Edgar Allan Poe's 200th Birthday to be Honored: 'Nevermore' Writer Always Present at the University of Virginia

January 12, 2009 — Children may no longer be required to recite the poem with the repeated word, "Nevermore!," but scholars around the world and close to home continue to revere Edgar Allan Poe's fiction and poetry — including "The Raven" — as the 200th anniversary of his birth approaches.

The 19th-century American author, famous for such works as "The Black Cat," "The Telltale Heart" and "The Pit and the Pendulum," was a University of Virginia student for just one year, but on Grounds his presence and his work are everlasting. In commemoration of the bicentennial of his birth on Jan. 19, 1809, the University Library has planned an exhibition beginning in March that portrays and investigates the enduring influence of Poe's works, as well as his tragic life.

"Though often neglected in his own country, Edgar Allan Poe is a world-historical figure whose influence is probably still unmatched by any American author and whose impact on the entire culture of modernity has been profound," said U.Va. English professor Jerome McGann, who concentrates on 19th-century literature and art. "From Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé to Jorge Luis Borges, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and modern cinema, Poe has been both inspiration and modernist point of departure."

U.Va.'s Small Special Collections Library will offer a comprehensive exhibition, to be on display at the Harrison Institute from March 7 to Aug. 1. Admission is free.

The exhibit is a joint effort with the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the Free Library of Philadelphia and other libraries and museums. The exhibit will be shown at the Harry Ransom Center from Sept. 8 through Jan. 4, 2010.

Poe was born in Boston to actors Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins and David Poe. They died when he was not yet 3 years old, and Poe was adopted by John Allan, who sent the young Edgar to private schools in London and Richmond.

His writing career was blazing, brief and marked by sharp contradictions. In 1826, Poe attended the University of Virginia to receive a liberal education. He was unusually talented in foreign languages and took Latin and Greek, and also French, German, Italian and Spanish. Though a good student, he left after only one year, having fallen short of money. He would be dogged by poverty for his entire life.

The room he occupied at U.Va. — 13 West Range — is preserved behind glass and furnished with items similar to those he could have owned in 1826. The Raven Society, named for his poem, supports student fellowships, maintains the Poe Room and is working with the library on the exhibit.

Poe went on to serve in the U.S. Army and attend West Point, but was expelled from the latter. He worked as an editor while writing and publishing his own work, living in Boston, New York, Richmond and finally Baltimore, where he died in 1849.

The exhibit, "From Out That Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe," will feature manuscripts, books, art and personal effects documenting Poe's career as a hard-working writer; his romantic relationships and mysterious death; the decline and rehabilitation of his literary reputation; and his profound influence upon mystery and detective fiction and other genres. Poe is generally recognized as the father of the genre of the detective story as well as a major influence on the literature of terror and horror.

Among the exhibition's highlights are Poe's writing desk, letters by and about the author, records of his student days the University of Virginia, manuscripts of landmark works such as "The Raven," and the original art for Arthur Rackham's illustrated edition of "Tales of Mystery and the Imagination."

Gallery talks and docent-led tours will be held this spring, along with the Edgar A. Poe Bicentennial Symposium at U.Va.'s Harrison Institute April 3 and 4.

— By Anne Bromley