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Poe, Edgar Allan: Assessment

Poe's literary executor, R. W. Griswold, overemphasized Poe's personal faults and distorted his letters. Poe was a complex person, tormented and alcoholic yet also considerate and humorous, a good friend, and an affectionate husband. Indeed, his painful life, his neurotic attraction to intense beauty, violent horror, and death, and his sense of the world of dreams contributed to his greatness as a writer. Such compelling stories as The Masque of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher involve the reader in a universe that is at once beautiful and grotesque, real and fantastic.

His poems (including To Helen, The Raven, The City in the Sea, The Bells, and Annabel Lee) are rich with musical phrases and sensuous, at times frightening, images. Poe was also an intelligent and witty critic who often theorized about the art of writing. The analytical mind he brought to criticism is evident also in his famous stories of ratiocination, notably The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter. Poe influenced such diverse authors as Swinburne, Tennyson, Dostoyevsky, Conan Doyle, and the French symbolists.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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