Edgar Allan Poe – Tormented Genius? | Documentary

Professor Graeme Yorston
18 Jun 202324:55

TLDRThe documentary explores the life of Edgar Allan Poe, a writer renowned for his dark and macabre themes. Born to impoverished actors, Poe faced numerous hardships, including the loss of his parents to tuberculosis and a strained relationship with his foster father. Despite his literary talent, Poe's life was marked by poverty, personal tragedy, and a tumultuous relationship with alcohol. His mysterious death at the age of 40 has been the subject of much speculation, with theories ranging from brain inflammation to murder. The documentary suggests that Poe's demise was likely due to his chronic alcoholism, which led to delirium tremens, a potentially fatal condition characterized by hallucinations and confusion. Poe's work, however, continues to captivate audiences with its exploration of the darker aspects of life, reflecting his own experiences and personal torment.


  • 😔 Edgar Allan Poe had a troubled life, marked by personal loss and hardship from a young age.
  • 👶 Born to traveling actors in 1809, Poe faced abandonment by his father and the death of his mother to tuberculosis.
  • 🏠 Raised by his foster family, the Allens, Poe's relationship with his foster father was strained and he never formally adopted him.
  • 📚 Poe showed academic promise but struggled with loneliness and a lack of financial support during his school years.
  • 🎓 He attended the University of Virginia but had to abandon his studies due to financial constraints and a growing gambling debt.
  • 💼 Poe's attempt to establish a career in the military was short-lived, as he sought to pursue his passion for literature.
  • 📖 Despite early struggles, Poe's writing career began to take shape with the publication of his poetry and short stories.
  • 💔 His marriage to his young cousin Virginia was marked by love and devotion, but also by her eventual death from tuberculosis.
  • 🦅 The publication of 'The Raven' brought Poe fame but not financial stability, as he continued to face professional and personal challenges.
  • 🍻 Poe's life was plagued by alcoholism, which contributed to his erratic behavior, damaged relationships, and declining health.
  • ⚰️ His mysterious death at the age of 40 remains unexplained, with numerous theories proposed but no definitive cause identified.

Q & A

  • What themes were Edgar Allan Poe known for exploring in his literature?

    -Edgar Allan Poe was known for exploring dark, somber, and macabre themes in his literature.

  • What impact did the early deaths of family members have on Poe's life and work?

    -The early deaths of family members, particularly from tuberculosis, had a profound impact on Poe's life and work, influencing his fascination with death and the macabre.

  • What was the significance of the year 1849 in relation to Poe's life?

    -In 1849, Poe was found disoriented and incoherent on a Baltimore street, wearing another man's clothes, marking the mysterious and troubled end of his life.

  • What was the role of John Allen in Edgar Allan Poe's early life?

    -John Allen was Poe's foster father, who provided financial support but also displayed ambivalence towards Poe, never formally adopting him and eventually disowning him.

  • How did Poe's experiences in the military influence his life trajectory?

    -Poe's time in the military, where he rose to the rank of Sergeant Major, led to his foster father finally supporting his discharge to enroll at West Point, which he later abandoned to pursue literature.

  • What was the nature of Poe's relationship with his wife Virginia Clemm?

    -Poe's relationship with his wife Virginia was one of passionate devotion, despite some biographers suggesting a more sibling-like bond; they were a happy couple.

  • How did Poe's financial struggles affect his career as a writer?

    -Poe's financial struggles led to a precarious existence, often resulting in crises and job losses, despite his talent and contributions to literature.

  • What was the significance of 'The Raven' in Poe's career?

    -'The Raven' made Poe a household name overnight, although it did not significantly improve his financial situation as he was paid only nine dollars for the poem.

  • What are some theories regarding the cause of Edgar Allan Poe's death?

    -Theories regarding Poe's death include pneumonia, heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, cholera, carbon monoxide poisoning, rabies, and even murder, but the actual cause remains unclear.

  • What was the impact of Poe's personality and personal struggles on his writing?

    -Poe's prickly personality, melancholy, and alcoholism tormented him, but he uniquely transformed this torment into powerful and influential literary works.



📚 Early Life and Literary Beginnings

The video script begins by introducing the dark and macabre themes of Edgar Allan Poe's work, questioning the origins of his fascination with life's bleak aspects and the impact on his mental state. It delves into Poe's troubled life, starting with his birth in 1809 to impoverished actor parents in Boston. His father abandoned the family when Poe was an infant, and his mother died of tuberculosis when he was two, leading to his adoption by the Allan family. The script outlines Poe's difficult childhood, including his time in England and the struggles he faced upon returning to Richmond, Virginia. It also touches on his early attempts at poetry and the hardships he endured, including poverty and gambling debts, which led him to enlist in the army under a false name.


🎭 Literary Pursuits and Personal Struggles

This paragraph continues the narrative of Poe's life, highlighting his literary ambitions and the challenges he faced in pursuing them. After a failed attempt at publishing a book of poetry and a stint in the military, Poe sought to establish himself in the literary world. He faced rejection from his foster father and experienced the death of his foster mother, which softened John Allan's stance towards him. Poe's time at West Point ended with a court-martial orchestrated by his own actions, leading to his move to New York where he published more poetry. The paragraph also discusses Poe's personal life, including his marriage to his young cousin Virginia and the financial instability that plagued him throughout his career as a writer.


🖋️ Professional Triumphs and Turbulent Times

The script moves on to Poe's professional life, detailing his roles as an editor and critic, and the controversies that surrounded him. Despite his growing reputation as a fearless critic and writer, Poe's drinking problem and personal disputes led to his dismissal from various positions. His only novel received negative reviews, and his personal life was further complicated by Virginia's illness and eventual death. The paragraph also covers Poe's increasing reliance on alcohol as a coping mechanism, which exacerbated his erratic behavior and darkened his writing.


🕊️ The Raven's Success and Tragic Descent

This section of the script focuses on the publication of Poe's famous poem 'The Raven,' which brought him widespread recognition but did little to improve his financial situation. It discusses the subsequent decline of Poe's health and reputation due to his drinking and personal vendettas. The script also explores his failed attempts to establish a stable career and the tragic death of his wife Virginia, which deeply affected him and led to a period of intense mourning and increased alcohol consumption.


🏥 Mysterious Death and Speculations

The final paragraph delves into the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe's death. Found delirious in Baltimore, Poe was taken to a hospital where he died a few days later, calling out the name 'Reynolds' but unable to explain the situation. The script explores various theories about the cause of his death, ranging from medical conditions to possible foul play. It also addresses speculations about Poe's mental health and personality, suggesting that his struggles were more likely due to his difficult life experiences and alcoholism rather than any specific mental illness.

👣 Legacy and Reflections on a Haunted Life

In conclusion, the script reflects on Poe's enduring legacy and the impact of his personal torment on his writing. It suggests that Poe's fascination with the darker aspects of life was a result of the tragic deaths of loved ones and his own struggles with alcoholism. The script emphasizes the transformative power of Poe's genius in turning his suffering into influential literature. It ends with a poignant quote from Poe about his life and concludes with a call to action for viewers to engage with the content.



💡Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, editor, and literary critic known for his macabre and morbid themes, as well as his contributions to the development of the detective fiction genre. In the video, he is referred to as a 'Tormented Genius' and his life is explored, highlighting his difficult personal experiences and their influence on his dark and somber literary works.


Macabre refers to a fascination with or depiction of death and the grotesque. Poe's works often delve into these themes, reflecting his personal experiences with death and his interest in the darker aspects of life. The video mentions Poe's 'fascination with the balika aspects of life,' which is a driving force behind the macabre themes in his literature.


Mystery in literature often involves elements of suspense, secrecy, or the unexplained. Poe is known for his mysterious and enigmatic narratives, which are a hallmark of his storytelling. The script discusses the 'mysterious final few days' of Poe's life, adding to the intrigue surrounding his personal story.


Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that was a significant cause of death in the 19th century, as mentioned in the transcript. In the video, it is highlighted that Poe experienced multiple deaths of loved ones from tuberculosis, which likely influenced his melancholic view of life and his literary themes.

💡Literary Critic

A literary critic is someone who analyzes, interprets, and evaluates literature. Poe was known for his fearless and savage criticism of other writers' works, as noted in the script. His critical writings are an important part of his legacy as a writer and intellectual.

💡The Raven

The Raven is one of Poe's most famous poems, which brought him widespread recognition. The poem is mentioned in the script as having made him a 'household name overnight,' despite not providing significant financial gain due to the low payment he received.


Alcoholism is a condition characterized by the excessive and compulsive consumption of alcohol. The video script describes Poe's struggles with alcohol, which had a profound impact on his life and work, ultimately contributing to his early death.


Mania, in the context of mental health, refers to a state of intense excitement or wild, uncontrolled behavior. The script mentions Poe's 'attack of mania upputu,' which is believed to be a reference to delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that can lead to hallucinations and confusion.


Eureka is an essay written by Poe, in which he attempts to explain the nature of the universe. The video describes it as his 'greatest work,' although it was poorly received at the time. It represents Poe's intellectual curiosity and his desire to contribute to broader scientific and philosophical discussions.

💡Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens, also known as DTs, is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that can include symptoms like hallucinations, tremors, and confusion. The script suggests that Poe's final days may have been influenced by this condition, which can be fatal if not treated.

💡Mystery of Death

The mystery surrounding Poe's death is a significant aspect of the video's narrative. It is mentioned that he was found in a delirious state and died under unclear circumstances, with various theories proposed but no definitive explanation for his demise.


Edgar Allan Poe is renowned for his dark, somber, and macabre themes in literature.

Poe's fascination with the bleak aspects of life stemmed from personal tragedies and hardships.

He was found disoriented, incoherent, and wearing another man's clothes on a Baltimore street in 1849.

Poe was born in 1809 to traveling actors with little money and no stability.

His father abandoned the family when Poe was nine months old, and his mother died when he was two.

Tuberculosis claimed the lives of many people close to Poe, deeply affecting him.

Poe was raised by the Allens, but his foster father never formally adopted him.

He excelled in his studies but had few friends, reflecting haunting memories in his later writings.

Poe attended the University of Virginia but left due to financial difficulties and gambling debts.

He enlisted in the army under a false name and rose to the rank of Sergeant Major by age 20.

Poe married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clem, in 1836, and they had a deeply devoted relationship.

Despite his literary successes, Poe struggled financially throughout his life.

His poem 'The Raven' brought him fame but little financial stability.

Poe's wife, Virginia, died of tuberculosis, exacerbating his drinking and erratic behavior.

Poe's mysterious death has sparked numerous theories, including alcoholism, rabies, and brain tumors.

Poe's lifelong struggle with alcoholism likely contributed to his erratic behavior and untimely death.

Despite his tormented life, Poe's works continue to shock, entertain, and inspire to this day.

Poe himself believed he had a spark of genius, quenched by misery.