A biography that reads like a gripping, well-reported feature story.... [Dawidziak's] informed enthusiasm sweeps the reader irresistibly along.” –The Washington Post
“Part high-speed tour of Poe’s tumultuous career and part cold-case investigation of his premature and enigmatic end.” –Wall Street Journal
“This bio’s mode of presentation is almost as striking as its subject’s life…vibrant.” –Washington Independent Review of Books
“Excellent…Dawidziak’s biography reaches beyond the myth of Poe to reveal the actual man and writer, all while painting a vivid picture of the era in which he lived.” –Bookpage (starred)
“In this intrigue-filled offering, Dawidziak achieves the difficult feat of delivering a fresh biography of Edgar Allan Poe…this has revelations to spare.” –Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Dawidziak’s thoroughly researched investigation meticulously explores the various theories surrounding Poe’s death while vividly capturing the public’s ongoing fascination with this quintessential tortured soul.” –Booklist (starred)
“A brisk, satisfying biography of a literary icon who still fascinates.” –Kirkus Reviews
“A Mystery of Mysteries is, itself, a mystery worthy of Poe’s fictional sleuth C. Auguste Dupin.” –New York Journal of Books
“A Mystery of Mysteries will surely fascinate even the mildly-curious Edgar Allan Poe fan…a poignant analysis.” –The Week, “8 must-read books in 2023”
“Even those familiar with Poe's story will find plenty of surprises here, while those who know him only by reputation will get a better-rounded view of a man who was far more than an author of a few scary stories.” –The Columbus Dispatch
“Dawidziak releases [Poe] from this caricature, emphasizing Poe’s work as a literary critic, his fine sense of humor and the vast amount of work he produced.” –Akron Beacon Journal
“Edgar Allan Poe has brooded over the world’s comprehension as the dark prince of horror tales: a hollow-eyed specter surrounded by candle-tossed shadows, a raven on his writing table, an empty cognac glass at his elbow. In this revelatory biography, Mark Dawidziak honors the Gothic nature of Poe’s work, yet sweeps open the curtains to throw full light upon this masterful poet and shaper of American literature.” –Ron Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Flags of Our Fathers and Mark Twain: A Life
“A poignant and realistic picture of Poe through the fascinating black prism of his mysterious death.” J.W. Ocker, Edgar Award-winning author of Poe-Land
“Mark Dawidziak plumbs the mysteries of Poe’s life and career with extraordinary skill and knowledge. Much like Montresor leading Fortunato through the winding catacombs, he leaves the reader surprised and thoroughly ensnared.” –Daniel Stashower, Edgar Award-winning author of The Hour of Peril and The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder
A new life of the enigmatic writer.
TV and film critic Dawidziak draws on published and archival sources, including more than 50 interviews with Edgar Allan Poe scholars and other experts, to create a colorful portrait of the poet, critic, and story writer. The author structures his biography as parallel timelines, interweaving a chronology of significant periods in Poe’s life with a close investigation of the mystery of his sudden death. Seeing his subject as “a creature of contradiction, duality, and ambiguity,” Dawidziak examines the myths that swirl around Poe’s career, reputation, and relationships. Orphaned as a young child, he was adopted by the “aloof and exacting” John Allan and his benevolent wife, Fanny, whose frequent illnesses made her inaccessible to her young ward. Although the couple provided a home, Edgar never felt truly loved; after Fanny’s death in 1829, his relationship with Allan grew increasingly contentious. At 17, Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia, where a classmate found him to be “very excitable & restless, at times wayward, melancholic & morose, but again—in his better moods frolicksome, full of fun & a most attractive and agreeable companion.” He soon left college life for a stint at West Point, where his waywardness again got the better of him. A devotee of Lord Byron, Poe saw himself as a romantic, “separated from the masses not by class but by intellect, sensitivity, and genius. Yet, at the same time,” Dawidziak writes, “he craves a place in the august circles where he is granted admittance but never full acceptance.” He also craved love, which he found from his devoted aunt, Maria Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia, whom Poe married in 1836, when she was 13. Offering a sympathetic, if not revisionist, portrait, Dawidziak does rule out several theories about Poe’s death—rabies, carbon monoxide poisoning, a drug overdose, epilepsy, apoplexy, and liver disease, to name a few—to defend a well-grounded conclusion.
A brisk, satisfying biography of a literary icon who still fascinates.