From Publishers Weekly
Noted author Ackroyd (The Thames
) adds to his one-man Brief Lives series this exploration of the short—and predominantly miserable—life of Edgar Allan Poe. Bringing his novelist's skills to bear, Ackroyd opens with Poe's mysterious death in 1849: Like his narratives and his fables, Poe's own story ends abruptly and inconclusively.... Born in Boston in 1809 to traveling actors and orphaned in 1811, Poe was adopted by Richmond, Va., merchant John Allan. Their relationship soured, and Poe left for a rocky academic career at the University of Virginia and a stint at West Point, and in 1836 he married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia. Despite critical acclaim for his work—from 1839's The Fall of the House of Usher to his famous 1845 poem, The Raven—Poe constantly struggled with alcoholism and poverty, alienating almost everyone he met. At age 40, Poe was discovered dying in a Baltimore tavern; his whereabouts for the previous week remain unknown. But Ackroyd never demonizes the melancholic man who influenced writers as diverse as Jules Verne and James Joyce, and his readable account should appeal to Poe devotees and newcomers alike. Illus. (Jan. 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The fourth Brief Lives volume written by Ackroyd focuses on a man as famous for his personality as his works. As Ackroyd immediately remarks, Poe is the quintessential poete maudit, or accursed artist, greatly talented but thwarted by circumstances at every turn. Portraying Poe as permanently affected by his mother’s ignominious, youthful death, Ackroyd projects from Poe’s mother fixation his affectional preferences for ill young women such as his wife (and cousin) Virginia Clemm or, when such were unavailable, motherly (but not matronly) aesthetes; meanwhile, dying and dead young beauties haunt his stories and poems. Raised in England and Virginia as something of a charity case, Poe was acutely aware of his gifts, which included unforgettable looks, and, morbidly defensive of them, made for an erratic character, alternately efficient and perspicacious, charming and brilliant in conversation, and vindictive and bizarre in behavior—the last especially when he was drunk, as he lamentably often was; in short, definitely attractive-repulsive and ingratiating-infuriating. Though a bit breezy, this is a fine place to begin celebrating the 2009 Poe bicentennial. --Ray Olson