The Writing Life

Edgar Allan Poe's Depression

We may be buried in economic woes, but Edgar Allan Poe had it worse. In a New Yorker article on the 200-year-old master of horror, Jill Lepore reveals that—horrors!—Poe was deep under the floor boards of a Depression. “Poverty was his raven,” she writes. During the seven years of Depression following the Panic of 1837, Poe lived in destitution, trying in vain to sell failed ideas and peddle short stories (he offered Murders in the Rue Morgue to publishers at a discount). And the content of his work was affected by the economy, too: his works got darker and more gothic as his fortune worsened, and The Gold Bug—which was first published in The Dollar Newspaper—was filled with puns about money. “My only hope of relief is the ‘Bankrupt Act’,” he once wrote. If only Poe could lend advice to struggling writers today, who are, like Poe, “Three-fifths Romantic; two-fifths poor.”