Recap: E17 Edgar Allan Poe

Master of suspense, king of tragedy, father of the modern detective genre and contributor to the emerging genre of science fiction, Edgar Allan Poe is a household name associated with Gothic tales of mystery and the macabre. He penned haunting short-stories such as "The Raven," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Pit and the Pendulum,” "Murders on the Rue Morgue" and “A Cask of Amontillado.”

Despite his popularity now, his contemporaries knew him better as a literary critic and struggling artist. He tried to make a living through writing alone and, as a result, condemned himself to a financially difficult life and career.

Mirroring the stories he wrote, the mysterious circumstances surrounding his untimely death suggest foul play. What can Carter and Wenndy from Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories decipher from the ending of the famous writer’s own chilling tale?

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Dr. Joseph Snodgrass and his wife discuss Edgar Allan Poe’s request for money to support the debut of his magazine Stylus. While they are talking, a servant brings in a letter from Josiah Walker, notifying Dr. Snodgrass that Edgar is in need of immediate medical attention. He leaves at once and finds Edgar laying on the ground, wearing someone else’s clothes and rambling incoherently.

After four days in the hospital, Edgar dies and many of his contemporaries from murderous machinations.

The episode flashes back to Edgar’s childhood – he is just three years old when both his parents die, and he is fostered by John and Frances Allan, a wealthy couple from Richmond, Virginia. John is reluctant to take the boy but relents under his wife’s insistence, unfortunately foreshadowing his poor relationship with Edgar. During Edgar’s school years, John unsuccessfully tries to steer him away from writing.

The budding writer falls in love with Elmira Royster and the two vow to marry despite her family’s staunch disapproval. While studying at the University of Virginia, Edgar gets hooked on gambling and loses $2,500 of his foster father’s money. Fellow gamblers tease him for his losing streak and Elmira’s failure to respond to any of the letters he writes to her.

When Edgar returns home after his first semester, he and John get into an argument about his gambling debts. To add salt to injury, Edgar finds out from Elmira’s father that she is engaged to another man.

Heartbroken, Edgar throws all of his energy into writing poetry and publishes his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems.. Unfortunately, it only sells fifty copies, and he is forced to drop out of school when he gambles away all of his tuition money. Left with few options, Edgar joins the military and makes it to sergeant major in the artillery.

While serving, Frances Allan dies and Edgar, being close with his foster mother, takes it hard. He is unable to get leave to come home until a day after her funeral. At Frances’s wish, John and Edgar briefly reconcile. Wanting to finish out the rest of his military contract at West Point, a military academy in New York, Edgar gets John to agree to sponsor him. He does very well there until John remarries and disowns him.

Angry, Edgar purposely gets himself expelled and moves in with his biological relatives. He dives into writing full time but has no luck getting his work published. Finally, in 1833, Poe's story "MS. Found in a Bottle" is published and wins him a fifty-dollar prize.

In 1835, he is hired for his first editing job at the Southern Literary Messenger. The following year, at the age of twenty-seven, Edgar causes a scandal by marrying his thirteen-year old cousin Virginia Clemm, even with her mother giving them permission to wed.

For eleven years, he is the on-again-off-again editor for various publications and, story after story, he fails to gain fame for his fictional works. His nemesis Rufus Griswald claimed Edgar was being fired for coming to work drunk.

Edgar finally gets his break with “Murders on the Rue Morgue,” his first story featuring C. August Dupine, a creative cryptologist investigating a murder in Paris. The public loves the tale, inspiring other writers, such as Sir Conan Doyle, author of the famous Sherlock Holmes cases, to write detective fiction. A new genre is born.

Back at home, Edgar sings with Virginia to celebrate his latest literary success when she begins to wheeze and cough up blood – symptoms of tuberculosis. Much to Edgar’s despair, the disease kills her five years later. He turns to alcohol to cope.

In 1849, the writer visits Richmond, VA and is reacquainted with former sweetheart and recently widowed Elmira Shelton. She gushes over his writing and they make plans to marry.

Standing to lose three quarters of their inheritance money should the marriage take place, Elmira’s children – Anne and Southall Shelton –  echo their grandfather’s disapproval and threaten to write to their uncles. Elmira is unrelenting.

A week later, Edgar is found beaten and drugged – possibly a victim of “Shanhai-ing” or “cooping.” Whether he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time or the victim of a murderous plot, you’ll have to wait until next week’s episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories to find out.