(Jan. 19, 1809 - Oct. 7, 1849)
Edgar Allan Poe is one of many
19th century contributors to a truly American literary tradition. While he is
often identified with stories of horror and the supernatural, he wrote in many
genres, including lyric poetry, literary criticism, gothic novels, detective
fiction, and mystery fiction. Fantasy and Science Fiction owe a lot to Poe's
pioneering efforts in those genres. Poe is known today as the Father of
Poe is generally associated
with New York City and Baltimore, Maryland, but he also visited my own old
haunt, Providence, Rhode Island, where he almost married Sarah Helen Whitman.
(Jan. 19, 1803 - June 17, 1878)
Sarah Helen Power Whitman was born in
Providence to a wealthy family, married poet and write John Winslow Whitman in
1828 and moved to Boston where her husband died in 1833. She published essays
defending Romantic and Transcendentalist writers, published poetry in ladies'
magazines, and became an activist in progressive education, women's rights,
universal manhood suffrage, among others. In 1848, she addressed a Valentine's
Day poem to Edgar Allan Poe, who responded with his poem "To Helen,"
and eventually they became engaged though they never married because Poe could
not follow her one requirement for marriage, that he stop drinking.
Sarah Helen Whitman house sits at the top of College Hill in Providence, Rhode
Island, on historic Benefit Street. The city has maintained the 18th century
charm of the street with its many historic houses. Sarah lived here from
1816-1863, according to the plaque that identifies the house.
one walks gingerly down the steep incline of College Hill next to Sarah's house,
the nearby church with its graveyard is visible at the bottom of the hill on the
Cathedral of St. John (Episcopal) is one of the oldest Episcopal churches in
Rhode Island, having been built in 1810. It represents one of the four original
colonial parishes in the state.
into the side of College Hill behind the church, the cemetery is typical for its
time, filled with old tombstones so weather-worn that they are sometimes
impossible to read. It is said, appropriately enough, that Edgar Allan Poe
proposed to Sarah under this tree at the back of the graveyard.
Poe influenced many writers who came after him. One of them was modern American
writer H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft was a Providence, Rhode Island native who
worked as a ghostwriter, revisionist, amateur journalist, astrologer for a local
Providence newspaper, and poet. He is thought to be the early 20th century's
most important supernatural horror writer. While some people complain that his
writing is verbose, his work has an uncanny ability to instill an unsettling
feeling in his readers. He was an admirer of Poe's work, but was nonetheless an
buried in the historic Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. His grave is a
destination of pilgrimage for his fans who have been known to light candles on
his tombstone. In this photo, taken in August, 2002, someone has planted a
pumpkin, which was well on its way to producing fruit just in time or Halloween.
His gravestone is engraved with Lovecraft's epitaph: "I am
a few doors down Benefit Street from Sarah Whitman's home, is the model for the
house in Lovecraft's story, "The Shunned House."
thy beauty is to me
excellent source of information about Poe is available at the Edgar
Allan Poe Society website.
about Lovecraft is available in the H.
P. Lovecraft Archives.
reading: Michael Bell, /Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England
Vampires, Carroll & Graf, 2001.
walking tour of Benefit Street courtesy of The Lovecraft