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  • A high forehead topped by disheveled black hair, a sickly pallor,

  • and a look of deep intelligence and deeper exhaustion in his dark, sunken eyes.

  • Edgar Allan Poe's image is not just instantly recognizable

  • it's perfectly suited to his reputation.

  • From the prisoner strapped under a descending pendulum blade,

  • to a raven who refuses to leave the narrator's chamber,

  • Poe's macabre and innovative stories of gothic horror

  • have left a timeless mark on literature.

  • But just what is it that makes Edgar Allan Poe

  • one of the greatest American authors?

  • After all, horror was a popular genre of the period,

  • with many practitioners.

  • Yet Poe stood out thanks to his careful attention to form and style.

  • As a literary critic,

  • he identified two cardinal rules for the short story form:

  • it must be short enough to read in one sitting,

  • and every word must contribute to its purpose.

  • By mastering these rules,

  • Poe commands the reader's attention

  • and rewards them with an intense and singular experience

  • what Poe called the unity of effect.

  • Though often frightening, this effect goes far beyond fear.

  • Poe's stories use violence and horror to explore the paradoxes and mysteries of love, grief, and guilt,

  • while resisting simple interpretations or clear moral messages.

  • And while they often hint at supernatural elements,

  • the true darkness they explore is the human mind

  • and its propensity for self-destruction.

  • InThe Tell-Tale Heart,” a ghastly murder

  • is juxtaposed with the killer's tender empathy towards the victim

  • a connection that soon returns to haunt him.

  • The title character of "Ligeia" returns from the dead through the corpse of her husband's second wife

  • or at least the opium-addicted narrator thinks she does.

  • And when the protagonist ofWilliam Wilson

  • violently confronts a man he believes has been following him,

  • he might just be staring at his own image in a mirror.

  • Through his pioneering use of unreliable narrators,

  • Poe turns readers into active participants

  • who must decide when a storyteller might be misinterpreting

  • or even lying about the events they're relating.

  • Although he's best known for his short horror stories,

  • Poe was actually one of the most versatile and experimental writers of the nineteenth century.

  • He invented the detective story as we know it,

  • withThe Murders in the Rue Morgue,”

  • followed byThe Mystery of Marie RogetandThe Purloined Letter.”

  • All three feature the original armchair detective, C. Auguste Dupin,

  • who uses his genius and unusual powers of observation and deduction

  • to solve crimes that baffle the police.

  • Poe also wrote satires of social and literary trends,

  • and hoaxes that in some cases anticipated science fiction.

  • Those included an account of a balloon voyage to the moon,

  • and a report of a dying patient put into a hypnotic trance

  • so he could speak from the other side.

  • Poe even wrote an adventure novel about a voyage to the South Pole

  • and a treatise on astrophysics,

  • all while he worked as an editor,

  • producing hundreds of pages of book reviews and literary theory.

  • An appreciation of Poe's career wouldn't be complete without his poetry:

  • haunting and hypnotic.

  • His best-known poems are songs of grief, or in his words,

  • mournful and never-ending remembrance.”

  • The Raven,” in which the speaker projects his grief onto a bird

  • who merely repeats a single sound,

  • made Poe famous.

  • But despite his literary success,

  • Poe lived in poverty throughout his career,

  • and his personal life was often as dark as his writing.

  • He was haunted by the loss of his mother and his wife,

  • who both died of tuberculosis at the age of 24.

  • Poe struggled with alcoholism

  • and frequently antagonized other popular writers.

  • Much of his fame came from posthumousand very looseadaptations of his work.

  • And yet, if he could've known how much pleasure and inspiration

  • his writing would bring to generations of readers and writers alike,

  • perhaps it may have brought a smile to that famously brooding visage.

A high forehead topped by disheveled black hair, a sickly pallor,

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B2 US TED-Ed poe literary allan edgar horror

Why should you read Edgar Allan Poe? - Scott Peeples

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    April Lu posted on 2018/09/20
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