Poe: About the Man

Who was Edgar Allan Poe?

He was an antebellum Virginian, a journalist, a performer, an amateur scientist, and, as the son of an actress, a social outcast. These factors shaped both the man and the literature he produced. The result was the birth of American Literature.

"I am a Virginian."

In calling himself a Virginian, Poe identified himself with the state in which he had been reared, educated, and begun his career in journalism. Until about 1820, Virginia was the largest, most populous, and most influential state in the Union.

When the actress Eliza Poe died in Richmond in 1811, she had three young children. William Henry Leopold Poe grew up with his grandparents in Baltimore. Rosalie Poe grew up in the Richmond family of William MacKenzie and his wife. John Allan and his wife Frances Keeling Valentine Allan took Edgar, age two, into their household and gave him the name Allan when he was baptized. A successful merchant, Allan ensured that Poe received a good education but never adopted him. According to Poe, Allan showed him little affection, and tensions between the two increased as Poe grew older. In the Allan household, Poe learned the characteristics of a southern gentleman–proper etiquette, chivalry towards women, and a sense of class distinction.

Poe grew up accustomed to the fine furnishings with which the Allans decorated their homes. As an adult, he lived in poverty in a succession of sparsely furnished rented rooms and houses, but the characters in his fictional works, such as "The Raven" and "The Fall of the House of Usher," live in the kind of opulent manors Poe knew in his childhood.