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Description - Poe by Peter Ackroyd

Edgar Allan Poe served as a soldier and began his literary career composing verses modelled on Byron; soon he was trying out his 'prose-tales' - often horror melodramas such as "The Fall of the House of Usher." As editor of the "Literary Messenger" he was influential among critics and writers of the American South. His versatile writings - including, for example, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Raven" - continue to resonate down the centuries. Peter Ackroyd's biography of Poe opens with his end, his final days - no one knows what happened between the time when friends saw him off on the steam-boat to Baltimore and his discovery six days later dying in a tavern.This mystery sets the scene for a short life packed with drama and tragedy (drink and poverty) combined with extraordinary brilliance. Poe has been claimed as the forerunner of modern fantasy, and credited with the invention of psychological dramas (long before Freud), science fiction (before H.G. Wells and Jules Verne) and the detective story (before Arthur Conan Doyle). Tennyson described him as 'the most original genius that America has produced'. He influenced European romanticism and was the harbinger of both Symbolism and Surrealism. Peter Ackroyd, who places significance on Poe's childhood (his travelling actor parents were miserably poor, his mother had TB and he was orphaned), claims that Poe found his family among writers - writers not only of his time but of the future generations who were influenced by the power of his imagination.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780701169886
ISBN-10: 0701169885
Format: Hardback
(223mm x 164mm x 18mm)
Pages: 176
Imprint: Chatto & Windus
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 7-Feb-2008
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Other Editions - Poe by Peter Ackroyd

Book Reviews - Poe by Peter Ackroyd

US Kirkus Review » Latest entry in the prolific biographer's Brief Lives series sketches a tormented existence begun in misery, ended in mystery.In his portrait of Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 49), Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers no novelty, just brevity and some striking sentences - the final one in the book is alone worth the purchase price. The text opens with the destitute, disoriented, dying Poe discovered on the streets of Baltimore. Ackroyd wisely abstains from too much speculation about the writer's demise ("the truth is lost," he acknowledges) and does not advance any new theory about those final days missing from the historical record. The biographer pulls few punches. He reminds us that Poe's foster parents, the Allans, were slaveowners and that the writer remained in many ways an archetypal Southern white racist his entire life. (Racial attitudes expressed in several famous tales, including "The Gold Bug," make them difficult to read today.) Ackroyd also emphasizes Poe's drinking problem, arguing that he was at times not just intoxicated but totally saturated in alcohol. He does not adequately explain, however, how a man continually besotted managed to be so astonishingly productive. Ackroyd sticks to an unadorned chronology, following the orphaned Poe from John Allan's Richmond, Va., home through school and teenage activities (including some surprising acts of physical prowess - he swam the James River rapids) to his truncated adventures at the nascent University of Virginia, in the Army and at West Point. We see Allan breaking with Poe, who inherited nothing from his wealthy foster father. We watch a proud, even arrogant artist struggle to make his name in the literary world. Ackroyd deals sensitively with Poe's marriage to his very young cousin Virginia Clemm, and is incredulous with his hysterical, simultaneous courtships of three women after Clemm died.Necessarily sketchy, but often insightful, sometimes stunning. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd is an award-winning historian, biographer, novelist, poet and broadcaster. He is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction bestsellers London: The Biography, Thames: Sacred River and London Under; biographies of figures including Charles Dickens, William Blake, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock; and a multi-volume history of England. He has won the Whitbread Biography Award, the Royal Society of Literature's William Heinemann Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award and the South Bank Prize for Literature. He holds a CBE for services to literature.

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