Poe is far from the reality, as we learn in A & E’s Biography series documentary of his life. The much misunderstood author is given a fair look in this 50 minute overview. They bring us the sad, broken Poe, stumbling through lectures and readings, but they also show us a good man who loved literature and wanted to succeed as a writer.
Any student of Poe has been inundated with macabre, morbid tales of involving dead women, drug abuse and affairs. What is disregarded by early biographers are the facts between the tales. He crafted stories with careful excellence, depending on technique, and not the lack of sobriety. He drew from his personal life, but also fabricated complex fantasies that became the model for Stephen King, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and others. His poetry caught the attention of European greats like Charles Baudelaire and Mihaly Babits, who, in turn, translated Poe’s works for the world.
We see where Poe lived an, and hear not only from his literary works, but his letters and the writings of those who knew him. We are able to attain a sense that Poe was not a monster only brooding in his woes, but a family man who longed to remain with Virginia, who lived with, as he wrote in “Annabel Lee,” “no other thought than to love and be loved by me.”
The affect of the tragedies which surrounded him are explored, from his poor relationship with his adoptive father to the many deaths of loved ones, lost to tuberculosis. Many men would have been enfeebled to write, but Poe took his sadness and expressed it as literary art.