Edgar Allan Poe – Love, Death & Women Review
For viewers of a certain age and generation, the work of Edgar Allan Poe may be most familiar from The Simpsons Halloween special – The Treehouse Of Horror – which famously saw Bart and Lisa feature in a re-working of The Raven. It is a testament to Poe’s cultural notoriety and creative longevity that the comedy cartoon would dare to reference an author dead for well over a century and arguably beyond the scope of its target audience.
Born in 1809, Poe would go on to live through America’s most turbulent historical period, gripped as the country was by religious Puritanism and civil war. As Victorian scientists began to refute theories of creationism, Poe found himself in a climate of immense tension between the religious authorities and the ever-expanding world of science, a conflict which inevitably wormed its way into his writing. Poe’s unprecedented exploration of these topics have resulted in him often being heralded as having ‘invented’ the sci-fi and detective genres, the influence of his distinctive style as evident in contemporary literature as it ever has been.
In this documentary, presented by Scottish crime author Denise Mina, an investigative eye is turned to Poe’s infamously tragic life and his tempestuous relationships with women, reflected, apparently, in the writer’s work. Travelling along the various East Coast cities which played host to Poe’s most prolific periods, Mina calls on a handful of academics and Poe aficionados who, adopting his harnessing of psychology, read between the lines to identify what, or whom, may have influenced such celebrated works as Lenore, The Pit & The Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart & The Oval Portrait. Focusing primarily on his young wife (otherwise his cousin prior to this engagement) Virginia, his mother Eliza, almost-lover Sarah Helen and literary rival Francis, an intimate portrait emerges of a writer besieged by bereavement, chronic insecurity and mental illness who was able to translate these unimaginably painful experiences into indelibly powerful prose.
Impressively, for an hour long programme that daringly tries to cover almost every aspect of Poe’s eventful life, Love, Death & Women succeeds in shedding light on an incredibly interesting personality without becoming wishy-washy or threadbare. Passages are complimented by some wonderfully Gothic black and white films which provide a sinister bass line to Mina’s gushing narration. However, as with any show whose intent it is to prove the magnificence of a writer, one is left feeling that time might have been better spent actually reading their work. It is also slightly reductive to assess Poe’s work purely from the perspective of his personal life which could be seen to denigrate the creativity and imagination the author clearly possessed. However, for those not particularly well-versed in Poe’s history or his work, it is an excellent introduction and may even surprise those who think they know it all.