Life After Death
Edgar Allan Poe’s death in Baltimore on October 7, 1849, launched a long war over his reputation. Its opening salvo was the insulting obituary penned by his literary rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Griswold then expanded this hurtful portrait in his edition of Poe’s Works, which influenced several generations of American readers. A radically different view emerged from an unexpected source: the French writer Charles Baudelaire, whose translations of Poe’s tales and retelling of his biography gained for Poe an international and sympathetic audience.
In the twentieth century, Poe’s status shifted again. He came to be seen not just as an author, but also as a magnetic figure. Now, as we devour his grisly horror tales and recite his sorrowful poems, we often project onto the man the dark and ghastly elements of his writing. While our enthusiasm for the macabre side of Poe sometimes overshadows other facets of his work and life, this devotion is also a sign that Poe provides something we need. The melancholy and thrilling tones that belong to Poe—wrought out of his nineteenth-century experience—continue to feel essential to readers today.