Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49) may be the most misunderstood and the most disliked of serious writers who have made a deep impact on the American public. This is in part the consequence of his sensational and morbid themes—hysteria, catalepsy, metempsychosis, hallucinations, premature burial, the odd impulse, the bizarre fetish, the split personality, the paranoid delusion, insane revenge, and bestial murder. But more important, Poe’s general reputation is the unfortunate consequence of persistent errors of fact and interpretation that have twisted the public view of the writer’s life and work from the very beginning. Just four years after Poe’s death, the Reverend George Gilfillan proclaimed:

Poets as a tribe have been rather a worthless, wicked set of people; and certainly Edgar A. Poe, instead of being an exception, was probably the...


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