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Was Edgar Allan Poe Really That Weird?

January 4, 2015
(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

Every time I take a selfie, I end up looking like Edgar Allan Poe.  It hurts my feelings.  After close to 50 years of posing in a mirror, I still can’t get my facial expressions right.  Maybe it’s my fault for trying to take a selfie in the first place.  I’m too old for that, I know, but I’d feel better if I didn’t look like Edgar Allan Poe. I mean, yeah, he was a prolific author.  He arguably created the detective story genre.  People still read his stories/poems 150 years after his death.  But people think he’s weird.

If I look like somebody famous when I take a selfie, I don’t think I want it to be somebody who’s that weird.  But maybe I’m wrong.   Was Edgar Allan Poe really that weird, or is his weirdness exaggerated?

First of all, some people think Poe is weird because of the content in his writing.  His stories were violent.  His poetry was depressing.  I don’t know; lots of poetry is depressing, but not all poets are weird.  Compared to 20th century poets, Poe’s poetry was a laugh riot.  And the violence in his stories?  CSI and Law & Order episodes are more violent and with less emotional impact, no symbolism, little theme, and no big words to make you feel educated when you get through it.  People who binge-watch Special Victims Unit are more deranged than somebody who reads “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Cask of Amontillado” or “The Pit and the Pendulum.”  Anybody who writes for those shows is way more deranged than Edgar Allen Poe, and they either don’t know it or they’re probably proud of it.

From what I understand, some of Poe’s obscure stuff is truly weird, but I don’t know because I haven’t read his obscure stuff.  Maybe it’s weird.  But even if the obscure stuff is really weird, and Poe is weird because of his obscure stuff, it’s not the reason that people think Poe is weird, so it doesn’t count.  After all, if we think Poe is weird, but we haven’t read the stuff that proves he’s weird, then we have no business thinking he’s weird.

Even if Poe’s writing wasn’t weird, people think his lifestyle was.  After all, he married his own cousin. Some people react to this by saying/thinking: “Ewwwww, he married his cousin.”  Maybe the correct reaction should be: “Hey, at least he married her.”  A lot of men are afraid of commitment.

Back in the 1800s, it wasn’t uncommon to marry a cousin.  I’m not defending it.  I’m just saying it wasn’t that uncommon.  In fact, our longest serving U.S. president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt married his cousin Eleanor, and that was 80 years after Edgar Allen Poe.  Eleanor Roosevelt might not have been 13 at the time, and she might have been a fifth cousin once removed (whatever that means), but she was still FDR’s cousin, and a cousin is a cousin.

Eleanor Roosevelt is considered by experts (I don’t know how you become an expert at this) as one of the best First Ladies Ever!!!  Eleanor Roosevelt set the standard for the modern (or pre-modern or post-modern… I get my moderns confused) First Lady.  I never hear anybody complain that the Roosevelts married each other.  Nobody thinks Eleanor Roosevelt is weird because she married her cousin or that FDR was weird because he married his cousin.  Therefore, if Edgar Allen Poe is indeed weird, it isn’t because he married his cousin.

Edgar Allen Poe died in a weird, mysterious way because of his drinking.  Poe was probably an alcoholic.  Back then, there were no 12-step programs for addictions, and if there were 12 step programs, they were so anonymous that nobody knew about them.  Therefore, alcoholics couldn’t get much help back then.  Supposedly, Poe belonged to a support group for a while, but speculation is that it didn’t work too well.  It might be sad that Poe died relatively young because of his drinking.  The way that Poe died might have even been weird.  But Edgar Allen Poe wasn’t weird just because he died in a (maybe) weird way.

Even if Poe wasn’t weird because of his writing and lifestyle, he was weird because of his appearance.  He looked sleepy because he was probably drunk (or maybe he hadn’t slept, or maybe he wasn’t photogenic), and he had a Hitler mustache.  Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if Poe had a porn mustache or a Hitler mustache, but neither of them are good.

To be fair, people didn’t stand in front of the mirror finding their perfect angles and expressions back then. Some accounts of that period claim that Poe was a nice-looking guy until his later years, but I haven’t read those accounts myself.  I’ve seen a couple pictures, but they’re not the pictures in the Poe books that I have, so I’m not sure if the pictures of the nicer-looking Poe are really of Poe.  People can put anything on the internet.

I’ll defend Poe on the Hitler mustache.  Poe wore a Hitler mustache before Adolf Hitler was even born.  I’m not sure what the Hitler mustache was called before Hitler grew one, but it was a popular look (I think) until Hitler ruined it.  Now, you can’t wear a Hitler mustache without people associating it with Hitler.  It’s not Edgar Allen Poe’s fault that he had a Hitler mustache before Hitler did.

Just because I’m defending Poe’s Hitler mustache doesn’t mean I’m defending Hitler.  I despise Hitler.  It’s possible to defend the pre-Hitler Hitler mustache without defending Hitler.  I don’t want anybody accusing me of defending Hitler just because I defended a guy who wore a Hitler mustache 100 years before Hitler committed a bunch of crimes against humanity.  People get offended by the silliest of things nowadays, and I don’t want anybody offended because they think I’m defending the Hitler mustache before Hitler was born.

And if it’s a porn mustache instead of a Hitler mustache, the same basic argument applies.

*****

Nowadays, people take pride in being weird.  Johnny Depp seems to have adopted the weird mannerisms of the weird characters he plays, and people find it charming.  The city of Austin has a slogan “Keep Austin weird,” but I’ve visited Austin and didn’t think it was weird at all, even the places that were supposedly weird.  I’m suspicious of people, including cities, who call themselves weird.  If you have to call yourself weird, then you probably aren’t.  But if I have to look like a weird person when I take a selfie, I’d rather look like Johnny Depp than Edgar Allen Poe.

*****

What do you think?  Was Edgar Allen Poe as weird as people think?  What authors are/were truly weird?  Are any authors today considered to be as weird as Edgar Allen Poe?  Can somebody who claims to be weird truly be weird, or are they automatically fake weird?  Have you found your perfect angle when you take a picture?

*****

Thank you for reading this far.  If you liked this commentary about Edgar Allen Poe, you’ll probably enjoy these ebooks on Amazon.  They don’t cost much, and they help to keep the blog going.    Thanks again!

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53 Comments
  1. I dont think he was actually. His poems were deep and heartfelt.

  2. Amber Danette permalink

    As far as I am concerned he had a wild imagination,and his stories always excite me. He was way ahead of his time.

  3. checkasmith permalink

    This was a really interesting post and thank you for sharing it!
    I agree with the points you made. I think it depends on what the individual thinks ‘normal’ is, but then again, what is?
    One of my favourite writers (Jean-Paul Sartre) once wrote this: “Hell is other people”.
    Now some would also consider him to be weird, but to me that quote sums up in many ways how we should never take what others say about their version of ‘normal’ seriously. For if we do, we begin to become self-conscious and Hell will become other people.
    I may be wrong though.

  4. If Poe is weird, then I don’t want to be normal.

  5. I am proud owner of collective works of Edgar Allan Poe and I watch religiously Special Victims Unit. I wonder what that makes me… I happened to think that Poe merely conveying his feelings and thoughts through writing and if it seems weird to most it doesn’t mean he is is. So is Stephen King. And about marrying a relative… well, even the bible is full of those (holy) men who married their sisters or even daughters. And we cannot label people weird simply because of their appearance and everyone looks better in their early years, look at almost anybody in tinsel town, you will have lots of example there. Everything is just a matter of perception depends on who’s viewing.

    • Well, as long as you don’t WRITE the Special Victims Unit episodes, I think you’re okay, but I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, so I might not know what I’m talking about.

  6. Weird! Wildly Imaginative! A writer. In general, a lot of us are eccentric, I would say. He wasn’t too bad looking either, if you get your jollies on the tormented sort.

    • One eye seems set higher in his head than the other and also seems a bit bigger and looking in slightly different direction. Could be bit disconcerting close up and personal. This disturbs me more than the teenage but trying scrawny moustache. Poor man, doesn’t deserve to be picked over like this. Guess he didn’t have to be a popular writer.

  7. I think it is his writing that makes people think he’s weird but not simply in terms of content. There’s something very different about the way that Poe writes, but I can’t exactly pinpoint what it is. It seems to reveal something about his mind that is very unique, or (as others like to call it) weird. Overall, the way he thinks, as shown by his writings, is something I find fascinating because it is different from conventional methods of thought.

    Also, completely disregarding the fact that she was only thirteen, there’s a BIG difference between marrying one’s first cousin and one’s fifth cousin once removed, particularly in terms of genetic similarity. First cousins share about 12.5% of the same genetic material while fifth cousins once removed would share less than 0.5% of their genetic material. Whether most people realize it or not, this plays a big role in societal standards concerning marrying one’s cousins. I’m not saying I think that this is what made Poe weird, but I don’t think Roosevelt was the best example to use in this case.

    I do agree that people who feel the need to call themselves weird usually aren’t weird. Usually, they’re trying to play a role and keep up the facade of weirdness to hide their insecurities. Truly weird people seem to be the least insecure people, and that is why everybody wants to be like them so much, in my opinion.

    Interesting article! Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  8. I can strongly relate to Poe. I admire his works and love the passion, emotion, sadness he incorporates into his work. He opened a new world so to say to literature and authors. Though his life may have been sad and he drank or used opium to numb his emotions, his writings were his release. Just my thoughts and feeling on Mr. Edgar Allen Poe.

  9. I think he probably was kind of weird, although maybe he would fit in well if he lived today. If nothing else, he probably could have found a nice comfortable niche somewhere online. I would love to write like him though. That’d be worth a little weirdness.

  10. His uniqueness is what made him famous. It’s just Edgar Allen Poe lived in an era when people aren’t so open minded with the things he already understood. That’s what makes him weird perhaps?

  11. Some people see everything as either/or: You’re either completely, utterly average in all ways, or you’re a weirdo. No in-between. To that way of thinking, EVERY writer is a weirdo, because writers have this habit of, y’know, putting their thoughts and feelings into words, which means they HAVE thoughts and feelings, and that’s just… weird. 🙂

    I do think that SOME people who tell others “I’m weird” are faking it for whatever reason. I also think that some people are merely embracing the weirdness that they can’t get rid of anyway, so why not be comfortable with it instead?

  12. I’m a Poe fan, and I’ll beat Poe fandom into anyone who won’t listen to reason. But I can’t watch CSI. It’s gross. Plus my girls sometimes wander into the room when I think they’re in bed, and I don’t want them accidentally seeing some poor schmuck gutted like a catfish.

  13. Best guess: Poe was a tortured soul with worlds of talent. He was probably a bit odd. Weird is far too relative, though. If it’s a matter of appearance; his look could easily be changed since it’s hair and clothing based plus a scowl!

    Yes. Someone who claims to be weird may actually be weird. Everyone is weird in one way or another. Some just hide it better.

  14. Poe is my favorite. He shows learning beyond most of his time. It is called a ‘toothbrush moustache’…

    • Are you sure it’s called a “toothbrush mustache”? I thought it had a fancier name than that.

      I guess I could search engine it, but calling it a toothbrush ‘stache or a porn ‘stache or a Hitler ‘stache is probably just as effective. At least everybody knows what we’re talking about.

  15. To be honest, I don’t know an awful lot about Poe, so what I’ve I taken away from this is a thoroughly eye opening perspective on weirdness as a concept and how it’s evolved down the years. Let me add that your plain speaking writing style makes it an easy, lighthearted read which is great!

  16. You’re a writer. The “normal” ship sailed a long time ago! Can’t remember who said that, but I love it. Or in the altered words of Forest Gump “Normal is as normal does.” Normal is determined by perspective and experience, and since everyone’s is different . . . I just want to be happy with myself, and if that includes geeking over things other people call weird, then so be it. I try to take people as they come. You learn a lot more and grow as a person and discover the world and yourself when you are open to people who are not just like you. Thanks for this post. I loved it!

  17. Nice article. But you haven’t talked about Poe’s unfortunate childhood that could be the reason behind him being “different”. I wouldn’t call him weird, I mean have you heard of Sade? 😀

  18. Weird seems to be a relative term that people use to describe something that is strange or different from society’s norms. That being said, there’s no standard of wierd. It’s all a matter of opinion.

  19. Another author I love with a reputation for being weird is H.P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu, anyone? He also, according to his biography here, http://www.biography.com/people/hp-lovecraft-40102#synopsis was a big fan of Poe. So if you think Poe’s weird, I guess Lovecraft could be called weird by association. He was really hung up on the idea that humans and their puny emotions have no real significance in the universe. But whether that is truly a “weird” idea is definitely up for debate.

    “Maybe the correct reaction should be: ‘Hey, at least he married her.’ A lot of men are afraid of commitment.” -This made me chuckle

    Thanks for the fun post! Personally, I prefer the word “eccentric” to weird ;). I think all the best people are weird!

    • H.P. Lovecraft is a man?

      I always thought he was a woman because he went by H.P. (kind of like J.K. Rowling or S.E. Hinton). Don’t worry, I’ve never read Lovecraft or anything; I just know the name (but I guess I didn’t know the name enough).

      • You should try reading some of his stuff! It’s pretty good, although sort of slow in the beginning. He was my first introduction into the horror genre, really :).

        But yes, I do believe he is a man :D. Although such things are always up for debate, I suppose. hehe.

  20. very funny, thanks!

  21. This post made my day ! Weird is just a point of vue. Just like we would name aliens aliens and weird, they ll do exactly the same. And both sides are right! Everyone is weird is his own way, some people want to become the mass and fit in while they could stand out, but hey stars do need darkness to shine

  22. Anonymous permalink

    He was odd, but more for his personal life, namely his correspondences. As a writer of the macabre and poet he was top notch. Everyone is a little weird.

  23. I read Poe’s works when I was in high school. They were very engaging.

    I think it’s very hard to find a flattering angle when doing a selfie. 🙂 I also think that it’s normal to be a bit weird. Everyone has their own quirks, after all.

  24. Poe did write a story that demonstrated that he had a wry wit: Never Bet The Devil Your Head. In it, Poe tells the history of one Toby Dammit, to prove that every tale must have a moral. Who knew that Poe could spoof?

  25. “Hey, at least he married her” had me laughing out loud. LOL (I use this term only literally)

    • Its more than my great grand daddy did for one of his cousins but he had another woman hot on his tail who rode through flooded rivers to get him to the altar.

  26. So many nuggets here. I find it odd that Eleanor married FDR, in that they were cousins, and in that she didn’t like men anyway. I find it much more normal that Poe was an alcoholic. As you defend the pre-Hitler mustache, we must also defend the pre-Hitler swastika, which used to be a sign of good luck, I once read when I was not drunk like Poe. And lastly, having lived in Austin all of my 42 years, I can say that growing up in a town full of hippies and freaks, a transvestite hobo mayoral candidate named Leslie who wore cheerleader outfits at our Pecan Street Festivals, eating broccoli sourcream omeletes and hibiscus tea as a regular breakfast, seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show at age 7 and another “incense”-smelling liberal party and wondering why the man was wearing fishnet stockings, walking into the Barton Springs changing room ( a swimming pool) and seeing more 1970s boobs and lower body bushiness than I’d ever known existed, I will say that I more than CRAVED something normal by college. MAKE AUSTIN NORMAL, I say. But please keep the Tex-Mex food.

    • Maybe I didn’t the full Austin experience. I remember sitting in lots of traffic.

    • Austin has that reputation world wide. It was probably a great place 30-40 years ago then it got self conscious about how cool it was and the fishnet stocking brigade moved in and stuffed up the real estate market and now its just a theme park. Of course you know this phenomenon happens everywhere.

  27. How dare you defend the Hitler mustache! That is the most offensive of all facial hair! You should be ashamed of yourself.

    • By today’s standards, I agree with you. But living conditions were so horrible in the 1840s (or just about any time period) that a porn Hitler mustache was the least of a guy’s worries.

  28. Thank you for a lively, funny look at Edgar Allen Poe. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever read anything either about or by Edgar Allen Poe that made me laugh. I kept reading snippets of it to my husband and distracting him from his work.

  29. Poe’s toothbrush mustache is longer on the upper lip than Adolph’s. It has a purpose on his face, something his nose can sit on. Poe does look odd: He’s lopsided, with his head tilting left so to balance himself.

  30. Weird? No. Eccentric and ahead of his time? Now we’re getting somewhere. I found his works disturbing yet engaging. As for the selfie…don’t get caught up in that trend. For heaven’s sake, put the camera down. Hand it to someone with steady hands.

  31. “Ewwwww, he married his cousin.” Maybe the correct reaction should be: “Hey, at least he married her.” A lot of men are afraid of commitment.

    Brilliant.

    As far as weird writers are concerned, I’m not sure if weird and perverse are one and the same, but I would put Katherine Dunn or J.G. Ballard close to the top of the list.

    Regarding Selfies: http://medievalbooks.nl/2014/09/19/medieval-selfies/

  32. Jerry lee Lewis married his cousin when she was a bit underage. With such a big country you’d think people might branch out a bit more. Seems to happen quite a bit. Over here its only the Tasmanians that marry cousins a lot, but they have the excuse of being squashed into a smallish island with lousy roads and public transport. Is it a narcissistic sort of insecurity – pairing up with someone who’s almost as much like you as a sibling? I had a cousin proposition me once because he said he was turned on by incest. I suspect his brother tried the same line on my sister but she wont open up about that. Had to find somewhere else for him to stay next day. I never told on him though, to his mother or mine. I regret that now, it could have been hilarious, particularly when you consider some earlier family history I’ve stumbled on, in one of those tedious ancestors reunited sites, like a great grandfather who seems llikely to have got his 15 year old cousin pregnant, he was 32. At least the offspring bore the same name so that would have minimized embaressment, maybe. There’s more to this tale but it can keep.
    Yes J G Ballard has come out with some chilling stuff. Poe does give me the horrors without even seeking out the real weird stuff. I think you’re right though, weird and perverse are at least closely related. Like cousins.

  33. is it Allen or Allan?

  34. Reblogged this on bedsoc.

  35. Some of Poe’s obscure poetry is very strange. But maybe it was the alcohol talking to him.

  36. I defend Poe, because I am his reincarnation. I dig our passion. I dig our love for the one whom the angels named Lenore – I dig our alcoholism. I dig us.
    And we were framed as weird in a scandal by our rich former friends.

  37. I read here that Poe was a Son of Temperance. That’s more intense and more public than AA ^_^

    http://www.tor.com/2012/05/02/you-dont-know-poe-10-weird-things-about-edgar-allan-poe/

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