I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus with PEOPLE IN AMERICA from VOA Special English. Today, we tell about Edgar Allan Poe, a nineteenth century American writer. His stories and poems were some of the most frightening and strange ever written. Americans celebrate Halloween on October thirty-first. It is mostly a holiday for children, who like to be frightened. Yet many grown people observe Halloween, too. Those who love the writings of Edgar Allan Poe think Poe is most famous for his stories and poems of strangeness, mystery and terror.
Edgar Allan Poe died in the city of Baltimore, Maryland in eighteen forty-nine. Now, in that city, an unusual party takes place every Halloween. In the dark of night, visitors go to the grounds of Westminster Presbyterian Church where Poe is buried. Everything is quiet. Then a voice calls out. It is Poe! No, it is just an actor, reading Poe's work. Reading stories was one of the most important forms of enjoyment in Edgar Allan Poe's time. Poe created many of these "short stories." They appeared in different publications. Horror stories already were popular when Poe began writing. Critics say he wrote the perfect horror story. Poe also wrote detective stories. These were mysteries about crimes, such as murder. An investigator called a detective solves the mysteries. The detective is able to find important, hidden meanings in facts. The horror and detective stories Poe created remain popular in books and movies.
Edgar Allan Poe's work is not easy to read. His language is difficult to understand today. And most of his writing describes very unpleasant situations and events. His story "The Pit and the Pendulum," for example, is about the mental torture of a prisoner. Each time the prisoner saves himself from death, a new and more horrible form of death threatens him. Another story is "The Masque of the Red Death." In it, a terrible disease -- the Red Death -- has killed half the population of a country. The ruler of the country shuts his castle against the disease. He and his wealthy friends are inside. They pass the time by having parties. They believe the Red Death will not find them. But it does.
Edgar Poe was born in eighteen-oh-nine in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents were actors. At that time, actors were not accepted by the best society. Edgar was a baby when his father left the family. He was two years old when his mother died. He was taken into the home of a wealthy businessman, John Allan. He then received his new name -- Edgar Allan Poe. John Allan never officially made Edgar his son. In fact, he came to dislike him strongly. Edgar attended schools in England and in Richmond, Virginia. As a young man, he attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He was a good student. He was a member of the Jefferson Literary Society. But he liked to drink alcohol and play card games for money. Edgar was not a good player. He lost money he did not have.
John Allan refused to pay Edgar's gambling losses. He also refused to let Edgar continue at the university. So, Edgar went to Boston and began working as a writer and editor for monthly magazines. He also served in the army for two years. Edgar Allan Poe worked hard. He became a successful editor. He published three books of poetry. He also began writing stories. Five of his stories were printed in a publication in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in eighteen thirty-two. Yet he was not well paid. His life was difficult. He was poor, and he was troubled by sicknesses of the body and mind. Poe suffered from depression. He feared he was insane. He drank alcohol to escape his fears. The alcohol had a very bad effect on him.
In eighteen thirty-five, Poe began editing the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, Virginia. The following year, at the age of twenty-seven, he married Virginia Clemm. She was the daughter of his father's sister. She was only thirteen years old. Poe and his wife moved often as he found work at magazines and newspapers in Philadelphia and New York. For a time, it seemed that Poe would find some happiness. But his wife was sick for most of their marriage. She died in eighteen forty-seven. After his wife's death, Poe's problems with alcohol increased. He died two years later, at the age of forty. He was found dead in Baltimore after days of heavy drinking. Through all his crises, Edgar Allan Poe produced many stories, poems, and works of criticism. Some of his stories won prizes. Yet he did not become famous until eighteen forty-five. That was when his poem "The Raven" was published.
There is no question that Poe suffered from emotional problems. One critic said Poe's spirit was torn. He said Poe's stories were often about his own divided nature. Each person in his stories showed a different side of the writer. There is a question, however, about Poe's importance. Some critics said he was one of America's best writers. Others disagreed. One critic said Poe discovered a new artistic universe -- a universe of dreams. It was a place where the line between reality and unreality is extremely thin. Even those who praised Poe agreed that there are many difficulties in his work. These difficulties place Poe's writing outside the main body of American literature. Most American writing is realistic. Poe's interests and way of writing were not realistic at all.
Poe's work has been praised most in France. He had a great influence on many French writers. Poe's best-known poem is "The Raven." Some people love it. They say it is like music. Others hate it. They say it sounds forced and unnatural -- like bad music. "The Raven" is about a man whose great love, Lenore, has died. She is gone forever. But the man cannot accept that all happiness is gone. He sits alone among his books late at night. He hears a noise at the window.