The author of investigative books about literary and historical figures returns with a lean, swift life of the puzzling Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), whose life and death are as full of mystery as his famous tales.
Part of the publisher’s Icons series, Collins’ (English/Portland State Univ.; Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery, 2013, etc.) work adheres to the facts of Poe’s life and doesn’t even speculate much about Poe’s puzzling death—what was he doing in Baltimore? Why was he in the degraded condition he was in?—and avoids even commenting on some of the more bizarre conspiracy/murder theories (see John Evangelist Walsh’s Midnight Dreary, 2000). Collins begins with what, until recently, had been a tradition at the Baltimore cemetery where Poe’s remains lie: a midnight visitor on his birthday. Then the author proceeds quickly and chronologically through Poe’s life—the early death of his mother (and his father’s abandonment), his unofficial adoption by the Allans (cranky John Allan, a wealthy man, ignored Poe in his will), his boyhood years in England, his schooling (including the University of Virginia and West Point; he didn’t finish at either place), his early struggles as a writer, his battles with booze, his marriage to his 13-year-old first cousin Virginia Clemm and, of course, the composition of his famous works. Collins identifies some favorites: “Ligeia,”the three tales of ratiocination with detective C. Auguste Dupin (the forefather of Sherlock Holmes), the failed novels (one finished, one not) and “The Raven.” Collins also examines Poe’s quick trigger—he accused the puzzled and popular Longfellow of plagiarism. The author also praises Poe’s late works and spends some time on Poe’s reputation.
Although Collins doesn’t provide much new information, the clean, crisp narrative presents the puzzling Poe as a deeply troubled and toweringly talented artist.