psychology disorders : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

I am doing a paper about Poe and need information on his disorders (ex: alcoholism) and things that fit in with that. Any information would be greatly appreciated. THANKS!

-- Anonymous, March 30, 2001


While I'm not one hundred percent positive, a Poe-fanatic that I once knew stated that he suffered from Bi-polar disorder (previously, Manic Depression)... I remember she was very happy about it since it gave them something in common. :-) Something about insomnia as well.

-- Anonymous, April 04, 2001


Having maintained an interest in this particular historical figure for more than forty years now, I have had the opportunity to read numerous biographies, profiles, sketches and contemporaneous accounts of Poe's life and his incredible talents. Among these books is an extraordinary range of "facts" that range from mere speculation and supposition to detailed records that provide definitive evidence of events and circumstances of his life's joys and his failings. Consistent among the majority of material available, whether it be presumptive, probable or proven, are two fundamentals that are debated only between those that love and admire and those that hate and envy, his genius.

First, that with the exception of his childhood, the greater portion of his short existence was occupied by one calamity after another with intermittent periods of tranquillity and cheerfulness for the successes he achieved. Curiously, this cyclic pattern was to fill his life from the time he left his home in Richmond for the University of Virginia in 1826 until his death in Baltimore in 1849.

Each new achievement, it seemed, was inevitably followed by some unbearable tragedy from which he would struggle to reclaim some sense of normality. A persistent and debilitating shadow that was to plague him throughout his life was the constant financial distress which left him virtually destitute. Yet, even his financial circumstances proved cyclic in nature and while he was never wealthy, there were short periods when he was free from the charity of others. Another, and most tragic of all, was the cyclic nature of his wife's illness. Edgar and Virginia had married on May 16, 1836 and by January, 1842, Virginia had shown signs of tuberculosis when she had abruptly "ruptured a blood-vessel" while singing. Of course, lung hemorrhaging was a recognized symptom of "consumption" and in the weeks that followed, Poe was constantly at her bedside catering to each and every cough. During the five years of her illness until her death on January 30, 1847, this too proved cyclic in that there were periods when her health would demonstrate signs of improvement before the next relapse. Utterly consumed with despair over her health, each improvement, however transitory it may have been, somehow eased the agony Poe was struggling to endure, only to plunge him deeper into the dark abyss of despair upon the next relapse.

Similar to these situations in Poe's life was his abuse of alcohol. The traditional view that Poe was an alcoholic is based less on evidence of fact than it is on supposition, inference and, perhaps, the modern interpretation of alcoholism. Generally, it is thought that this view of Poe's character originated with the first Poe biographer, Rufus W. Griswold who's characterization of Poe was everything but flattering. That Poe abused alcohol appears factual. That he was known to have a curious sensitivity to drink is also in evidence by those that knew him. That he was habitually addicted as the result of a physical or psychological dependence on alcohol has not been definitively established nor, presumably, will it ever be. At best, his abuse of alcohol can only be accurately characterized as intermittent. Most laughable is the presumption that positive proof of this human failing can be found in his works of prose of which "The Black Cat" and "The Cask of Amontillado" and "Hop-Frog" seem to draw the most attention. Personally, I subscribe to the opposing view that his unique originality, enviable creativity, abundant clarity and the near perfection of the bulk of Poe's works is wholly inconsistent with persistent intoxication.

Secondly, that Edgar Allan Poe was possessed of a unique and profound gift of genius. Well schooled in his youth by his foster family, his classical education merely served to feed an extraordinarily powerful intellect and produce an idealistic nature that only poetry could fully satisfy. Early in his career he was widely recognized as a literary critic of exceptional ability and insight and as his literary principles began to coalesce, he demonstrated many of the ideals through his imaginative techniques. The tired genre of mystery stories had been around for many years before his tales of ratiocination and deductive analysis. The influences of these innovative changes remain with us today and have been used by countless authors. His principles of unity of effect and his demonstrations that the laws of verse are merely rules that may be justly violated to serve the object of poetry; to stir the soul to pleasure. The publication of "The Raven" in the New York Evening Mirror in January, 1845, its wild success and its subsequent reprinting across the country was a poetic revelation for its time and its haunting power, a testament to the perfection of his talents. The idea that we could dismiss this American treasure as the product of anything other than genius is absurd. What do you think?

Best Regards,

-- Anonymous, April 07, 2001

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