Nevermore: A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe

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Nevermore: A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe

Nevermore is a sympathetic but forthright account of one of America's greatest geniuses and most enigmatic writers. The book puts Poe and his writings into the context of the author’s times, while exploring the mystery and fascination of Poe's life and works. Extensively researched, Nevermore acknowledges the diversity of viewpoints about Poe and the questions that remain unanswered.

Excerpt from Nevermore
"Edgar Allan Poe was not yet three when the world as he knew it ended. Since his birth in Boston, January 19, 1809, he had toured the East Coast with his mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe, a beautiful and sweet-voiced actress, and his father, David Poe Jr., a less popular performer. Edgar was surrounded by the rough-and-tumble life of the theater. Critics at that time were savage in their review of plays. Their words wounded Edgar’s father, who went to the home of at least one reviewer to take him to task. Audiences were no more kind. They might hiss a performer off the stage. Actors worked long hours, not only entertaining audiences, but also learning scores of parts. Yet actors were not well paid or respected. In New England, where the profession was seen as immoral, laws had been passed against putting on plays.

"Little Edgar was still just learning to talk in this tough but familiar world when a series of events unfolded as dark as any of the tales that would later make him famous. By August of 1811, Poe’s father, a drinker, abandoned Edgar and his mother, along with Edgar and his mother, along with Edgar’s older brother, Henry, and his baby sister, Rosalie. Never rich, the family fell further into poverty. Then, in October, in Richmond, Virginia, Edgar’s mother became too sick to perform. She had tuberculosis, a deadly disease that destroys the lung. Wealthy Richmond women came to her assistance, visiting the sick woman in her rented room and providing nurses and food. Elizabeth’s theater troupe staged benefits to raise money for her.

"But it was no use. Edgar and Rosalie by their 24-year-old mother’s bedside, as she coughed up blood and struggled to breathe. An observer described the children as thin, pale, and fussy. According to one report, a nurse gave them bread soaked in gin to calm them down. For weeks Elizabeth Poe lingered on. Then on December 8, she died. She was buried in an unmarked grave in St. John’s Churchyard, in the section reserved for the poor.

"Edgar was taken in by Frances Allan, one of the women who helped his mother as she lay dying. She and her husband, John Allan, had no children. The boy was no formally adopted into their family. But he was baptized with their name: Edgar Allan Poe. His one-year-old sister, Rosalie, went to live with the MacKenzies, another well- to-do family in Richmond. His older brother, Henry, went to Baltimore, Maryland, to live with their grandparents, Elizabeth Cairnes Poe and “General” David Poe, Sr., a businessman who had helped supply American troops during the Revolutionary War. The three siblings were effectively left as orphans when their father either died or disappeared, never to be seen again.

"For Christmas, Edgar traveled with his foster mother and father to a plantation down the James River from Richmond. While he was there, on December 26, the Richmond Theatre, the building where his mother had last performed burned to ground and 72 people died. Their remains were laid in the orchestra pit, which was hastily bricked up as a tomb. Grieving, the surviving members of Elizabeth Poe’s theater troupe bade the city farewell. “In this miserable calamity, we find a sentence of banishment,” read a newspaper notice. Richmond went into mourning. Years later, Poe would connect the terrible events of that December in his mind. Asked about his background, he would say that his parents had perished with so many others in the Richmond Theatre fire.

"Within the space of a month, everything upon which a small child depends had been taken from Poe. He was left with two objects: a miniature painting of his mother’s girlish face—large-eyed and fringed by curls—and a watercolor of Boston harbor. On this the dying woman wrote, “For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston, the place of his birth, and where his mother found her best, and most sympathetic, friends.” Poe would cherish these mementos. When he was old enough, he would piece together the facts of his mother’s and father’s lives, dropping them like clues into the tales he wrote. The son of poor actors, never officially adopted into his foster parents’ upper-class Richmond world, Poe would spend his life searching for, inventing, and defending who he was. Again and again, he would grapple with the mysteries of suffering and death.

"As a young man of 20, he would write a poem that echoes the loss that must have been his earliest memory. “From childhood’s hour I have not been as others were,” it begins. “I have not seen as others saw—I could not bring my passions from a common spring … And all I loved—I loved alone” …"

selected works

Children's History -- 

Poe's life for a new generation.

"The book I wish I could have had when I was a kid."
 --Michael Deas, designer of the Poe stamp

1607 A New Look at Jamestown
The latest on America's first colony.

"A fascinating look at archaeology in action."

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