Who was Edgar Allan Poe? When I look back at my literary studies, I have a recurring memory of the fascination I and my fellow students felt when we started reading Poe's short stories and narrative poems. Not only did we feel intrigued by the horror in his stories, but we also enjoyed the deductive reasoning and creative imagination of Dupin, the famous detective who first appeared in his The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Poe's writing is often associated with his tales of mystery and macabre, and he is also seen as an important figure in the birth of detective fiction.
Edgar Allan Poe was born 19 January 1809. Use the occasion as the perfect excuse to dedicate a lesson to him and give your students the chance to learn more about the life and work of this great thinker and writer. Use the projects below as various ways into Poe's literary heritage. There are two important aspects of our approach to exploring his literature. On the one hand, we propose a sociocultural and historical approach, which can lead to interesting CLIL projects. His literary criticism and literary technique was just as peculiar and popular in the 19th century as it is today. The social and cultural aspects of the literary world of the United States in the 1800s had a great influence on the development of his style. Learning about the culture of the era, your students can get a deeper understanding of his work as well. Another important perspective is psychological and philosophical. How did his personality and worldview influence his writing? Although contemporary criticism often supports a text-focused approach, independent of the writer's intentions, we think reading Poe's life is an important narrative in its own right.
Research project topics
We recommend the Helbling Reader Tales of Mystery, adapted by Janet Olearski for a B1-level reading audience, accompanied by the atmospheric illustrations of Giuseppe Palumbo. The volume includes three stories written by Edgar Allan Poe:
- The Fall of the House of Usher
- The Oval Portrait
- The Masque of Red Death
Tip: Check out the website of Giuseppe Palumbo, the illustrator of the reader.
Magazines became extremely popular in the 19th century in America, and it also meant the rise of journalism and the short story.
- Look for some magazine titles that were published in Philadephia, New York, Cincinatti, Louisville and New England in the first half of the 19th century.
Edgar Allan Poe had an important role (both as an editor and writer) in the success of a lot of magazines in his time. He wanted to start his own high-quality literary journal, The Stylus. Although he worked as a successful critic, reviewer, fiction writer and editor at several magazines, his own journal never came to existence.
- Imagine that you are starting your own journal or magazine. Make a plan.
- What is the theme? How often are you going to publish it? What kind of content will you have in it? Who are your intended readers?
- Then, design the cover of the first magazine issue.
Find out more about serialized fiction in Britain in this article:
The short story
Short stories and tales in literary publications were not the norm. Just like in England in the 19th century, a lot of novels and short stories were published in series in the United States. Edgar Allan Poe was one of the first writers who regularly published short stories.
- How many short stories did he write?
Poe's detective stories
In the history of detective fiction many famous detectives have become familiar, but Auguste Dupin is a prototype among them.
- Find information about his character and list the stories in which he appears.
The dark side of Poe's writing
Grotesque and disturbing stories about death, sometimes including ghosts often appear in Poe's writing. The three stories in the Helbling Reader Tales of Mystery are examples of his horror stories.
- What is the main theme in each story?
Poe's writing can be divided into four main categories: horror stories, detective stories, essays and poems. He was also an important literary critic.
- Find examples of his writing to illustrate each category.
Poe was a courageous and romantic figure who went through a lot of difficulties before he became a successful author. Look for information about the following details.
- Where was he born?
- What happened to his parents?
- Where did he study before he became an author?
- What kind of medical problems made his life difficult?
- Who was his wife?
- Find a map and mark the cities where he lived, studied or worked.
- How did he die?
Have you ever read any poems by Poe? Find one of his most famous narrative poem, The Raven and read it out in class.
Find more information about Poe on this website:
A lesson plan
Check out our lesson plan about writing and setting, which contains a scene from a Poe short story.