Edgar Allan Poe: Disinherited adoptee

I came across this in a tiny book published in 1905, The Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Volume II, handed down to me by my father. Published by the New Century Library in New York, the book starts with an introduction by one James Russell Lowell. The introduction is entitled, “The Life of Edgar A. Poe”, and it contains the following:

Remarkable experiences are usually confined to the inner life of imaginative men, but Mr. Poe’s biography displays a vicissitude and peculiarity of interest such as is rarely met with. The offspring of a romantic marriage, and left an orphan at an early age, he was adopted by Mr. Allan, a wealthy Virginian, whose barren marriage-bed seemed the warranty of a large estate to the young poet.

Having received a classical education in England, he returned home and entered the University of Virginia, where, after an extravagant course, followed by reformation at the last extremity, he was graduated with the highest honors of his class. Then came a boyish attempt to join the fortunes of the insurgent Greeks, which ended at St. Petersburg, where he got into difficulties through want of a passport, from which he was rescued by the American consul and sent home.

He now entered the military academy at West Point, from which he obtained a dismissal on hearing of the birth of a son to his adopted father, by a second marriage, an event which cut off his expectations as an heir. The death of Mr. Allan, in whose will his name was not mentioned, soon after relieved him of all doubt in this regard, and he committed himself at once to authorship for support.

This practice of establishing an heir or scion via adoption is still practiced in Japan. At the very least, it strikes me as a much more valid transaction, stripped of romantic mythology. I have to wonder whether this played into the later accusations that he was a dope fiend, or insane [link].


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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2 Responses to Edgar Allan Poe: Disinherited adoptee

  1. Zoya Gregory says:

    What a remarkable story… and so apropos….. I am quite fond of Edgar Allan Poe.. . in particularly his poem, ‘The Raven’…. I can now understand him even better… Thank you for the ‘revelation’ !

  2. Mirren says:

    Wow. I did *not* know this, although I have read his work and of course know the range of his influence. Oddly enough, my first father was a fan of Poe (according to his friends), and earlier this week I serendipitously bought a copy of the Penguin collected stories and poems. I took it with me to the lake where my father’s ashes lie, and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his death, I read Poe’s “The Masque of Red Death” to him.

    Anyway, considering Poe’s complex intelligence, and many of his characters’ sense of airlessness and torture–both physical and psychological, it makes absolute sense to me that he was an orphan and a disinherited adoptee. Knowing more about his context gives me another layer of understanding; I am deeply saddened to know that his genius was fueled by such pain. And yet I unfortunately can identify. All of my creative force comes from that dark well.

    I wouldn’t be surprised that there were added tales of dissipated behavior and whatnot to Poe’s biography; orphans and adoptees are inhuman, right? The odd thing is that Poe was so lauded and raised up as a near saint by the mid-nineteenth century French. Baudelaire was deeply affected by Poe (sorry, Daniel; I know I am preaching to the choir, just processing out loud). He is both American and profound un-American. Much to think about today. Thank you so much for this. I will be researching all afternoon.

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