Review -- Poe: A Life Cut Short
Sunday in the Sun, get a review of Poe: A Life Cut Short, a new biography by Peter Ackroyd. Here are excerpts from Allen Barra's review:
Every life and reputation could use some buffing up now and then, and Edgar Allan Poe, his influence obscured by legions of bad imitators, more than most. Peter Ackroyd, in this short, sharp and immensely readable little biography, is just the man to do it. ...
One of the few biographers with equal standing as a critic, Ackroyd is the first writer in decades to bring Poe’s life and work into sharp focus and impress urgency on an appreciation of his oeuvre. (He also profiled Chaucer and the painter J.M.W. Turner in his Brief Lives series and has splendidly dealt with, among others, Shakespeare, Dickens and T.S. Eliot at greater length.)
Relying heavily on Edgar Allan Poe, Modern Critical Views, edited by Harold Bloom, and Kenneth Silverman’s 1991 Edgar A. Poe, Ackroyd rescues Poe from the layers of cliches and misinterpretations built up over generations. For instance, Poe did not invent Gothic literature; he "reinvigorated the Gothic tradition of horror and morbid sensationalism by centering it upon the human frame," Ackroyd writes. ... Poe was "the most calculating of authors, never to be confused with his disturbed and even psychotic narrators. Poe the writer arrived carefully after the most extreme effects."
"Anxiety," though, "was his childhood bedfellow," Ackroyd says. Born in Boston in 1809 to Southern parents — traveling actors "whose status was just a little higher than that of vagabonds" — Edgar was orphaned at age 2 when his father abandoned the family and his mother died of consumption; he was taken in and raised by friends of his mother. As a youth, he was described by some as having "a very sweet disposition ... always cheerful." It did not last long: "Young Poe harbored a grudge against the world," Ackroyd says. ...
He has become, in our time, "the image of the poete maudit, the blasted soul, the wanderer. His fate was heavy, his life all but unsupportable," Ackroyd says. Never accepted by his contemporaries, he was, in what would have been his old age, lionized by European writers such as Baudelaire and Tennyson (who thought him "the most original genius that America has produced") and later, by such diverse writers and poets as Nietzsche, Kafka, Yeats and Joyce. It’s hard to believe that Poe wouldn’t have considered such praise fair payment for a life quenched in misery.