The life of Edgar Allan Poe had been as bleak as many of his poems. His father had abandoned the family shortly after his birth, and his mother died of tuberculosis the next year. He was taken in by the Allan family, wealthy Scotch merchants in Virginia. While the Allans never formally adopted him, Poe was given the middle name of Allan in recognition of his foster parents. He had a youth of mixed fortune: traveling with the family and being well educated, but being alternately spoiled and brutally disciplined by his foster father. Poe would attend the University of Virginia for one year before dropping out, claiming that his foster father had not given him enough of an allowance to pay for classes, texts, and dormitory.
In 1831, while Poe was living with his aunt and cousin Virginia, his brother died. He turned more seriously to his writing as well as getting work at newspapers (though he would be fired for drunkenness or lack of productive work). In 1835, he secretly married his 13-year-old Virginia (she lying about her age on the certificate as 21), and the family life won him back his job at the Southern Literary Messenger. They married publicly the next year.
Life seemed to pick up for Poe. He was more stable than he had ever been, and his writing was gaining recognition and making money. It came to an end, however, as Virginia began showing signs of tuberculosis in 1842. The stress of his wife's illness drove Poe back to drink, and he became increasingly belligerent. The Broadway Journal failed under his editorship in 1846, and Virginia died in 1847. Poe was devastated.
In spite of tortured mourning, Poe tried to move on, soon courting poetess Sarah Helen Whitman. They had met in writing before life, Whitman writing a poem "To Edgar Allan Poe" for a Valentine's Day party he did not attend, and Poe writing in return. The courtship was a mess from Poe's erraticism, alcoholism, and Whitman's mother's attempts at sabotage. Despite the odds, they set a wedding date of December 25, 1848. Rumors that Poe had broken his vow of sobriety along with Poe's "outrages" drove them apart. It seemed another melancholic relationship for the Virginia poet.
That spring, Poe returned, signifying his devotion by smashing a whiskey bottle. In spite of her mother's pleas, Whitman took him back, though she would watch his habits closely over the rest of their lives. They were wed in 1849, and Poe's writing returned as he began the “happy half of [his] life.” His "Raven" had gained sudden recognition, and Poe finally felt vindicated in his craft. Novels, short stories, and poems surged from his pen. Whitman was a successful poet in her own right, and the two lived very comfortably. As he aged, Poe took up a professorship at the University of Virginia, teaching writing and making great strides in cryptography and logic as well as his famous satirical commentaries on cosmology and physics.
Poe stands as perhaps the greatest American author of the nineteenth century, creating several genres such as detective stories, science fiction, modern heroism, and spirit fiction all the while perfecting the Gothic horror. His advances in the theories of cryptography helped establish America as the foremost world power in code-cracking and ancient linguistics.
In reality, Poe did not return to Whitman. He went back to Richmond and a haphazard pursuit of his old love Sarah Royster, but his life would continue in a downward spiral. On October 3, he would be found collapsed in the street suffering from “congestion of the brain,” theorized to be rabies, cholera, heart disease, meningitis, syphilis, epilepsy, or simple alcohol poisoning. He would die on October 7, giving what many said were his last words, “Lord help my poor soul.”