Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) was a pioneer of what we’d now call the ambiguous horror story, where the supernatural elements of the tale may actually be explained (or explained away) with a psychological explanation. He was also an accomplished poet and a pioneer of science fiction. His 1848 prose-poem Eureka even predicts the Big Bang theory by some eighty years. Poe considered this book his masterpiece, though it is among his least-read prose works today.
Poe often gets the credit for inventing the detective story. Although some earlier candidates have been proposed – such as E. T. A. Hoffmann’s ‘Das Fräulein von Scuderi’ (1819), and ‘The Secret Cell’ (1837), written by Poe’s own publisher, William Evans Burton – it was Poe who really showed what could be done with the detective story form. ‘The Purloined Letter’ (1844) is one of three ground-breaking stories Poe wrote featuring C. Auguste Dupin, his amateur sleuth without whom the world would never have had Sherlock Holmes or, one suspects, virtually any other fictional detective.
Poe was a fascinating figure, so let’s take a closer look at some of the most curious facts about the life and work of one of the most remarkable writers of the nineteenth century.
1. He was the first person to use the term ‘short story’.
At least, Poe’s use of the term is the earliest that has yet been uncovered, from 1840 – nearly 40 years earlier than the current OED citation from 1877. This is fitting, given that Poe was a pioneer of the short story form. (We’ve offered our pick of Poe’s best stories here.)
Poe wrote ‘I have written five-and-twenty short stories whose general character may be so briefly defined’ in his preface to Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. This fact was discovered by Martin Greenup – see his ‘Poe and the First Use of the Term “Short Story”‘, Notes and Queries, 60.2 (2013), 251-254.
Poe wrote many classic short stories, including ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, and numerous other well-known tales – because our list is designed to showcase the sheer variety of Poe’s stories, and the various genres which he helped to develop (Gothic horror, ghost story, science fiction, detective story).
2. Poe carried on writing even after he’d died.
At least, if you believe the rather outlandish claim of Lizzie Doten, the psychic medium whose 1863 book, Poems from the Inner Life, included poems which Doten claimed to have received from the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe. (We must confess to being, er, sceptical here at Interesting Literature…)
Perhaps Doten spied a chance to increase the popularity of her own rather mediocre verses by attaching Poe’s name to the project!
3. The American football team the Baltimore Ravens are named in honour of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem ‘The Raven’.
This is the only example of a big sports team being named after a work of literature. Poe’s celebrated poem ‘The Raven’ was inspired by the works of two Victorian writers: by the talking raven Grip in Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge (1841), and (for its metre) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem ‘Lady Geraldine’s Courtship’.
It is perhaps his single best-known work. There is reason to believe that Poe originally planned to have a parrot, rather than a raven, utter the refrain ‘Nevermore’ in the poem: in his ‘Philosophy of Composition’, he wrote that in his mind there ‘arose the idea of a non-reasoning creature capable of speech; and very naturally, a parrot, in the first instance, suggested itself, but was superseded forthwith by a Raven, as equally capable of speech.’
Whether Poe was merely retrospectively having us on, or whether he was being genuine here, cannot be known for sure; but we have no greater authority in this instance than Poe’s own words, and, as he says, the parrot seems the natural choice for a bird capable of mimicking human speech. We have discussed his essay in more detail here.
4. Poe often wrote with his Siamese cat on his shoulder.
Poe would place the cat on his shoulder before he commenced writing a poem.
Poe sometimes wrote about cats in his fiction, too. ‘The Black Cat’, first published in August 1843 in the Saturday Evening Post, is one of Poe’s shorter stories and one of his most disturbing, focusing on cruelty towards animals, murder, and guilt, and told by an unreliable narrator who’s rather difficult to like.
5. Poe coined the word ‘tintinnabulation’ to describe the sound made by the ringing of bells.
This word was invented by Poe in his poem ‘The Bells’, where he writes, ‘Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells … From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.’ You can read the whole poem here. (We also recommend Poe’s poem ‘To Helen’, which we’ve analysed here.)
If you enjoyed this post, check out our previous post on Edgar Allan Poe and some of the things which he correctly predicted. You might also enjoy our interesting Stephen King facts. If you’re eager to dip into some of Poe’s writings, we’d recommend this collection of some of his finest short stories: The Portable Edgar Allan Poe (Penguin Classics).
Image: Cropped image from the famous E.A. Poe daguerreotype, W.S. Hartshorn (1848 daguerreotype), C.T. Tatman (1904 photo of a c. 1848-1860 photo of daguerreotype missing since 1860) public domain.
Pingback: Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849): A Gothic Session | Unclasped Poet
Pingback: The Best Edgar Allan Poe Stories | Interesting Literature
Pingback: Ten Facts about Sherlock Holmes | Interesting Literature
Pingback: Guest Blog: ‘The Raven’ – Nevermore | Interesting Literature
Pingback: The Interesting Life of T. S. Eliot | Interesting Literature
Pingback: Edgar Allan Poe: Poet and Prophet | Interesting Literature
I think the guy is a little weird, but it’s a good article
Pingback: 45 Quotes about Poetry for National Poetry Day | Interesting Literature
he writes the best poems 🐉😜
Pingback: October 7 in Literature: Edgar Allan Poe Dies | Interesting Literature
Pingback: October 3 in Literature: Edgar Allan Poe Found Delirious on Streets of Baltimore | Interesting Literature
Pingback: 100 Interesting Facts about Famous Authors | Interesting Literature
Pingback: The Best Facts about Classic Authors | Interesting Literature
Pingback: Five Fascinating Facts about Edgar Allan Poe | IrishLass13
Reblogged this on Gypsy Coins & Peacock Feathers.
If you love Edgar Allan Poe, the raven flies again on 10.7.14 http://www.edgarallanpoeforevermore.com
I’d love to know how Edgar trained his cat to sit on his shoulder instead of on his work.
I would appreciate feedback, if you have the time – this is a great site to a tired old English Teacher such as myself.
Love this! Also, I’d like to thank you for liking my post “Underneath the Cherry Tree”. I have a little poll going for my own amusement and was wondering if you could tell me what it was you liked about the song? I am just starting to explore your blog but so far it’s pretty interesting. Look forward to seeing more from you and hearing your thoughts on that song….thanks again,….Annabel
He was a genius… Aquileana :)
This was a lot of fun to read! I’m currently in the process of reading every single one of Poe’s works (short stories, Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, all of his poetry, and his essays), so it was cool to see all of the extra little details about him. I never would of guessed Poe would own a Siamese cat…. then again, I think he’d stay far, far away from black ones, haha!
Pingback: Five Fascinating Facts about Edgar Allan Poe | robertbyron22
Pingback: Scurte #193 | Assassin CG
It´s always amusing reading your facts.
A cat? Really, that must had been some well trained cat.
Reblogged this on The imAgine RooM and commented:
The title says it all. Five Fascinating facts! Did you know that Poe was the first person to use the term ‘Short Story’? And as for ‘tintinnabulation’ … the license of the writer to reinvent the language from some of the best!
Reblogged this on Ace History News and commented:
#AceHistoryNews says ” Great Site and Great Posts” have added you to my follows and reblogged on #History2Research
Only obliquely literary, I know, but rugby union club Harlequins got their name from the Commedia Dell’Arte character, didn’t they; while the amateur Welsh football team from Haverfordwest The Wizards are thus named from nearby Merlin’s Bridge, supposedly from the Geoffrey of Monmouth character (we’ll pass over the fact that Merlin’s Bridge was formerly Magdalene or Maudlin’s Bridge, from a local religious house).
I think that’s true – another wise commenter suggested that team names derived from Greek myth are in one sense ‘literary’ as well, which I agree with. Didn’t know that about the Wizards – apparently Geoffrey of Monmouth believed that Stonehenge was built by Merlin, so he evidently credited that man with a fair amount of stuff he didn’t deserve the credit for!
I am so glad that someone still talks about him. Poe is my inspiration. Wao, thank you for sharing. I love his writings very much.
Always enjoy reading your posts. Good luck in the Blog awards!
Thank you, Philip!
I find #1 somewhat surprising. Interesting.
Pingback: Let’s Talk Poe(sy) | Wise Blood
I am in awe! This is my first visit to your blog, but it will not be the last! (I wouldn’t have known of the blog but for your visit (and like, thank you!) to mine! Though your piece and mine were different, I was struck to note your quote (fact #5) of the very same words from The Bells. Such a master he was! I look forward to reading many more posts.
I had no idea that any sports teams were named after literature. That is my favorite fact in this post. Maybe I will pay more attention to football now…
Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
A few interesting facts about one of my most favorite authors, Edgar Allen Poe. Read on …
When Edgar Allen Poe married his cousin Virginia, he was twenty-seven, and she was thirteen (and consumptive).
At his wife Virginia’s funeral, standing beside her grave, Poe wore the very same gray West Point military jacket which had previously been used as a blanket for Virginia on her deathbed.
Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe were pen pals (if you want to call it that), and they even met once, in Philadelphia, when Poe was about 34-years-old and Dickens was about 31. Dickens, incidentally, had a pet raven named Grip, and in his novel Barnaby Rudge, which Poe had read, there is featured a talking raven.
Thanks for these! I knew about the sad story with his cousin, but not about the jacket. Very sad.
I think Barnaby Rudge was one of the two chief influences on Poe’s ‘The Raven’, the other being a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning titled ‘Lady Geraldine’s Courtship’. I’ve not read that one, though!
Actually, his wife was perfectly healthy when they married (she was not “consumptive” then). It wasn’t until 6 years into their 11-year marriage that she got sick.
Reblogged this on Soul Experience's Blog and commented:
Interesting tidbits if true and if not, fun to think they are true.
Love that fact about the sports team!
I loved this post! Whenever I feature Poe on my tales of terror blog (his short stories), I get lots of views. Poe can still draw people to his work and so many of us love to reread the stories and poems. My favorite poem of his is Spirits of the Dead. Short but so powerful.
Thanks, Paula! It’s a great idea to feature Poe’s short stories, as so many of them are archetypal tales which helped to influence later genres (science fiction, domestic Gothic, detective fiction). Some of his best are his shortest tales – ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ is one of my favourites, and that’s only three or four pages. So much in it though!
What is it with writers and animals? Charles Dickens had a Raven that liked to walk round and impersonate drunk people :)
I know! ‘Writers and their pets’ will have to be a future post, I think. Dickens’s raven was even called Grip, like Barnaby Rudge’s pet raven.
I think you should, people are batty about animals and reading. I love having the cat next to me whilst I’m reading or writing.
Reblogged this on daydreaming in words.
Reblogged this on PETTY DEMON.
Love Poe’s creation of new words! “The tintinabulation of the bells”. We need to create a new word for the sound of blog posts being reblogged around the blogosphere–the reblog-blog-blog-bloggings of the blogs
Haha, yes! The Clickclickclackulation of people clicking to read it? Hmmm… I’ll have to think about that…
Thank you for liking my post, Tradition.
Regarding Poe, it is not such an unusual fact, but the Fugitive Poets considered him their forebear or cousin, to some degree in their advocating for a new voice for Southern literature. I have lived in both Philadelphia and Baltimore. Both lay claim to Poe and both are about equidistant from the Mason Dixon line. My vote is with Baltimore. I wonder, though, if a bit of Poe’s anguish was from that historical “border state” environment — not quite fitting here nor there.
Best wishes for your continued inspiration for your blog.
I had no idea about the Fugitive Poets – this is great, and I think you may have a point with the ‘border state’ environment. Especially in the US, this tends to be a feature, and especially among fantasy writers? Something to look into, I think. Thanks!
Reblogged this on The Writing Catalog and commented:
They are pretty fascinating, and since today is his birthday, it seems like a good time to share them.
Poe’s ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ is in my opinion the best short story ever written.
It is fantastic. He does so much in just a few pages – and his understanding of psychology made him somewhat ahead of his time in many ways (much like Dickens).
Reblogged this on Jeremy Podolski and commented:
I don’t usually reblog to Unlikely Storytelling, but my admiration of the work of Edgar Allan Poe trumps convention in this case. I’m sure I’ll contribute an original post about Poe in the future, but in the meantime, enjoy this one about the man who coined the term “short story.”
Nice post! Coincidentally, I wrote a post about Poe today. It’s on one of his lesser-known short stories, but I personally think it’s one of his best. Cheers!
Thanks for this, Jeff – fantastic!
first hoax in the literature and better than Orson Welles
Yes, should’ve mentioned that – perhaps in a future post. It is marvellous!
Do teams named after works of oral literature such as mythology count? If so, the Tennessee Titans should qualify, the name borrowed from Greek Mythology: Nashville at the time known as the Athens of the South.
Thank you for adding him to your interesting series of posts, I recently posted Mr. Poe in my own blog, too.
Really interesting! Though I’ve always wondered if the football team Arsenal were perhaps named after the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist!!!!!
Very interesting! And to think, he wrote all those amazing short stories with a cat on his shoulder!
I had never heard of the ‘writing after death’ fact before. I wonder how many symphonies Mozart has possibly finished up till now? Interesting stuff though. I find it hard to write with my cat on my lap – I wish he would sit on my shoulder.
I’m right with you re cats – the neighbour’s cat always wants to sit on my lap and that makes it very difficult to type away at the laptop!
Great article! But I’m not sure about the Siamese cat. I know Catterina, the cat he had in Philadelphia and New York, was a tortoise-shell cat. I’m also not sure we can categorically say he wrote his poetry with the cat. I’ve never seen a primary source which even suggests it, though he certainly seems to like cats.
We’ll have to look into it again, Rob. Perhaps it’s a Woozle, like quite a few Poe facts out there (the naked-but-for-a-pair-of-white-gloves incident as a cadet being another example). Our source for it was Edgar Allan Poe in Richmond, p. 57, where the authors claim that a visitor recorded Poe writing with the cat perched on his shoulder (though you’re right that Catterina wasn’t Siamese, now we’ve checked): http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=O0yxwe1e234C&pg=PA57&dq=%22poe%22+%22cat%22+shoulder&hl=en&sa=X&ei=aOLbUoCVLtOshQf1loGwAw&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22poe%22%20%22cat%22%20shoulder&f=false
Very interesting. I particularly enjoy that he wrote with a Siamese cat on his shoulder!
Poe couldn’t even afford to pay the rent. What a pity!
Reblogged this on Bumps In The Road Of Life and commented:
Happy birthday to my favorite author and poet.
Reblogged this on Cabinet of Curiosities and commented:
I love EAP!!
Reading this was a happy, “Poetic” way start to my morning. Thank you!
Our pleasure, Gina! ‘Poetic’ – I like it :)
Quite interesting! Was it true do you know if he was a manic depressive and troubled in life?
I think it’s always difficult to diagnose writers and artists so long after they lived, but I believe many people hold the view that Poe may have been bipolar. As you can tell, I’m not sure of the facts myself!
Reblogged this on hipsd0ntlie.
Reblogged this on The Path – J. S. Collyer's Writing Blog and commented:
We do love a Poeful Sunday
Reblogged this on Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings and commented:
Another great post from the always fascinating Interesting Literature, this time about Poe!
Thanks for reblogging! :)