This selection of Poe's critical writings, short fiction and poetry demonstrates an intense interest in aesthetic issues and the astonishing power and imagination with which he probed the darkest corners of the human mind. The Fall of the House of Usher describes the final hours of a family tormented by tragedy and the legacy of the past. In The Tell Tale Heart, a murderer's insane delusions threaten to betray him, while stories such as The Pit and the Pendulum and The Cask of Amontillado explore extreme states of decadence, fear and hate.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) was born in Boston and orphaned at an early age. Taken in by a couple from Richmond, Virginia, he spent a semester at the University of Virginia but could not afford to stay longer. After joining the Army and matriculating as a cadet, he started his literary career with the anonymous publication of Tamerlane and Other Poems, before working as a literary critic. His life was dotted with scandals, such as purposefully getting himself court-martialled to ensure dismissal from the Army, being discharged from his job at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond after being found drunk by his boss, and secretly marrying his thirteen-year-old cousin Virginia (listed twenty-one on the marriage certificate). His work took him to both New York City and Baltimore, where he died at the age of forty, two years after Virginia. Peter Ackroyd is a well known writer and historian. He has been the literary editor of The Spectator and chief book reviewer for the The Times, as well as writing several highly acclaimed books including a biography of Dickens and London: The Biography. He resides in London and his most recent highly acclaimed work is Thames: Sacred River.