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Did Edgar Allan Poe Write Many Bestsellers?

Published Jun 19, 2020
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Edgar Allan Poe is known as the father of the detective story, but there's one mystery that even he couldn't solve: Why didn't people buy his books?

Today, nearly a century since Poe was in his prime, readers of all ages love his work, from poems like "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee" to short stories like "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue."

However, during his lifetime, Poe had only one bestseller ... The Conchologist's First Book.

Not only was it a textbook on seashells, but it was actually an abridged version of an earlier book by Thomas Wyatt. Wyatt came to Poe for the revision because Poe had a recognizable name and was willing to work for minimal compensation. But Wyatt forgot to tell Poe to stay away from his "midnight dreary" kind of writing and stick to a strictly scholarly approach.

The final volume came out with Poe's revisions and a preface that Poe biographer Jeffrey Meyers said would "torment and discourage even the most passionately interested schoolboy." To everyone's surprise, the book sold out in two months and went on to become the biggest success of Poe's career ... not counting his posthumous fame, of course.

A Poe profile:

  • Financial woes plagued Poe throughout his life. He was in so much debt that he had to drop out of the University of Virginia after only a year.

  • Poe loved cats, and it is said that one, named Catterina, would sit on his shoulders as he wrote.

  • Poe got the middle name "Allan" from the couple who took him in at age 3 after his parents died.
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