Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia-well two for a start. One is that they were first cousins. The other is that she was only thirteen when he married her.
Edgar Poe was born in 1809 and went on to become one of
America's best known authors, noted for his mystery and gothic stories. He was effectively orphaned at an early age when his mother died of tuberculosis. His father had already abandoned the family and Edgar was fostered by the Allans, a wealthy Scottish American family. He received his education in Scotland, England and America. While at University, Poe became estranged from his foster father
because of his gambling and he joined the military to pay off his debts.
After he left the army under questionable circumstances,
he spent some time with his Aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter Virginia, who was seven when Poe first met her. Virginia is described as having an ethereal beauty with dark hair, violet eyes and a fair skin.
Poe began writing prose as well as poetry and was starting to gain acknowledgment for his writing. .He also worked as an editor and critic.
When the Clemms' family finances took a downward turn a few years later, Poe made plans to marry Virginia and look after her and her mother. While marriage between first cousins raises eyebrows today, it was not that unusual at the time. Poe's plans were opposed strongly by another cousin but Poe pleaded tearfully with his aunt to let Virginia decide and she did. They married in 1835 in a private ceremony and in a public one the next year. Virginia was thirteen at the time although she listed her age on the marriage certificate as 21. Some biographers think that the relationship between
Poe and Virginia was more like that of a brother and sister and that the marriage was never consummated. Others argue differently.
The marriage seems to have been a happy one. Virginia
idolized Poe, holding his pens for him, helping him and watching him write. For his part he once said, "I see no one among the living as beautiful as my little wife." Whatever the physical aspect of their marriage, it was obviously based on
affection and love.
In 1842 Virginia developed consumption and for the next
four years alternated between times of apparent recovery and times of near invalidism. Leaping from hope to despair and back again, Poe turned to alcohol to blur his emotions, becoming ill himself.
Virginia died in January 1847. It was hours after her
death that Poe realized he had no picture of Virginia and commissioned a portrait to be made using her corpse as a model. He refused to look at her face in death, saying he preferred to remember her as she had been. Poe
was devastated by his wife's death and fell into a deep depression fuelled by alcohol. A year after her death, he described his feelings for Virginia to a friend, "a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before," He visited her grave regularly and was often found keeping vigil there, nearly frozen in the snow.
Many pieces of his work, such as Annabel Lee, are said to
have been inspired by Virginia.
Poe died in 1849, after being found delirious on the
streets, wearing another man's clothes. The cause of his death was never determined, although alcohol probably was the root cause.
After his death, many wild theories arose about his life,
his work and his death. A scathing obituary was posted by a long time enemy. It was later proved to be false, but as they say, "mud sticks". To this day, Poe has remained as much an enigma as some of his writing and although no one doubts the level of his love for Virginia, their life together will also remain a mystery. Perhaps that's the way it should be.