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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Edgar Allan Poe - Beta Male?

Three roses and a half-bottle of cognac – a fitting toast to the man who created a literary genre, contributed to the development of short stories as a literary form in American literature, and created macabre images that have spawned countless nightmares, influenced literature and served as the inspiration for books, movies and songs. For sixty years, an unknown visitor (or perhaps, visitors), clothing positioned to obscure his identity, ventured out to Poe’s grave during the wee hours of the night to drink a toast and leave the flowers and liquor at his grave. Visitors from across the country journeyed to Baltimore to witness what had been an annual event since 1949. Unfortunately, this year, that toast did not come.

How fitting that the so-called Poe Toaster (and his conspicuous absence) should be shrouded in mystery. Edgar Allan Poe was known for his literary mysteries; he created the detective fiction genre decades before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle dreamed up Sherlock Holmes. His life clouded by tragedy and cut short at the age of forty under mysterious circumstances from a cause that has never been determined, I imagine the man whose stories of horror and mystery changed American literature would have richly enjoyed the aura of mystery surrounding a simple bottle of cognac and a few cut flowers laid on his grave.

This recent flare of interest in Poe piqued my curiosity. I’d always been fascinated by Poe’s works such as The Murders in the Rue Morgue and intrigued by the concept that a modern day pro-football team is named after a poetic work by a man who died long before football became a national obsession. I was aware his works inspired hundreds of movie and television works (he even has a page on the Internet Movie Database – not bad for a man who died in 1849), and have to admit to watching and enjoying several corny Vincent Price movies loosely based on Poe’s works – in some cases, it seems only the title was used. I knew his death occurred under mysterious circumstances, and I was aware he’d experienced tragedy and heartbreak in his life. But I’d never thought of Poe as anything other than a writer. Honestly, I’d never given a moment's thought to Poe, the man.

I won’t bombard you with details on Poe’s life. Suffice it to say his life might have provided ample fodder for a melodrama. Orphaned as a young boy when his actress mother died and his actor father abandoned his family, he was taken in by a family that raised him but never adopted him. Eventually disowned by his foster family, Poe foundered at college and in the Army, lost a brother to alcoholism, and buried his young wife after two years when she succumbed to tuberculosis. By the time of his death, he was believed to be drinking heavily and reported exhibited erratic behavior. Despite these woes, Poe harnessed his literary genius to create an enduring legacy.

He wasn’t a conventionally handsome man, but there was definitely a dark, penetrating quality to his eyes. Poe wasn’t tall (Army records list his height as 5’8” ), and he was definitely not the man to bet on in a bar fight. His nearly black hair could have been cut in a more flattering style. And in his few portraits, he is unsmiling and his face shows the effects of a hard life as he entered middle age. But still, there's an intensity there, especially in those brooding eyes. My author's active imagination supposes his moody genius would have made him quite intriguing. And possibly quite passionate.

A recent article at Romance University by author Tracey Devlyn highlighted the appeal of the beta male. While the vast majority of romance heroes could be considered alpha males, the beta male offers an undeniably unique, intellectual appeal. Edgar Allan Poe could be considered a beta male. Intelligent, prone to star-crossed romance, the type of man to use a pen rather than a sword – just the kind of man a strong woman could engage in a battle of wits and claim lasting love as her victory…intriguing possibilities abound. Of course, we can’t travel back in time (and honestly, if I could, it would be to Liverpool around 1961 in search of another beta male, a young Englishman known for his biting wit, touching lyrics, and beautiful melodies – John Lennon), but it’s fascinating to imagine what might have happened if Edgar Allan Poe had met a woman who was his intellectual equal. And equally fascinating to consider the plot possibilities of a hero with Poe’s moody romanticism. Hmmmm…do I feel a story forming???


Kelsey said...

Victoria -

You history folks amaze me with your knowledge!

If anyone is interested in the RU lecture, this is the link: http://romanceuniversity.org/2009/12/30/beta-males-gems-or-wallflowers/.


Undine said...

Actually, there have been many novels about Poe--some depicting him as a "romantic lead." Unfortunately, they've all been lousy. (This topic has been among the running Poe-related complaints on my blog.)

I long for the day when someone writes a novel about the guy that is historically accurate, well-written, and that depicts his marriage as the fulfilling love-match that I believe it was. It sure hasn't happened yet.

Jeannie Lin said...

I had to come by since I happened to mention Poe in a post about the midnight disease or writer's insomnia. Edgar must be floating in the collective sub-conscious today!

His pictures definitely portray an intense and mysterious soul. I would totally be interested in seeing him as a character.

Anonymous said...

Lovely, Wendy!!!!!!

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Poe was a brillant writer. It's unfortunate that his life was cut short and that he lost the love of his life so early into their marriage.

Tracey Devlyn said...

Poe-Toaster - how cool is that?! It's also sad that no one picked up the baton/glass this year. :(

Thanks for the great article, Victoria!


Victoria Gray said...

Poe's loss of his wife, Virginia Clemm,had a great influence on his writing. The death of a beautiful woman was a recurring theme in his works.

Victoria Gray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Victoria Gray said...

Just checked out your post...very interesting, and I can completely imagine Poe functioned in that manner.
Thanks for stopping by : )

Victoria Gray said...

I would hestitate to write a novel depicting Poe himself as a romantic hero, as his history has been written, and the ending was far from happy. A book about Poe's marriage would be a fascinating project, but I love a happily ever after. In my case,I could see using his moody intensity and literary brilliance as inspiration for a fictional hero. The possibilities are ripe.

Cara Preston said...

I'll never look at Edgar Allan Poe in the same way again. He suddenly has a sexy appeal to him. Perhaps it's the intelligent and shrewd way he possessed. Or maybe the fact that his suspense writing reveals him to be an unpredictable but detail oriented person. His mastery of wit and words would make him attractive.