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Such evidence as there is can be taken up at a later time. But of one thing we can be sure. If Virginia was the prototype of Eleonora she was not the model for Morella or Berenice or Ligeia."(Quinn, 255)
These feelings can also be inferred from Poe's letters to Mrs. Clemm, Virginia's mother:
I am blinded with tears while writing this letter-- I have no wish to live another hour. Amid sorrow, and the deepest anxiety your letter reached -- and you well know how little I am able to bear up under the pressure of grief -- My bitterest enemy would pity me could he now read my heart -- My last my only hold on life is cruelly torn away -- I have no desire to live and will not but let my duty be done. I love, you know I love Virginia passionately devotedly. I cannot express in words the fervent devotion I feel towards my dear little cousin -- my own darling. But what can [I] say. Oh think for me for I am incapable of thinking. Al [l my] thoughts are occupied with the supposition that both you & she will prefer to go with N. Poe.[...]"(Hart, 9)
Hayes documents on the great number of losses in Poe's life, from his natural mother, to his foster one, and to Virginia, each of these increasing his pain and his obsession:
And there were losses of other women whom Poe had loved, as well: the death of surrogate mother Jane Stith Stanard in 1824, the termination of his romance with young Elmira Royster in 1826, the death of foster mother Frances Allan in 1829. Moreover, as he worked on "The Raven, " he may well have anticipated the death of his "young, gentle, and idolized wife" Virginia: the onset of her tuberculosis occurred three years before the poem was published (and she died two years after it appeared). Finally, there was another critical loss for Poe - the death of his brother Henry, which recalled the death of his mother. In 1829, Poe wrote of the connection, asserting that "there can be no tie more strong than that of brother for brother - it is not so much that they love one another as that they both love the same parent. " (Hayes, 194)
Poe idealized the image of the lost women in his writing, and they became a symbol of beauty that passes away, as it is expressed in his most important poems like, the Raven, the Sleeper, Annabel Lee and Ulalume. In the Raven, for example Poe's emphasis on the word "nevermore" is a token of his obsession with death and the impossibility of resurrection or return:
Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'"(Poe, 217)
His other poems, like Ulalume evoke the same feeling of absence and desolation. The dialogue between the poet and his psyche in this poem is very significant: the writer seems to be driven by a strange force to the place of burial of his beloved, while he is holing a dialogue with his conscious self. The duality between the unconscious drive that brings his steps to the tomb and the conscious attempt to persuade himself that all is well, is dramatic. The direct dialogue with his psyche, with his unconsciousness is very telling: the poet cannot dominate his obsession with the death of his lover, that attracts him over and over again.
The third major influence on his work was that of his own path or career as an editor. In spite of his success and popularity as a writer (he became famous on an international level and was translated by Baudelaire and praised by many others), the poet somehow failed to become accommodated or integrated in the society in which he lived. His frequent misunderstandings with his employers caused him eventually great material problems, and contributed to his lack of balance. He lost his position as an editor for the Southern Literary Messenger and had numerous conflicts with contemporary authors and critics in America, l like Longfellow. The reputation he had gained from his acid reviews of other works increased his social discomfort. According to David Hoffman, there was a great animosity within the family as well, especially with his foster father, who had neglected him and refused to help him financially:
If there is a villain in Poe's destiny, a malign person insinuated into his fortune by the machinations of that evil fairy who always spoils the christening party, it may have been his nonadoptive guardian. For John Allan reared the boy in full expectations of becoming his heir and gave him half a claim on the rights and privileges accorded in the antebellum South to a would-be gentleman. [...] but at the crucial moment, he cast Edgar adrift without a cent, without a foster-father's blessing, to make his own way in a profession still more precarious than the ill-starred career of his true parents: the profession of a Poet."(Hoffman, 53)
The social discomfort Poe felt, paralleled by his drinking habits have marked his literary development as it made him reluctant to entertain any social dialogue. As it can be seen from one of his letters, his attitude was quite anti-social, as he advocated Virginia deserved something better than merely an "worldly" life:
The tone of your letter wounds me to the soul -- Oh Aunty, Aunty you loved me once -- how can you be so cruel now? You speak of Virginia acquiring accomplishments, and entering into society -- you speak in so worldly a tone. Are you sure she would be more happy. Do you think any one could love her more dearly than I. She will have far -- very far better opportunities of entering into society here than with N.P. "(Hart, 10)
The propensity for the unearthly world in his books can be thus explained by his anti-social attitude. Thus, Poe's life is a major influence on his work, and defines the main tendencies and philosophical stance. The motive of the dead beautiful woman is the one that mostly pervades his work, but his personality and his social isolation also contributed significantly.
Felman, Shoshana. "On Reading Poetry: Reflections on the Limits and Possibilities of Psychoanalytical Approaches." In Edgar Allan Poe: Modern Critical Views, edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 119-39. New York: Chelsea House, 1985.
Hayes, Kevin J. The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Hoffman, Daniel. "O! Nothing Earthly...' / the Poems." In Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972.
Kaplan, Louise J. "The Perverse Strategy in 'The Fall of the House of Usher'," in New Essays on Poe's Major Tales, ed. Kenneth Silverman, Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 45-64.
Kennedy, J. Gerald. "The Horrors of Translation: The Death of a Beautiful Woman." In Poe, Death, and the Life of Writing, pp. 60-88. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Works. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
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