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Nevermore Background Information

 

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BACKGROUND INFORMATION: NEVERMORE! VOYAGE INTO THE NETHERWORLD

 

Edgar Allan Poe in Charleston

 
Nineteen-year-old Edgar Allan Poe spent 13 months in the Lowcountry from November 1827 to December 1828. Young Poe ran away from home, lied about his age (he said he was 22) so he could enlist in the U.S. Army. He used an assumed name, Edgar A. Perry, when he enlisted. Soon after that he was stationed at Ft. Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. We know little of young Poe’s experiences at Ft. Moultrie, though he did rise from the rank of private to Regimental Sergeant Major and received a good report from his commanding officer.

Poe set two of his stories on Sullivan’s Island, The Great Balloon Hoax about a transatlantic balloon crossing that lands on Sullivan’s and, of course his famous story The Gold Bug, a tale about buried treasure and a cypher that supposedly led to its buried location someplace on Sullivan’s Island. Poe certainly remembered Sullivan’s Island well, describing it in The Gold Bug as an island that

“—consists of little else than the sea sand and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the mainland by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and slime, a favorite resort of the marsh hen. The vegetation, as might be supposed, is scant or at least dwarfish. No trees of any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted during summer by the fugitives from Charleston's dust and fever, may be found the bristly palmetto; but the whole island, with the exception of this western point and a line of hard, white beach on the seacoast, is covered with a dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle.”


Poe’s life came to a mysterious end in 1849. He was found delirious, wandering the streets of Baltimore and died without regaining consciousness. He was 40. Two days after his death, Poe’s poem Annabel Lee was published with its opening lines, “I was child and she was a child in this kingdom by the sea.” Could this kingdom by the sea have been Charleston? Some think so and speculated that Annabel Lee was a lost love from Poe’s time in Charleston, though there is no historical documentation to back this up. Still, it’s a great tale and forms the heart of Julian Wiles’s Nevermore.

 

 

Edgar Allan Poe, a Short Biography

 
Edgar Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. His parents were actors. Abandoned by his father, Edgar’s mother died when Poe was only 2-years-old. Edgar was taken in but never formerly adopted by Mr. and Mrs. John Allan, a wealthy Richmond couple. Poe and John Allan had a turbulent relationship, and when Poe went to the University of Virginia in 1826, he only gave Edgar about a third of what he needed and soon young Edgar had gambled that away and in despair had turned to drink.

With no more support from his benefactor, Poe took up the alias Edgar A. Perry and joined the army and was soon posted to Ft. Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. Reportedly a good soldier and briefly later reconciled to John Allan, Poe managed an appointment to West Point, but soon after the relationship with Allan soured once again most believe Edgar deliberately got himself expelled to spite Allan. Later when Allan died, having never formerly adopted Poe, he left his stepson nothing from his estate.

In 1831, Edgar Allan Poe moved to New York City. He submitted stories to a number of magazines, and they were all rejected. With no friends and no job, he was in financial trouble, but he struggled on. In 1835, Poe finally got a job as an editor of a newspaper because of a contest he won with his story, “The Manuscript Found in a Bottle”. In 1836, Poe married his cousin, Virginia. He was 27 and she was 13. In years following, he worked as an editor writing for a number of magazines. Though his poetry and stories were read widely and he was well known, he earned very little from his writing and was almost always short of funds. Poe only received $9 for The Raven.

But Poe certainly had a unique voice. Some say he invented the detective story with The Murders in the Rue Morgue. He was entranced with codes and ciphers and often challenged readers to send in cryptograms, which he always solved. He would use a cryptogram in his famous story The Gold Bug, set on Sullivan’s Island.

After his death, Poe’s writings were dismissed in America, but became a sensation in Europe, particularly in France where the French poet, Baudelaire translated Poe’s works into French. Abroad, Poe was acclaimed a genius, and in death, his literary fortunes soared. Eventually critics in his homeland began to recognize his unique position in the pantheon of American letters, as well.

Today Edgar Allen Poe is considered one of America’s greatest writers.

 

Edgar Allan Poe and His Mysterious Death

 
Edgar Allan Poe did disappear for five days prior to his death. His whereabouts and activities are completely unknown. It is believed he boarded a ship in Richmond bound for New York but turned up in Baltimore where he was found delirious, wandering the streets. Recognized by an acquaintance, he was taken to a nearby tavern and was moved to a nearby hospital, where he died.

Poe remained incoherent, delirious and delusional, calling out for someone named “Reynolds.” Three days later, at the age of 40, after fading in and out of consciousness, but without regaining coherence, Poe died. His enemies and literary rivals were quick to blame Poe’s drinking on his demise. There is no doubt Poe had a problem with alcohol. He did make an effort to stop drinking, even joining the Richmond Sons of Temperance, but soon he was drinking again. Many believe this led to Poe’s madness, although he himself said “the drink didn’t make him mad, the madness made him drink.” Some scholars have suggested that Poe showed symptoms of hypo-glycemia, which would explain his low tolerance for alcohol and his delusional behavior at times. Others have speculated his erratic behavior on a brain tumor or perhaps even rabies. Perhaps it was simply depression, for after the death of his wife Virginia to tuberculosis; most agree, Poe was despondent and never the same again. 

And who was the mysterious “Reynolds” to whom Poe called out for on his deathbed? Many believe he was Jeremiah Reynolds, an Antarctic explorer of the 19th century. Reynolds, like many during this last age of exploration, believed that somewhere in the Antarctic region there was an entrance to the center of the earth, where if one could penetrate the Antarctic ice one would find a tropical paradise. Poe knew of Reynolds and used his theories and expeditions as the basis for The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and Manuscript Found in the Bottle, both tales of ghostly, ghastly, and ultimately ill-fated voyages to the Antarctic. 

While the inspiration for Poe’s fascination with the Antarctic can be traced to Jeremiah Reynolds, there is little solid information as to the identity of Annabel Lee. Poe’s poem, Annabel Lee, was one of the last, perhaps the last poem Poe penned before his death. No one knows the identity of his beloved Annabel Lee. Most likely she was a creature of Poe’s vivid imagination. But Charleston author and publisher, the late Mrs. Elizabeth Verner Hamilton, speculated that perhaps Annabel Lee was a young Charleston belle who caught Poe’s eye and became his first love. Poe was after all, stationed at Sullivan’s Island when he was only 17, young, impressionable, and adventurous. He had run away from home, joined the army under the alias Edgar A. Perry, and found himself stationed at Ft. Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. (Poe would later set two stories on Sullivan’s Island, The Gold Bug and The Great Balloon Hoax.) If indeed, Annabel Lee was a Charleston girl, this would of course make Charleston the fabled “kingdom by the sea.” This is all mere speculation, however, but wonderful speculation—so wonderful that I made Annabel Lee a Charleston girl, who Young Edgar meets on a Sullivan’s Island beach in Nevermore.

One final note, beginning in the 1940’s and for more than 60 years following Poe’s birthday, a mysterious figure, dressed in white, would appear at his grave at midnight. This mysterious visitor would leave a single white rose and a bottle of cognac on Poe’s grave. This tradition continued until 2010 when the mysterious visitor, never having been identified, failed to appear… another mystery for a mysterious man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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