Bill Peschel’s nonfiction romp Writers Gone Wild: The Feuds, Frolics, and Follies of Literature’s Great Adventurers, Drunkards, Lovers, Iconoclasts, and Misanthropes reveals the scandalous and often hilarious foibles of thousands of well-known writers across the centuries. And no less than seven pages are devoted to everyone’s favorite 19th-century troublemaker, Edgar Allan Poe.
The Baltimore-based roustabout remains almost as well known for his laudanum-fueled antics as he is for his contributions to the literary canon (including menacing long-form poem “The Raven” and murderous short fiction that usually involved victims bricked up in walls or under floorboards, e.g. “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”). Poe married his 13-year-old cousin, railed against real and perceived rivals, and was shunned from New York City literary cliques after pitting two women poets against one another in a flirtatious one-upmanship turned near-duel.
Most damning, perhaps, were his attempts to take down everyone’s favorite fireside poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Always a struggling writer, Poe was jealous of Longfellow’s financial success and derided his poems — in published reviews — as “utterly worthless,” “exceedingly feeble,” and “utter inanity,” according to a chapter in Peschel’s book. Ever the gentleman, Longfellow deflected the abuse with calm compassion, expressing admiration for Poe’s own work and even reportedly helping his family after the latter writer died.
That death, in the proverbial gutter at age 40, was variously attributed to rabies, syphilis, cholera, and plain old alcoholism — and only served to heighten the troubled writer’s reputation. Today, Poe remains synonymous with tortured artists, macabre fancies, and an indelible Gothic flair.
The Poe House in Hendersonville will celebrate its namesake’s 208th birthday this Thursday, January 19, with theme balloons, cake, and a performance by Victorian chamber-music duo Valentine Wolfe, who’ll perform their Poe-inspired album Once Upon a Midnight. According to the bar’s Facebook event page, “Mr. Poe will join us from the grave to celebrate from 7:30 to 9pm, and we’ll end the night with readings from Poe’s work.”
7-11pm. 105 1st Avenue W., 828-696-1838, thepoehouse.com.