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Friday, January 21, 2011

The Allure of Edgar Allan Poe

 Many of my recent posts have dealt with the Civil War era - in particular, spies during the War between the States. I'm fascinated with that era - that interest has led me to write two historical romances set during the Civil War, with a third on its way. However, this post has nothing to do with the Civil War or spies or daring alpha males. In honor of the 212th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe on January 19, I took another look at the life and legacy of Poe and the mysterious Poe toaster.

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 . 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 from 1949 until January 19, 2010, when the  Poe Toaster failed to show. The Poe Toaster’s absence again this year leads one to wonder if the Toaster has passed away, taking the mystery of his identity with him forever.

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 and created the detective fiction genre decades before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created 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.

I’ve 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. Certainly it’s no coincidence Baltimore’s professional football team is dubbed the Ravens. Poe’s works have 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 I have to admit to enjoying corny Vincent Price movies loosely based on Poe’s works – in some cases, it seems only the title was used.  Poe’s death was as mysterious as his works, and he’d certainly experienced tragedy and heartbreak. I won’t bombard you with details on Poe’s life. Suffice it to say his life might have provided 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 exhibiting 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. But his moody genius would have made him quite intriguing. And possibly quite passionate.

So, here’s my question – would a man like Poe have made the cut as a romantic hero? While the vast majority of romance heroes are undisputed alpha males, the beta male offers an undeniably unique 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 his victory…intriguing possibilities, indeed. 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. Do I feel a story forming?

17 comments:

Pauline said...

Poe was actually born in 1809, making Wednesday the 202nd anniversary of his birth. And if Poe were a romantic hero I'd say, to be true to history, his heroine would have to be Virginia Clemm. Not a bad choice herself if one overlooks the garbage written about her to date. Just a thought.

Vonnie Davis said...

We used to live near Balitmore and my husband taught in that city for 40 years, so we are always intersted in anything regarding Poe. Your post was well-written and thought provoking. Poe is an enigma, which makes him all the more intriguing, don't you think?

Kat Duncan said...

Poe's life is interesting and his stories even more so. I think I personally would have found him a bit depressing as a romantic hero, though. I do think many women would find him attractive both physically and intellectually. Great story material for sure!

Eliza Knight said...

A very interesting post Victoria. I am seriously curious about who wa leaving the booze and flowers! Wow! I do think he has the stuff some of her heroes are made of. A very tortured past--lots of pain he's seen. He was a genius with prose, and probably extremely fun to chat with--if only to spar words. In the portrait you posted, I see a challenge in his gaze, and a smirk, like he has some dark funny secret he's bursting to share, but if he did it would ruin his mysticism. I would have liked to see a dark man like him get together with some light of heart like Charlotte Bronte.

Eliza Knight said...

Meant to say "OUR heroes are made of..."

Guess its time for a coffee refill.

Tess said...

I love Poe, but I don't think of a hero when I think of him. Too Dark!

Thus quote the raven...Nevermore.

Paty Jager said...

He is kind of dark for a hero but then the right heroine could pull him out of that darkness don't you think?

Caroline Clemmons said...

I remember the first time I read Poe. Scared me. LOL He is sort of nice looking, but I don't think of him as a hero. Drug and alcohol abuses don't seem heroic even if he was brilliant. Great post, Victoria.

Sally said...

It saddens me to think of what his life was to have written as he did. Would he be surprised at his legacy and posthumous popularity?

Susan Macatee said...

Great post! I love Edgar Allen Poe. He was my favorite read in college when I had to study the classics.

I think a beta male would make a great romance hero, but it seems these days most romance publishers are looking for alpha males. But I do recall reading stories with beta males back in the 80's when I first started reading romance.

Victoria Gray said...

Pauline, you are so right...I knew he was born in 1809...guess I'm not such a great typist!

Victoria Gray said...

I agree with you all that despite his darkness, the right woman might have pulled him away from the abyss. What a great plot idea!

E. Ayers said...

So often kids don't understand Poe. Our daughter complained bitterly about having to study him. Then her father blew her mind at dinner when he recited The Raven from memory. He asked her how many peers felt the way she did and she told him that she thought they all did. He told her to tell her teacher that he'd teach them about Poe. The teacher took him up on it.

The teens were fascinated by Poe's quirky life and even more so with his mysterious posthumous following. Then hubby recited The Raven as only a loyal Poe lover could. He said afterwards that you could have heard a pin drop in that class.

At least the kids heard the phenomenal linguistic tidal flow that Poe created. It wasn’t just a poem; it wasn’t just a sad topic. It was a musical score without music. It creates goose bumps.

To roses and cognac, may they all rest in peace.

The Paperback Diva said...

Another fascinating post! Mr. Poe was my first horror story author. I had many a nightmare. My vote is 'no' for romantic hero, though. I think he would have been the goofy (or creepy) friend. lol!

Margaret Tanner said...

Interesting post Victoria. Poe's life certainly does seem to have been dogged by tragedy, that is probably what made him such a great writer.

regards

margaret

Victoria Gray said...

Imagine an alternate reality for Poe...one where he met "the one"...goodness, I think I'm feeling a time travel inspiration here...of course, I don't write time travel...hmmmm....

Victoria Gray said...

I think many teens today still enjoy Poe because of his moodiness and macabre sensibilities...not all, but more than you might imagine. My niece is into Poe (almost a little too much, now that I think about it).