October 7 marks the anniversary of the death of one of the most emblematic, influential, and well-known American authors in the world, investigator of the nightmare and the unknown, the forerunner of horror literature and psychological thriller, famous for his stories of terror. and mystery capable of investigating the human soul to the depths of its most visceral darkness: Edgar Allan Poe.
The history of literature is, more often than we think, studded with many small miracles that wisely intertwine it with what has not only been and is definable chronicle, but also with the lives of those who, shrewd authors, have this literary history helped to create it and make it so. In fact, very often a thin thread runs between the work and its author, which binds them indissolubly. One of the most beautiful examples in this sense is certainly the one concerning Edgar Allan Poe himself. That same mystery that connotes his stories and writings and that made him a teacher and a pioneer of this type of narration, envelops not only Poe’s life, but also and above all the circumstances of his death, to the point of almost making becoming the author himself a protagonist, probably unaware, of his great work.
Let’s see in detail what this story is, putting aside for a moment all those reservations and that arid critical sense that too often require us to distinguish between truth and fiction, and let us abandon ourselves even for a moment to the wonders of a literary world boundless in the reality. Who was Edgar Allan Poe? Why 170 years later, the circumstances of his death are still debatable?
Born in Boston on January 19, 1809 to a family of Irish immigrants, little Edgar, when he was only two years old, already had to face the horrors of existence: his father abandoned the family in 1810, while his mother died of tuberculosis the year following. Orphaned, Edgar was welcomed into the home of a Virginia merchant of Scottish descent, John Allan, who took care of him and had him study in England, where he lived until 1820, before returning to the United States. Here he attended the University of Virginia with little success, which he soon abandoned also because of his passion for alcohol and gambling, activities that led him to quarrel with his adoptive father and forced him to move back to Boston, where, not being able plus counting on the financial help of the Allan family, he supported himself with occasional jobs as a clerk and journalist. However, unable to meet the expenses, in May 1827 he enlisted in the United States Army. Even this career did not last long and it was so that Poe decided once and for all to devote himself to his first and only love: writing. However, as often happens, Poe had to deal with the unanimous misunderstanding of the public and critics, unable to grasp his greatness, a situation that forced him, now disowned by his adoptive father, to a life of poverty and despair, marked by ‘ alcohol, drug use, and supposedly an untreated mental illness.
It is at this point that the mystery thickens and, like a fog, comes out of the most beautiful pages of Poe’s books to wrap the last moments of the writer’s life with his mantle. On October 3, 1849 Poe is found delirious in the streets of Baltimore, wearing clothes that are not his own, he cannot explain why and how he got there. He clearly needs assistance, so he is rushed to Washington Medical College, where he will die four days later, at the age of forty. Doctors put forward hypotheses, they hide behind euphemisms that allude to a past of alcoholism, but in fact they are unable to outline a concrete diagnosis. Meanwhile, the medical reports disappear, enthusiasts begin to ask questions and Poe’s death slowly turns into that enigma that still awaits to be solved today.
Conjectures obviously go to waste. Some trivially blame too much alcohol, others suspect a beating or robbery, still others insinuate that Poe may have been the victim of cooping, a violent form of electoral fraud then in vogue among criminals, which consisted in capturing a victim (Poe weakened by alcohol and delirium he was the perfect victim), drug him, change his clothes and force him several times to go to the polling stations to vote. Absurd but probable, after all, elections were being held in Baltimore at that time. Then there are those who speak of a brain tumor that would have induced a confusional state (no autopsy was carried out on the body), but also of heavy metal poisoning, anger and even murder.
We will probably never know the truth. Moreover, as Poe himself wrote: “The true, the only true thinkers, [are] the men of ardent imagination”; and again: “Do not believe anything you hear and believe only half of what you see” because “Everything we see or seem is nothing but a dream in a dream”. A Dream within a Dream: this is how we should remember Edgar Allan Poe, between mystery and genius, torment and enlightenment; one of the most famous writers of all time, yet still to be discovered.