If there are two vocations more opposite than, on the one hand, the starving but gifted poet, mystery and horror-story writer, and prolific essayist and, on the other, the obscenely rich, ambulance-chasing attorney, this writer does not know them. Yet these two are conjoined at birth. To understand this, one must know something about the life of the famed author of “The Raven,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and brilliant essays on many cultural and political topics.
Every fact of Edgar Allan Poe’s life is hotly disputed, as there is a wide range of sources, primary and secondary, to sift through, as well as thousands of utterly contradictory letters from dozens of Poe’s contemporaries. But more important is his character as it is known to have developed.
Edgar Poe was born to a family of stage actors who lived in Richmond, Virginia. When the boy was an infant his father mysteriously disappeared while the family was on tour in New York, and his mother died of “consumption” when Poe was three, in 1811. Elizabeth Poe had been famed as the most beautiful leading lady in the South, and had performed to excellent reviews in Europe.
Acting went hand in hand with extreme poverty. Three-year-old Edgar was left a penniless orphan with nothing but an obsessive love for his young, beautiful, famous, and...