Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Talent for the Dark Side; Master of the Hoax and Detective Plot: Vincent Price and Myrna Fahey in Roger Corman's 1960 Film of Edgar Allan Poe's the Fall of the House of Usher

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Talent for the Dark Side; Master of the Hoax and Detective Plot: Vincent Price and Myrna Fahey in Roger Corman's 1960 Film of Edgar Allan Poe's the Fall of the House of Usher

Article excerpt

Byline: EMMA CRICHTON-MILLER

Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd (Chatto, [pounds sterling]15.99)

PETER Ackroyd, masterful biographer of Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, Dickens, Blake andothers, opens this sad story at its end. The last two weeks of the life ofEdgar Allan Poe, America's most perverse genius, exemplify the muddle andmystery that characterised his life.

As friends saw him onto a steamboat in Richmond, Virginia, bound for Baltimore,on 27 September 1849, he had seemed in good spirits, planning a twoweek trip toNew York on business. Yet he had no luggage besides the malacca sword-stick ofhis doctor which he had mistakenly appropriated the evening before.

Six days later he was found raving in a tavern in Baltimore, in a tatteredstraw hat and badly fitting trousers (not his own). Wildly inebriated,penniless, neither he nor anyone he knew could account for his movements. Tworelatives, arriving on the scene, coolly dispatched him to hospital where thealcoholic stupor gave way to delirium.

Two days later, Poe died. As Ackroyd puts it, like one of his own narratives orfables, Poe's life story ended abruptly and inconclusively, "bedevilled by amystery that has never been, and probably never can be, resolved".

For a novelist excited by mysteries, Poe is the ideal subject. The second sonof itinerant actors, he started life, Ackroyd hazards, already traumatised byhis constriction in the womb of his anxious and consumptive mother. At everyturn his undoubted talentsas poet, short-story writer, critic, even sportsmanare sabotaged by a deep yet indefinable torment.

Adopted by the Allans after the early death of his mother, Poe saw their loveand pride in him turn to rejection and disgust as he failed at every signalpoint to get a grip on life. From then on, the tale repeats of love, trust andfinancial support endlessly wonfrom family, friends, colleagues and fellow-poetsonly to be betrayed and lost by Poe's feverish incapacity for happiness. …

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