Today, as if the number of mysteries shrouding the life of Poe were not enough, I suggest to you the reader, that Edgar Allan Poe was the instrument of death to the women that he loved and was destined to live a tragic life from his infancy.
To help you understand these theories, I must first give you adequate background information for you to make your judgment.
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19th, 1809 to David Poe Junior and his wife Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe. Mother and father were both actors with a travelling troupe. Edgar was the second of three children to be born to this couple, the eldest being William Henry Leonard Poe two years his senior and the youngest was Rosalie Poe two years his junior. Edgar’s father, David Poe Junior, according to all material available was an ill tempered alcoholic. His ego was repeatedly bruised with reviews of their performances that raved about the quality of his wife Elizabeth’s acting and singing accompanied with suggestions that David might have been better suited to pursue another career path. This alone was more than enough to rationalize drinking to David, thereby escalating the tensions within the family. As with the vast majority of alcoholics, when times get tough you do not take responsibility for the situation, you find someone to blame it on. When Elizabeth became ill with Consumption (the term used for Tuberculosis back then), more than likely their source of income dried up as she was the talented one of the two; there is little chance that David could secure acting roles on his own. He could have very well used this incident to justify in his own drunken mind leaving his family behind so he could succeed. Although there are rumors that Rosalie was not David’s child and therefore he left because of an illicit affair by Elizabeth. No matter what his reasoning, the only other information on David was that he died within a week of Elizabeth’s death. Knowing this and the cause of his wife’s death, combined with him being an alcoholic which would have lowered his resistance to disease, there is a good possibility that David Junior also fell to tuberculosis. However, without any records of his death, we will never know for sure.
By the time Edgar was just shy of his third birthday; his father had already abandoned the family for unknown reasons and his mother passed away from consumption leaving the Poe children as orphans. At the time of her death, the children were living with her in a boarding house. Boarding homes in that era were not the nicest places to live. Many times there would be whole families living in each room and you could have twenty to thirty people living under one roof. With all these people and one communal outhouse for them to use, conditions were perfect for spreading disease. Before Elizabeth died, she arranged for the care of her three children. After Elizabeth’s death, William went to live with his paternal grandparents, David Senior and Elizabeth Cairnes Poe. Edgar was sent to live with John and Frances Allan, and Rosalie with the McKenzie family of Richmond, Virginia.
While Frances Allan was very excited about taking in Edgar, John wanted nothing to do with it. The Allan’s were a childless couple of good means in Richmond, Virginia. Even though they did not have any children together, John was supporting several illegitimate children of his own. They took young Edgar in and it was said that Frances doted on him for the rest of her life. They gave him his elementary education in Scotland where John Allan was originally from, and in England. While Mrs. Allan loved and nurtured Edgar, it is said that Mr. Allan was very strict and distant from him. Although they raised Edgar, they did not adopt him. As a child, Frances had Edgar baptized and had “Allan” added to Edgar’s name. John finally sent Edgar off to college without the means to support himself and Edgar failed. When Edgar was twenty years old, Frances died of tuberculosis. The relationship between Edgar and John totally failed after Frances’ death. Edgar returned to visit John once before John’s death and it is told that while bed ridden, John threatened to beat Edgar with his cane if Edgar came within striking distance.
If we summarized what we have discussed so far, Edgar has now lost two mother figures to tuberculosis and had one father figure abandon him and the other constantly wrong him. Why this is important will become more evident later.
After working at several jobs over the years, Edgar ends up at his grandmother’s home where she lives with his aunt, Maria Poe Clemm and his cousins, Henry and Virginia Clemm. He falls in love with Virginia and marries her when she is thirteen years old and he is twenty seven. Their relationship as husband and wife was claimed to have been plutonic. This may very well be correct as Edgar lost most of his family and may not have wanted to have a child that ended up abandoned too. During their marriage, Virginia would often invite another poet, Frances Sargent Osgood to their home to spend time with them. Frances was a poet who had been lauded by Edgar on several occasions. He had gone so far as to have numerous flirtatious poems written by Osgood published. Rumors then became public that Edgar was having an affair with Osgood. After a dozen years of marriage, Virginia died of tuberculosis. On her deathbed, she claimed that her death was caused by the rumors of her husband’s infidelity. Tuberculosis had now taken the lives of three women he had loved, his brother, and possibly his father. Osgood died the year after Edgar died and once again the cause of death was tuberculosis. For the purposes of this paper, that left the final score at five or six to zero in favor of tuberculosis.
At that time in history, tuberculosis, was prominent in industrialized nations to include the eastern seaboard of America. The incidents of this disease were more common amongst the poor and working class, arguably due to the close living conditions these classes of people had to endure. In suburban areas, the estimates are approximately 40% of the population in the lower classes died of Tuberculosis. The incidents of tuberculosis among the wealthier population were much rarer. Tuberculosis could be present in a person’s system without that person ever showing outward signs of the illness making them a vessel to spread the disease. Records show that tuberculosis affected women to a much larger degree than men. I contend, as it has been suggested by others, that Edgar Allan Poe was exposed to tuberculosis by his parents or whoever exposed his parents. He then became a carrier of the disease and was the person who exposed Frances Allen, his wife Virginia, and their friend Frances Osgood to the deadly disease. Edgar’s brother, who would have been exposed at the same time as him, was not as lucky as Edgar and fell to the disease at the age of twenty four. Therefore, I hypothesize that Edgar was the instrument of death to the all the women other than his mother that he loved.
Having completed the presentation of evidence in the first theory, it is now time to address the second theory. Edgar Allan Poe was predestined to a less than flourishing life.
When a child is abandoned by their parents, whether it is by death or otherwise, there are certain “side effects” of that abandonment that can affect the rest of that person’s life. Even if that parent were to return, the damage is often permanent. Some of the side effects that are caused by abandonment are: control problems, distrust of persons of the same sex as the parent who abandoned them, dishonesty, learning difficulty, and defiant, destructive or impulsive behavior. Edgar’s father walked out of the picture when he was two, never to return. His mother also died thereby abandoning him, but his next mother figure, Frances Allan, loved and nurtured him during his formative years, leaving him with a sense of comfort with women in his life. So, his father abandoned him and then the next father figure he encountered in the form of John Allan, was distant and extremely strict with him. He further cemented Edgar’s distrust of men by wanting even less to do with Edgar after Frances’ death. Having a deep seated hatred for men, Edgar had grown up to be what he hated, a man. Becoming what you hate can manifest itself in many ways. Two of the ways that this can be reflected are: 1. doing things to disrupt the lives of those you hate; and 2. by showing or telling others about how evil those you hate are. They may not even be conscious efforts to get revenge on the objects of your hate, it can frequently be the totally contained in the realm of the subconscious psyche. Edgar was successful in doing both. He would do things that sabotaged his own success for instance showing up at a meeting with the President of the United States drunk; and when returning sober for the rescheduled meeting, trying to sell the President subscriptions instead of sticking to his original plan to petition a government job. On the second item of showing or telling others about how evil men are, Edgar accomplished this by every literary piece he wrote that had a villain, with the exception of The Murders in the Rue Morgue, all were men. But even in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the villain was a male chimpanzee. Add that to the scathing reviews he always gave male counterparts and the glowing reviews he gave women, the theory becomes even more solidified.
He used the demons that resided in his tortured mind as the instruments to write many of his stories, and his heart was used to write the love poems. The pen to the paper may have well been nothing more than a coping mechanism for the life around him, but if it was, his attempts to cope will be venerated for generations to come.
In the end, Edgar Allan Poe was found delirious on a street wearing clothing that was not his own shortly before his death. An open opponent of his claimed he had died of alcoholism, but the doctor who initially attended him stated that he was not under the influence of alcohol. Could it have been the accumulation of all of his lost loves combined with him growing up to be the object of his own hatred had become too much for his own body to take?
In conclusion, I have submitted the evidence to support the theory that Edgar Allan Poe unwittingly killed the women he adored with his love, and he was predestined to a life of sorrow. It is now up to you the reader to weigh the evidence and make your own verdict.
This was submitted as my final essay for an Interpretation of Literature class and I received a 98.4% on it. While doing research for this paper, I contacted the curator at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia. She informed me that the tuberculosis theory is somewhat common but no one had ever looked into his psyche before.
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