Edgar Allan Poe: The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe (27 Oct. 1994)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary, Biography, History
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Descend into the dark world and tragic life of the melancholy author who is the uncontested master of the macabre, and hear excerpts from his famous works.

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Title: Edgar Allan Poe: The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe (27 Oct 1994)

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Episode credited cast:
Norman George ...
Narrator (voice)


Descend into the dark world and tragic life of the melancholy author who is the uncontested master of the macabre, and hear excerpts from his famous works.

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27 October 1994 (USA)  »

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The Play Is The Tragedy "Man" And The Hero The Conquering Worm.
16 August 2015 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

Baby Edgar was born in Boston and his father promptly deserted the family. His mother, an actress, traveled a good deal and died in Richmond, Virginia, when Poe was three. The Poe children were scattered around to orphanages until the Allan family, friends of Mrs. Poe, decided to raise Edgar. A mismatch made in hell. Mr. Allan was a Scotsman, a rough tobacco trader. Poe was impulsive, athletic, and rebellious. The authoritarian John Allen sent Edgar off to the University of Virginia without any money. Poe ran into debt and left, joining the army under an assumed name. Pleas to his father didn't help and Poe angrily put an end to any relationship.

Surprisingly, Poe seems to have been a good soldier, rising to a high enlisted rank and briefly attending West Point. But he wasn't interested, says this program, and left the army. Other biographies mention gambling debts and drinking as well as a lack of interest in the military. With little money, he moved in with his aunt, Mariah Clemm, and her eight-year-old daughter Virginia. To help support the family he sold short stories and fantasies to literary magazines, which paid a pittance. Hired as an editor by the Southern Literary Messenger, his reviews and rejection slips were arrogant and brutal. This can hurt, as I know. He was also at odds with his employers. This combative character and the resultant poverty were two consistent themes in his life. He loved certain women -- carefully selected -- and his own version of literature, but little else. He must have been a big pain in the neck to everyone except the women in whom he was interested, and they often died on him.

One of the women he loved was his cousin Virginia. When they were married, he was twenty-six and she had grown from eight years old to twelve. ("O, Edgar", Humbert Humbert might have moaned in sympathy.) She, like so many others in Poe's life, died a few years later of tuberculosis. She took a long time dying and Poe suffered mightily. "I became insane -- with long, horrifying fits of sanity." At any rate, he was a loving and devoted husband, teaching Virginia algebra and how to play the flute. Some of us would like to know a little more about that. His public activities were full of bitterness and strife as usual. His mother-in-law was reduced to begging for loans from friends. Somehow Poe managed to wangle a job interview with the President of the United States and showed up drunk. But if his finances weren't improving, and they weren't, he was still becoming known to the public and with the publication of "The Raven" he became a sensation. He traveled about giving readings of his poems for a fee. The "New Yorker" had a typically silly cartoon of Poe, chin in hand, dreaming up lines for "The Raven," and speech bubbles with the word "Nevermore" coming from different animals -- a tortoise, a goat, a fish, and so on. He wrote "The Raven," probably the most famous American poem ever, in a modest brick house in Philadelphia, open to the public, I picked up a tiny piece of crumbling 19th-century mortar from the floor and kept it in my car. He didn't write that many poems. Norman George reads excerpts from "The Raven" and "Annabell Lee." I still find them moving. Others must also. On the waterfront of Juneau, Alaska, there is a small restaurant, Annabell Lee, with sketches and photos of Poe on the walls.

After Virginia's death, Poe went into a barely controlled frenzy, courting several women at the same time, writing each of them almost identical love letters. He drank heavily -- pathologically -- and his public readings became a shambles. He was found comatose on the streets of Baltimore and died in Washington Hospital in 1849.

The program is quite good, although I get the impression it plays down Poe's boozing it up. His drinking didn't seem to work, in the sense that he never seems to have had a launch window into euphoria. The expert talking heads are kind to Poe, as they would be to a misguided friend. Nothing is mentioned of the many fantasies and hoaxes that Poe wrote, some of them amusing.

And nothing is said of his literary theory which, to keep it short, went something like "throw logic out the window and go for effect," his detective stories notwithstanding. It sounds extreme but -- there were no movies in Poe's time, of course, but there are now. I wonder if the producers of films like "Sharknado" and the disastrous remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" ever read Poe's theories in the Southern Literary Messenger. I only wonder because they appear to have outdone Poe.

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