Just for Fun: Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, Arthur Hobson Quinn

While reading this on the train one day, a man sitting next to me leaned over and said, “Isn’t that the guy who married his cousin?”  I wasn’t sure how to answer that because I had passed the part of Quinn’s biography explaining that Poe only married his cousin because he cared for her and his aunt, and not because he was mentally deranged.  They were married and loved each other, but were not “in love” in a romantic sense of the word, according to my interpretation of Quinn’s analysis.

How does one explain that to a stranger on the train without first highlighting Poe’s extremely complicated relationship with his foster family who adopted him after both of his parents died?

I said, “Yes.”

Poe’s writings have fascinated me since middle school.  I had a teacher in fifth grade English who had our class read several of Poe’s short stories.  She realized immediately that I had fallen in “book love” and gave me a paperback copy of some of her favorites.  I have that book around here somewhere, and have pulled it out every few years to remind myself of those first favorites.  The Tell Tale Heart and The Black Cat were two in that collection.  I remember drawing in pencil a picture of a man with a “tell tale brain” as part of some follow-up activity for the former.  I spent hours drawing his brain and the plants surrounding the walking man, and ran out of time so only had time to color in the brain, red of course.   As for the later, I vividly remember the teacher saying, “I hate cats” and (as an animal lover) being extraordinarily alarmed.  Only after reading the story several times through did I understand she had a sense of humor.

Quinn seemed to feel obligated to defend Poe’s every move.  In his mind, Poe was a wonderful person who the world destroyed with its hateful, unfair ways.   I do agree that in many of the circumstances portrayed in the biography, that Poe had an unfortunate lot; I do not agree, though, that there weren’t things he could have done to help himself out of those situations.  Poe was apparently a very intelligent, bitter man who did not know how to keep his thoughts and opinions to himself.  That doesn’t make him a terrible person, he doesn’t need defending.  If it weren’t for his ruminative thoughts and his anger we never would have experienced his writings.  He doesn’t need to be sorry for his “sins” and we do not need to pretend he was some sort of hero in his personal life.

I loved reading about one of my favorite authors, and the collections of letters to and from Poe included in this biography were extraordinarily interesting.   It’ll be a short time before I need to get my hands on another biography of Poe so I can read more of those.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.