A paper by psychology undergrad Erica Giammarco offers a look at the mind that gave us The Raven and The Masque of the Red Death: Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychological Profile
Poe lost his mother to tuberculosis at the age of 2; he was then adopted, but his foster mother died young as well. He enrolled at the University of Virginia, but became involved in gambling and had to ask his foster father for money; they argued, and at the age of 20 Poe was cut off from his family. He married, but his wife suffered frequent illnesses and died at the age of 25 in 1847. By this time Poe was drinking heavily. He died after collapsing ‘drunk and delirious’ in 1849.
According to Giammarco:
Poe was described as a mischievous child, playing practical jokes on classmates and teachers… One teacher was quoted as saying that Poe had an “…excitable temperament with a great deal of self-esteem.” This grandiose self view would remain consistent throughout Poe’s life; however, Poe was defensive and threatened by negative comments. This is consistent with a narcissistic self-view rather than healthy self-esteem.
Although successful in his studies, he did not have many friends and wrote that school was a “miserable” experience. Classmates stated that he was incredibly defensive and did not allow others to get close…
As Poe aged his health deteriorated and he continued to drink heavily. He was described by coworkers and family as chronically melancholic, acquiring the nickname ‘the man who never smiles’… Poe had a great deal of pride, evident in his refusal to accept money when he and his wife were both sick and unable to work…
An examination of the letters Poe wrote to family reveals that he was a dramatic individual. He often used excessive, theatrical language, poignantly captured in his statement, “I do believe God gave me a spark of genius, but He quenched it in misery”
When describing Poe in terms of the Five-Factor Model of personality we can conclude that he would be high on Neuroticism – evident by the constant nervous anxiety he was said to have, as well as his melancholy and irritability. Poe would also be described as being low in Agreeableness and Conscientiousness since he was argumentative, untrusting, and lacked self-control (i.e. his drinking, his failure to pursue education).
Poe actually crops up several times in the medical literature. Other examples of scientific anthropoelogy include…
- Seizures in the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe
- The earliest description of the frontal lobe syndrome in an Edgar Allan Poe tale.
- Informed consent in an Edgar Allen Poe tale
Giammarco, E. (2013). Edgar Allan Poe: A psychological profile Personality and Individual Differences, 54 (1), 3-6 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2012.07.027