The world's most famous daguerreotype
"Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?
of the modern horror story
and the modern detective story
, as well as an early influence on the science fiction
genre. Poe believed that all stories should be short enough to be read in one sitting.
He also believed that the perfect subject for poetry is the death of a beautiful young womannote
(which should tell you volumes about his own love life
, not to mention the death of his mother and his adoptive mother at a young age). Poe's life was plagued by rifts with his adoptive father, deaths of numerous loved ones, and alcoholism. Typical
. He was also a noted Caustic Critic
, which undoubtedly earned him a few enemies and tarnished his reputation, despite the critical acclaim that he received.
After Poe's death his literary executor was also one of his greatest enemies in the literary world and sought to destroy Poe's reputation with lies and forgeries
. The Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe
by James Albert Harrison actually provides evidence from eyewitness accounts that suggest he wasn't quite an alcoholic at all. That said, even without it, he still had way more than enough "inspiration" for his work.
He also created the first notable introverted Great Detective
character of C. Auguste Dupin who, operating independently of the police force, solved crimes via his great observation and reasoning skills while assisted by his Heterosexual Life Partner
and roommate, who also narrates the stories. Sound familiar?
Along with his detective fiction and poetry, Poe is celebrated for his wonderfully gothic
and macabre horror fiction which did away with traditional themes of simple ghosts and witches. These stories would go on to influence dozens of authors who would expand and refine the genre, and they were loved most greatly by a certain Mr Howard Phillips Lovecraft
, an introverted fellow who'd go on to set the tone of horror fiction for the rest of the 20th century. Poe also wrote quite a lot of humor (often dark
humor, admittedly), which may come as a surprise to those who know his works only from assigned readings in high school.
Poe was a Baltimorean, and "The Raven
" is the namesake of the Baltimore Ravens.
His only novel was The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
. That he had written a novel while preferring short stories could be explained seeing the Troll
His works were the inspiration for the first album from The Alan Parsons Project
Works by Edgar Allen Poe with their own trope pages include:
Edgar Allen Poe's works provide examples of:
- After the End: "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion"
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: "Really? There's a wine named Amontillado? Wow, I bet they named it after the guy in that Poe story!"
- Answering Echo: In "Never Bet the Devil Your Head".
"What right," said I, "had the old gentleman to make any other gentleman jump? The little old dot-and-carry-one! who is he? If he asks me to jump, I won't do it, that's flat, and I don't care who the devil he is." The bridge, as I say, was arched and covered in, in a very ridiculous manner, and there was a most uncomfortable echo about it at all times-an echo which I never before so particularly observed as when I uttered the four last words of my remark.
- Apocalyptic Log: "M.S. Found In A Bottle". Also the obvious.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: "The Cask of Amontillado" and "Hop-Frog" among others.
- Asexuality: He had a wife, Virginia, but he loved her only platonically.
- It may have helped that she was his first cousin, though the fact that he married and loved her, even knowing this, meant he would have been perfectly happy to never sleep with anyone for the rest of their lives together. So, the shoe still fits.
- Actually, the "platonic lovers" thing is up for debate.
- Asshole Victim:
- Many of the targets of retribution get what's coming to them... or so we are told by the narrators pursuing their revenge.
- Subverted with regards to the victim in "The Tell-Tale Heart": even the narrator knows the old man to be kind and generous... it's just that damned eye of his...
- The narrator of The Black Cat.
- Author Appeal: Dead women.
- Author Tract: "The Imp of the Perverse".
- Author Vocabulary Calendar: In particular, the word "arabesque."
- Awesome McCoolname: Signora Psyche Zenobia. Only her enemies, she proclaims, ever refer to her as Suky Snobbs.
- Based on a Great Big Lie:
- No, The Spanish Inquisition didn't really kill people with a slowly lowering bladed pendulum, as seen in "The Pit and the Pendulum". Although considering the story is set during the Peninsular Wars, it was never meant to be historically accurate.
- "The Balloon-Hoax": a fictional short story written by Poe that was originally released as being a newspaper article of an actual event. He then showed up at the place where the hot-air balloon was supposed to arrive and explained to everyone that he'd just fooled them all with his writing. It was a publicity stunt and it worked.
- Beat Still, My Heart: "The Tell-Tale Heart" — probably the most famous example.
- Bedlam House: "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether," Poe's personal favorite of his stories.
- Beware the Nice Ones:
- Long-suffering dwarf Hop-Frog finally snaps when the king dares to strike his beloved. His subsequent revenge is not pretty.
- Montressor of "The Cask of Amontillado" claims that he patiently bore a "thousand injuries" from Fortunato until Fortunato finally went too far. Of course Montressor may not be the most reliable narrator.
- Big Name Fan: He was a great admirer of Nathaniel Hawthorne, saying that despite his own reputation, he couldn't come close to the level of darkness present in Hawthorne's stories.
- Blood from Every Orifice: In "The Masque of the Red Death," the Red Death is a mysterious infection or its personification, whose symptoms include profuse bleeding all over the face and the body, which kills within half an hour.
- Breather Episode: In between the heavy stories, Poe published comedies such as "The Angel of the Odd" and "Thingum Bob, Esq".
- Buried Alive:
- Fortunato in "The Cask of Amontillado"
- Madeline in "The Fall of the House of Usher"
- "The Black Cat"
- Due to the narrator's deranged mind, the old man of "The Tell-Tale Heart"
- The story "The Premature Burial", which explores several nonfictional cases and has a protagonist terrified that it will happen to him. It doesn't, but a frightening experience that simulates it helps him overcome his paranoia at the prospect.
- Whatever the opposite of 'Author Appeal' is, for Poe this was it; he was notoriously terrified of being buried alive, to the point where he would reportedly often go to sleep wearing a sign informing the reader that he was only sleeping, not actually dead. Being Buried Alive was (and still is) a genuine Primal Fear. It was common back in a time of poor medical treatment to be declared dead when you're just in a fever-induced coma: waking up in a coffin was a real and terrifying possibility.
- Campbell Country
- The Case Of: His horror story, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" was an early proto-example of this, before it was properly codified.
- The Cat Came Back: Literally in "The Black Cat".
- The Cavalry: "The Pit and the Pendulum." After all, otherwise we'd be stuck with an Undead Author.
- Conviction by Counterfactual Clue: "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" contains gibberish that every listener identifies as a language they don't know. It turns out to be the "speech" of an orangutan - which wouldn't sound much like any of the mentioned languages if Poe had ever heard it. Some of the information about corpse bloating in "The Mystery of Marie Roget" is also wrong, but Poe was working with the knowledge of his day, so Science Marches On.
- Of course the gibberish wouldn't sound anything like the languages the people thought they heard, but aural pareidolia can play some mean tricks on the ears.
- Creepy Ravens: In "The Raven", oddly enough.
- Dead Man's Chest: "The Oblong Box." You'll be shocked to learn what is in the box... so shocked.
- Death Trap: "The Pit and the Pendulum" may be the Trope Maker - featuring, among other nasty things, a Descending Ceiling, Closing Walls and a Bottomless Pit.
- Depraved Dwarf: Subverted in "Hop-Frog". The king and his courtiers who torment Hop-Frog and his beloved Trippetta are the depraved ones.
- Depth Deception: "The Sphinx".
- Designated Hero/Villain: Intentionally invoked in "The Cask of Amontillado," the designations are made by a very Unreliable Narrator. Montressor repeatedly muses on Fortunado's Offscreen Villainy, but never gets into the specifics of what he actually did, and the guy appears to be harmlessly affable (but then so does Montressor if you don't have access to his thoughts). Meanwhile our narrator, who goes out of his way to assure the reader he is Most Definitely Not a Villain, is the one very carefully planning murder. Not even a quick and clean death either, but a pretty nasty And I Must Scream scenario.
- Detective Literature: Poe is considered the inventor of the genre through his "tales of ratiocination" featuring the French detective Auguste Dupin ("The Mystery of Marie Roget", "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", and "The Purloined Letter").
- Disease Bleach: Roderick in "The Fall of the House of Usher."
- Disproportionate Retribution: Possibly, in "The Cask of Amontillado". Fortunato gets Buried Alive for insulting the narrator.
- Downer Ending: Almost every time, but "The Masque of the Red Death" is a standout example:
And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.
- Drugs Are Bad: Well, alcohol is bad, in the sense that it's used to set up misdeeds in "The Black Cat" and "Hop-Frog." Poe was generally realistic about it, thanks in part to personal experience. Maybe.
- And the eponymous "Angel of the Odd" is a divine entity made of bottles and kegs who ruins the narrator's life through a series of Contrived Coincidences.
- Fortunato, in "The Cask of Amontillado," is already drunk at Carnivale before he is lured to his doom by the prospect of taste-testing a cask of valuable wine. As he and Montressor walk deeper into the catacombs (used doubly as a wine-cellar), Fortunato is given more and more to drink, slowing his reactions to the revenge awaiting him.
- Empathic Environment: "The Fall of the House of Usher".
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Subverted in "Murders in the Rue Morgue".
- Evil Twin: "William Wilson" is something of an inversion; the narrator is a Villain Protagonist with a Doppelgänger who deliberately foils his schemes. Ultimately, said doppelganger is revealed to be the living personification of his conscience.
- Eye Scream: "The Black Cat" and, in some interpretations, "The Tell-Tale Heart".
- Forbidden Fruit
- For Doom the Bell Tolls: "The Bells" is divided into "Sleigh Bells," "Wedding Bells," "Fire Bells," and "Funeral Bells". Guess which is lingered on longest?
- For the Evulz: The narrator in "The Black Cat" killed his pet cat, as he explains, for no other reason than knowing that it was wrong to do so.
- Funetik Aksent: Jupiter's "Negro dialect" is written this way in "The Gold Bug," with a little bit of Engrish and Buffy Speak as well.
- The eponymous character of "Angel of the Odd" has his dialogue typed out as it were in a German accent. Or French. Maybe Spanish?
- Gas Chamber: The narrator of "The Imp of the Perverse" manages this with a "poisoned candle".
- Genius Loci: The House of Usher.
- Gentleman Detective: Dupin, considered the Trope Maker.
- Goth: Unbuilt Trope.
- Gothic Literature: Popularized the genre in public consciousness.
- Grand Theft Me: "Ligeia." It's a variation though involving swapping bodies and transformation.
- Gray Eyes: He was said to have always-changing light grey eyes.
- Great Detective: C. Auguste Dupin.
- Handicapped Badass: Hop-Frog may be a midget with deformed legs, but that doesn't stop him from getting his revenge.
- Her Codename Was Mary Sue: Signora Psyche Zenobia in "How to Write a Blackwood Article" writes a story about a lovely and refined lady named... Signora Psyche Zenobia.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: The Purloined Letter.
- How We Got Here: Quite frequent, always overlapping with Foregone Conclusion.
- Ill Girl: He was especially fond of this one. Incidentally, they tend to be pale from sickness, but in a pretty way.
- Arguably Truth in Television; Poe's wife was ill for several years prior to her death, but he never saw her as anything less than beautiful.
- Pretty much all of the women he loved became one of these, which also included his adoptive mother and his friend's mother.
- Incest Is Relative: Finally found love with his teenage cousin, though their love was only ever platonic. He never had any children with her. Subverted in that under the laws of most lands, marrying one's cousin isn't incest; before widespread travel it was the rule rather than the exception.
- Inner Monologue Conversation: Dupin is famously capable of responding to his companion's inner monologue, by deducing from body language what he must have been thinking about.
- Inspired By: The murder of Marie Roget, a Dupin mystery.
- Also, his unfinished play Politian was a fictionalization of a famous duel case of the time.
- In the Blood: Implied to be the case with the titular family in "The Fall of the House of Usher".
- Ironic Name: "Fortunato" is a very ironic name for the guy who gets buried alive...
- It Will Never Catch On: "The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade" is written as an epilogue to the Arabian Nights, in which Scheherazade makes the mistake of putting modern (for Poe's time) inventions in one of her stories, causing the disbelieving sultan to have her executed.
- Also invoked in Real Life by "Eureka" which postulates absurd theories the modern reader will recognize as the Bohr model, the Big Bang, and general relativity... in 1848.
- Karma Houdini: The narrator of "The Cask of Amontillado"
- Kill the Cutie: Poor Virginia.
- Kissing Cousins: Subverted. According to historians, his marriage with his cousin was comparable to that of a pair of siblings.
- Let The Past Burn: The story "The Fall of the House of Usher" ends this way, and the curse of the Usher family is brought to closure through the destruction of the house, as well as the protagonist's love interest.
- Load-Bearing Boss: The Usher twins in "Fall of the House of Usher" seem to be this for their family mansion.
- Locked into Strangeness/Disease Bleach: The old man in "A Descent Into the Maelstrom" isn't nearly as old as he seems...
- Locked Room Mystery: The Murders in the Rue Morgue
- The Lost Lenore: The Trope Namer, courtesy of "The Raven." A love interest of a main character in a story is dead before the story begins, or dies during its course, and their death has significant ongoing impact, consequences, and relevance for the remainder of the story.
- Love at First Sight: Parodied and gleefully deconstructed in "The Spectacles", in which a short-sighted young man falls in love with a beautiful young woman at the theater, and ends up marrying her, only to find out she is actually his own great-great-grandmother from France who wanted to teach him a lesson for not wearing glasses and hitting on unknown women at the theater. The wedding was a fake wedding, of course.
- Love Hurts: Let's put it this way - if the character loves a woman, she's on death row.
- This was probably inspired by the fact that basically every woman he ever loved in any way (his mother, foster mother, girlfriends, and his wife) all died young, mostly from tuberculosis.
- Averted in "Hop-Frog" when Hop-Frog and his beloved Trippetta escape to their own country at the end of the story.
- Lovecraft Country: Helped inspire Lovecraft.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Certain critics think D, in "The Purloined Letter," is Dupin's father. Others think the two men may be brothers, as indicated by the reference Dupin makes to the ancient Greek twins Atreus and Thyestes. Still others say certain critics are completely nuts.
- Played for laughs in the comedy story (yes, really) "The Spectacles," where the extremely near-sighted narrator falls in love with a beautiful woman who turns out to be his great-great-grandmother.
- Macabre Moth Motif: In The Sphinx.
- Masquerade Ball: "The Masque of the Red Death"; "Hop-Frog".
- Mean Character, Nice Actor: Contemporaries noted that Poe wasn't as gloomy or spooky as everyone thinks he was, and he often mocked his own persona.
- Meaningful Name: Allamistakeo in "Some Words With a Mummy."
- Mood Dissonance: Lampshaded and justified in "Thou Art the Man": the narrator is the one who set up the apparent "miracle," and knows what really happened.
- Mummies at the Dinner Table: "Annabel Lee", though it takes a while to realize it.
- Mummy: "Some Words With a Mummy", appropriately enough. This is an unusual case where the mummy isn't Undead- he went into a cataleptic state and didn't come out for thousands of years. Since he was of a particular group known as the Scarabeus, he was fortunate enough not to get his internal organs removed during embalming.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Roderick Usher when he realizes he has entombed his twin sister while she is still alive.
- Mysterious Antarctica: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Also a Lost World.
- Narrative Poem: Several shortish examples, most famously "The Raven".
- Nightmare Retardant: Done intentionally in ''The Premature Burial''. The whole point of the short story was to serve as Nightmare Retardant for the Poe himself.
- No Ending: "The Devil in the Belfry", among others.
- No Immortal Inertia: "The Facts in the Case of M.Valdemar"
- No Name Given: Dupin's sidekick.
- This is actually quite frequent in Poe. It's generally an omission as a result of first-person narration, with the exception of the protagonist of "William Wilson," who refuses to give his name because he's piled too much infamy upon it.
- Noodle Incident: Readers rarely get to learn why the narrator - especially the one in "Cask of Amontillado" - is pursuing a cold and cruel revenge against his nemesis/victim. There was some slight made back well before the story, but it's never mentioned and most of the time the victim doesn't even remember what it was.
- In "Cask of Amontillado", while the full nature of the "insult" may never be known, Poe scholars have narrowed it down to being related to class conflict. Montressor is the scion of an ancient noble family, while Fortunato appears to be "new money." Arrogant, vulgar, and ignorant of the manners of high society, Fortunato inadvertently slighted Montressor's family honor in such a way that could only be redressed through violent retribution. Some have even theorized that Fortunato made his money by fleecing Montressor or one of his fellow ancient noblemen.
- Nothing Is Scarier: In "The Pit and the Pendulum", we never find out what is in the pit.
- The Noun and the Noun
- No Ontological Inertia: "Fall of the House of Usher"
- One-Book Author: He produced a long list of poems and short stories, but The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket was his only novel.
- Pirate Booty: "The Gold-Bug" involves three men - one of them recently bitten by a golden scarab - going off on a treasure hunt for Captain Kidd's buried loot.
- The Plague: In "Masque of the Red Death."
- Profiling: How Dupin figures out that the thief of "The Purloined Letter" hid the letter in plain sight on a letter rack, and how he figures out that the killer in "The Murders in the Rue-Morgue" is an orangutan.
- Psychological Horror: A lot of the horror stories have no gore at all, and when there is some it's dealt with quickly.
- Psychological Torment Zone: The house of the Ushers.
- Riddle for the Ages: Poe's own death, fittingly enough.
- Sanity Slippage: Many a Poe protagonist ("The Tell-Tale Heart" and "Fall of the House of Usher" are two examples) suffers this plight.
- Scarecrow Solution: Used in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, to scare mutineers into abandoning ship by convincing them it's haunted.
- Scenery Porn: "The Domain of Arnheim" is arguably Scenery Porn Without Plot.
- "The Island of the Fay" to a lesser extent.
- Self-Parody: In "The Sphinx", the narrator is terrified and thrown into full-blown Poe melodramatics by what appears to be a terrifying apparition of death. It turns out to be just a harmless moth magnified by the window he was sitting next to.
- "Eureka" takes Dupin's method of reasoning to absurd conclusions. Which were mostly right.
- Serial Prostheses: "The Man Who Was Used Up"
- Shaggy Dog Story: Although Dupin solves the case of "The Murder of Marie Roget," the audience isn't informed of more than Dupin's complex reasoning. This is partly because the story is inspired by real events, which themselves were never solved.
- Sherlock Scan: Helped establish this trope pre-Sherlock with his C. Auguste Dupin stories.
- Sidekick: The narrator of Dupin's stories.
- Spoof Aesop: "Never Bet the Devil Your Head", one of his less serious stories.
- Stable Time Loop: "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains".
- Springtime for Hitler: A certain Rufus Wilmot Griswold had a thorn in the side of Poe. After Poe's death, Griswold tried hard to ruin Poe's reputation. Most famously, he wrote a subversive biography where Poe was depicted as arrogant, evil, constantly drunk or high and very mentally unstable. Unfortunately for Griswold, this didn't deter people from enjoying Poe, instead spawned interest in the author and made him a legend surrounded by myths. Who wouldn't want to read a story written by a man who was described as being "evil"?
- While Poe's reputation in America suffered thanks to Griswold, Poe's reputation and influence in France kept growing, and eventually worked its way back to the United States where Poe's name was rehabilitated.
- Start of Darkness: "William Wilson".
- Stealth Parody: "How to Write a Blackwood Article," in which "sensation stories" (i.e., stories that chronicle the narrator's descent into madness and/or death) are dissected and mercilessly mocked, hints that some of Poe's best-known psychological horror stories like "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" might have been sly jabs at the genre.
- The Summation: "The Purloined Letter"
- Take That, Audience!/Take That Me: "The Premature Burial." In the end, having mistakenly thought himself buried alive and found that he wasn't, the narrator overcomes his fears. One of the changes is that he "read no bugaboo tales—such as this." (Italics Poe's.)
- Tar and Feathers: "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether"
- Tempting Fate: Whatever you do, please don't doubt odd coincidences, the Angel of the Odd's way to convince you must be read to be believed.
- Terrible Ticking: "The Telltale Heart" is the Trope Maker and the Trope Namer, as well as a case of Beat Still, My Heart.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: Too many times to count. Interestingly, these protagonists are almost always Talkative Loons who're clearly nuts, with the exception of the one in "Ligeia", who's merely on drugs and may have seen clearly.
- The Windows of the Soul: "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether".
"Keeping these impressions in view, I was cautious in what I said
before the young lady; for I could not be sure that she was sane;
and, in fact, there was a certain restless brilliancy about her eyes
which half led me to imagine she was not. "
- Title Drop: A few times, most dramatically in "The Man Who Was Used Up" and "The Man of the Crowd".
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Quite a few of Poe's stories have a recurring theme of young, beautiful, strong and intelligent women falling terminally ill, suffering a slow death and ultimately leaving their partners in deep depression. Many point to Poe's cousin, Virginia Eliza Clemm, whom he married when he was 27 and she was 13 and, according to sources, had a Like Brother and Sister relationship with, up until her death from tuberculosis at age 24, for being the inspiration for those.
- The Tooth Hurts: "Berenice" is about a young man with a tendency to go into trance states where he can't remember his actions afterward and a growing obsession with the teeth of his cousin/fiancée Berenice. Eventually he wakes up from one such state, surrounded by bloody dental implements and holding a box full of Berenice's teeth.
- Treasure Map: The encrypted message that leads to Captain Kidd's buried gold in "The Gold-Bug" is essentially a treasure map.
- Troll: Most of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket is trolling readers of exploration narratives.
- Twincest: Implied in "The Fall of the House of Usher"
- Twist Ending
- Undead Author: Parodied in "A Predicament", where Signora Psyche Zenobia narrates a story that ends with her having her neck sliced off by the minute hand of a church clock.
- Unreliable Narrator: Poe practically created the trope, at least in traditional Western literature.
- Hell, the narrator in "The Cask of Amontillado" tells the reader that they of course should trust him, because he is the narrator of the story, and therefore must be reliable.
- Perhaps the most obvious example is in "The Tell-Tale Heart," which is delivered as a borderline rant by an insane wo/man (trying to convince the audience s/he is sane). The entire point is that the Narrator is certain of things that are obviously untrue.
- Victorian Novel Disease: See above.
- Video Game Adaptation: Several of his stories have received/are receiving these in the Dark Tales, a series of PC Hidden Object Games from developer ERS.
- The Walls Are Closing In: "The Pit And The Pendulum".
- Wiki Walk: In "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," C. Auguste Dupin shows off his general awesomeness by tracking the narrator's train of thought through fifteen minutes of silent walking and several mental topic shifts, and saying exactly the right thing at the end.
- Would Hit a Girl: The king in "Hop-Frog" who throws a glass of wine at the dancer Trippetta because she asked him to stop tormenting Hop-Frog. He and the courtiers who laughed pay for their cruelty when Hop-Frog turns them into a human chandelier.
- A LIT human chandelier, to clarify.
- You Can't Fight Fate: "The Masque of the Red Death" and ''The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar". Each also fits a second trope, respectively While Rome Burns and Balancing Death's Books.
- Your Costume Needs Work: "The Masque of the Red Death". The guests at the Masquerade Ball are all shocked by the tastelessness one fellow displays by dressing as the incarnation of the Red Death. Then someone rips his mask off and finds there's nothing underneath...