I’m a writer and journalist who has contributed to, among others, Slate, Quartz, CNBC and NBC News, as well as appeared on NPR and a host of podcasts. My nonfiction debut, Poe for Your Problems: Uncommon Advice from History’s Least Likely Self-Help Guru, just came out from Running Press/Hachette. It grew out of a popular series on Poe that I wrote for The Millions, including the viral essay, “Edgar Allan Poe Was a Broke-Ass Freelancer.”

Find out more at my Substack, Poe Can Save Your Life.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/pvihduzqlkn71.jpg

Comments: 494 • Responses: 108  • Date: 

heelspider117 karma

Do you think Poe deserves more credit for Sherlock Holmes than what he's given?

CatherineBaabMuguira222 karma

Extremely good q. There's a great book on the surprising connections between Poe, Conan Doyle, and the doctor who developed some early, promising, but ultimately ineffective TB treatments--it's called The Remedy and is a great read.

I think the easiest thing to say is that Poe invented the detective story and Conan Doyle perfected it. You don't get a Conan Doyle without Poe, but the Sherlock Holmes stories are straight-up better--more fun to read, more intriguing--than Poe's detective stories. What do you think?

atreeofnight28 karma

Could you tell me the author of The Remedy? I can’t find it.

atreeofnight20 karma

Thank you! I really enjoyed your AMA. I feel Poe is overdue for a high-quality biopic/ series (as you mentioned, love Cusack, but he didn’t cut it).

CatherineBaabMuguira35 karma

Totally agree about the biopic. Apparently Sylvester Stallone is trying to produce one with Robert Downey Jr as Poe. Should be interesting.

heelspider16 karma

My largely ignorant perspective is that I was always told Poe created the detective story, but when I read Rue Morgue I was blown away by how much the protagonist resembled Holmes (or vice versa, technically.) I guess I felt like having the guy who could identify everything about a person just by examining them was a little closer to Holmes than merely sharing a genre.

CatherineBaabMuguira17 karma

You’re definitely not wrong. I say ACD was within his rights but the model he’s using is too obvious for comfort.

lizquidity115 karma

What was the most surprising part of Poe’s life that you think we could use as inspiration to improve our own?

CatherineBaabMuguira208 karma

Great question. One thing many people don't realize is that Poe was an extremely canny judge of the literary marketplace. IP law at the time made it very hard to earn a living as a writer. That Poe earned any money from his stories and poetry AT ALL is evidence of very serious economic savvy, and it's an inspiring example, teaching us how to adapt to the marketplace, too.

DuckOnQuak27 karma

Any specifics on what Poe actually did to set him apart from his peers?

CatherineBaabMuguira78 karma

The gothic form was something of a throwback in Poe’s day, so while it was a commercial form, it wasn’t as common as it had once been. Poe was reviving it a bit, and at the same time, satirizing it. He only did this because he’d figured out there was not much of a market for poetry, which was his literary first love. Instead of giving up on writing altogether, he came up with this canny gothic adaptation that’s now his trademark. Very savvy.

Easytokidnap97 karma


CatherineBaabMuguira211 karma

Poe and I are essentially from the same place--Richmond, Virginia. So he's very popular locally, and I encountered his work in school. Then I grew up and sort of forgot about him, until I got very depressed a couple of years ago and started reading him again.

He used "Allan" as his middle name to establish his connection with his foster parents, John and Frances Allan. During his lifetime, however, he mostly went by Edgar A. Poe, rather than Edgar Allan Poe, especially after his relationship with the Allans broke down.

LegalAction91 karma

Oh geez, diving into Poe seems like the worst depression cure. How did you find him therapeutic?

CatherineBaabMuguira303 karma

Right? It's a bit counterintuitive to say the least. But then, Poe doesn't lie to you about the darkness of the human condition, and that can be really helpful at a moment when everyone else around you is saying "cheer up, snap out of it." When you read Poe when you're already sad, it's like having a companion or meeting a fellow traveler. His own life was so, so hard and depressing, and yet he did his work anyway, which is inspiring, too. People don't think of him as a hero, but I'm convinced he was. How strong do you have to be to endure 40 years of loss and disappointment? Really GD strong. :)

TeamKitsune44 karma

I always cheer up reading depressing stuff. I told that to Rikki Lee Jones once, and asked for suggestions. She said "Most depressing read ever? "The Idiot."

She was right.

CatherineBaabMuguira48 karma

I believe her. Any Dostoevsky is crazy depressing, even when it's so beautiful, too.

harborq20 karma

That’s very true and it reminds me of how I find the tragedy of Kurt Cobain inspiring. Despite a life of disappointment and depression he made beautiful music that made many millions of people happy before he ultimately couldn’t take it anymore…

I might try reading some more Poe.. I’ve only read a couple of his poems. Could you make a recommendation for a non-functionally depressed 29yo male who hates the world and men and society and likes cats and dogs and women? I’m not a big reader (partially due to my personality problems) so something like a novella that’s a gratifying read would be ideal…🥺

Also I just remembered that I did a recitation of “A Dream Within a Dream” in high school English to try to enter a poetry slam! I did not qualify :(

CatherineBaabMuguira50 karma

I can definitely suggest "William Wilson" (a novella, but a quick read) and "The Man of the Crowd" (which is only 10 pages or so long). Both are about facing yourself, and ideas of consciousness, and loneliness, but in a gentle sort of way. Hard to think you struck out with that! It's a beautiful poem, one for the ages. Anyway, hope you enjoy the read.

goldendreamseeker79 karma

Do you agree with Poe’s famous saying that the best stories are the ones that are short enough to be read in one sitting?

CatherineBaabMuguira140 karma

I think he was wise to consider readers' attention spans and overall patience, for sure. Writers should take those things into consideration if they want to attract readers. If anything, what Poe said is even more true now, in an age of streaming TV and endless distraction on the internet and everywhere else. I actually kept the chapters in my book short for this same reason, taking Poe's cue. What do you think?

doubtfurious69 karma

Are there any theories about what Fortunado did to insult Montressor so badly in A Cask of Amontillado, or is it just an unimportant Macguffin?

CatherineBaabMuguira111 karma

I haven't seen any scholars putting forward nuanced theories on the question of Fortunato's misdeeds. I will say that, in my research, I came to see "The Cask of Amontillado" as in large part an outgrowth of Poe's real-life feud with Thomas Dunn English. Those two were trading insults in newspapers for a good while, then Poe suddenly writes this creepy revenge story. Things that make you go "hmmm." :)

dmcfrog44 karma

Is that just some 'poe-era rap battle'?

CatherineBaabMuguira40 karma

Not far off one. Your comment made me laugh.

jenniplume56 karma

Oh so great, I love Poe (named my dog Edgar Allan Paw lol)! I assume you've been to The Poe Museum - it's on my list of places I want to visit one day. I'll be sure to check out your book.

What's a random Poe fact you've learned that you think most people don't know or would be shocked to find out?

CatherineBaabMuguira98 karma

Hey, thanks so much for stopping by. I ***love*** the Poe Museum. They actually hosted the book launch, which was like a dream come true for me. Hope you get there one day. Bet you'd really like it. Anyway, to answer your q: Poe earned only $6200 in his lifetime for all his works, poetry, fiction, lectures, you name it. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $200k for a 20-year career, and one that produced a whole slew of literary classics. Crazy, right?

A different and more fun fact: Britney Spears named a tour for "A Dream Within a Dream," and Evan Rachel Wood has two lines of that poem tattooed on her back.

cranberry9427 karma

Neat. My random fact is that I know Evan Rachel Wood’s dad! And he puts on a hilarious A Christmas Carol play production every year - if you’re ever in Raleigh around the holidays, you should check it out!

CatherineBaabMuguira10 karma

I will look for the production! Sounds like my jam. Thanks for the info.

charliechan5555550 karma

I have a bit of a specific question about the characters in The Black Cat. My wife and I want to do a Halloween costume some year where we are the couple. We would have a fake cat as part of her costume as a hat and an axe wound on her head and all. But we are curious as to what time period of dress they would be wearing. Is it early 1830s? Would they be poor and wearing a decade outdated clothes at that point? We don't know

CatherineBaabMuguira85 karma

Oooh, cool costume idea. Yeah, dress from the 1830s, 1840s would be appropriate, and you might have a big bottle to swig from. The guy in the story is definitely spiraling downward in his addiction, so I think threadbare, poor-folk clothes could be appropriate. Will you post a pic when you're all decked out??

jankenpoo46 karma

I once worked on the Edgar Allen Poe cottage in the Bronx. Can you tell me about that time in his life there? Any interesting anecdotes?

CatherineBaabMuguira74 karma

Oh, you lucky duck! That is a very special place. As you may know, Virginia Poe died in the downstairs bedroom there, and friends reported that the little cottage was very clean but also very cold, because the Poes couldn't afford much heating fuel, basically. Imagine a New York winter without heat! It beggars belief. After Virginia's death, half crazy with grief, Poe composed Eureka as he was pacing around outside at night, sometimes in the company of his mother in law. Like I said, a really special place. I've been there too and found it very moving to look in at that sad little bedroom.

EmilyKaldwins45 karma

I'm so glad to have found this! Can't wait to check out your work!

Question: Poe has been lambasted for marrying his younger cousin, among other things. What are some of the big 'Poe Facts' that you feel misrepresent him?

CatherineBaabMuguira114 karma

Thanks so much, and great question. This is a rich topic. :)

My take about Poe's marriage is that he was not seeking a very young girl on purpose. At this time in his life, he'd lost his biological parents, his brother, and his foster parents as well. He had very little family left, basically a sister he wasn't close to, plus his aunt and young cousin, Virginia. Another cousin in the family offered to take these ladies into his own household, and Poe flipped out, thinking he would lose them, too, so he pleaded with Virginia to marry him and her mother consented to the marriage. I don't say it's an admirable way to behave, but it was within the law at the time, and there's no suggestion, before or after the marriage, that Poe pursued young girls as a matter of course. He hinted in his story "Eleonora" that they didn't consummate the marriage until she was 15. Maybe it's just gross to speculate about this stuff at all... but people suggesting Poe was some kind of deranged sex criminal are ignoring the actual evidence, at least to my mind.

I also think Poe's reputation as a drunk is exaggerated. He did binge-drink, but he wasn't a drunk every day sort of a guy, and this was an extremely heavy-drinking time in American history, too. I could keep going, but those are two big ones...

EmilyKaldwins28 karma

It's really fascinating seeing things through a historical lens like this! If he was after young girls, we would've seen that consistently. All in all he seemed like a depressed, troubled, but incredibly creative and intelligent guy.

What about little known topics? What's something you've found out that took you totally by surprise?

Thank you!!

CatherineBaabMuguira125 karma

I was astounded by how funny Poe's letters can be. He bitched and complained about his bosses and day jobs, and it is intensely relatable. For instance, he once wrote in a letter that:

"I have not only labored solely for the benefit of others (receiving for myself a miserable pittance) but have been forced to model my thoughts at the will of men whose imbecility was evident to all but themselves."

autumniam6 karma

Is there a collection of letters you would recommend?

CatherineBaabMuguira18 karma

Poe's collected letters are available in a box set, though I will say it costs around $100 and is pretty hefty. Good news is, the EAP Society of Baltimore has digitized many of the letters, so you can pick through them online at your leisure. Here's a link: https://www.eapoe.org/works/letters/index.htm

septicman36 karma

Hi there, thanks for doing this AMA. When I was young (single digits) my Dad bought me a cassette tape of The Pit and the Pendulum read by Christopher Lee, and from there sprang my lifelong love of Poe (after all, from childhood's hour, I have not been, as others were...)

My question is: do you have any sense of where the beautiful darkness in his writing comes from? Ostensibly there was not a great deal in literature at the time from which to draw influence, so where on earth did it come from!? Childhood trauma? Mental illness? Whatever it was, the world is better for it...


CatherineBaabMuguira89 karma

Great q. I do have a really specific theory about all of Poe's work flowing from his childhood trauma. In a nutshell, we know that between the ages of two and three, children's ability to perceive information and to feel emotions such as grief vastly exceeds their ability to articulate their feelings. So they can grieve but they can't tell you about their grief, see? And Poe lost his mom shortly before he turned three. You could argue that he spent the entire rest of his life articulating his grief. He even said that "mournful and never-ending remembrance" was his greatest theme.

hoju112335 karma

If Poe were alive today would he be a Ravens fan?

CatherineBaabMuguira90 karma

I think he'd be extremely gratified to find himself the only American writer with an NFL team named for his work. Poe kind of had a big ego, though in a way he deserved to, and when he was young, he was pretty athletic and involved in sports.

sycamore_under_score18 karma

Wasn’t he pretty good at long jumping? Having some fuzzy flashbacks to a report I had to write in high school.

CatherineBaabMuguira17 karma

Yeah, that's true. He was pretty athletic in his youth.

The-Forgotten-Man29 karma

What's your theory on his death, and the whole "Not in his own clothes" thing?

CatherineBaabMuguira56 karma

I think it's unknowable, to be totally honest. My best guess is that he was ill for months before he set out on that fateful trip from Richmond in early October, 1849. He may have developed a fever and lost some cognitive function, then perhaps been robbed or abused by some people who took advantage of him (stealing his clothes, for instance). It doesn't seem to be true that he was drunk when he was discovered. The medical staff who attended him changed their story many times, of course.

Delicatesseract17 karma

What do you think about the rabies hypothesis?

CatherineBaabMuguira42 karma

It's understandable how people get there, considering the symptoms the medical staff reported around the time of his death. I don't think it's confirmable, though. And if you look back to early 1849, Poe's behavior--which had always been unpredictable--starts to get pretty wacky. He seems to have been ill from roughly the beginning of the year. Friends definitely reported strange behavior from him over that summer. So my hunch is that whatever it was that killed him was something he developed 6-12 months before his death. I believe that would rule out rabies, but I'm not a doctor, so can't say for sure.

hysilvinia11 karma

What kind of strange behavior? Very curious what other kind of illness it might have been.

CatherineBaabMuguira43 karma

Well, over that summer, he visited a friend in Philadelphia and hinted to this friend that he was going to commit suicide. He was also binge-drinking a good bit, and then would need days in bed to recover. Some of his closest friends believed that he was pretty seriously ill during this time, and that the ailment had some psychological component as well as a physical one. It's just so hard to say what it might have been. I met a MD/PhD neuroscientist on a plane once, and peppered him with questions about 19th century "brain fever" diagnoses, and he basically said we can't know what was meant by the term because it was used so widely.

adeiner28 karma

How popular was Poe during his life? I know he didn’t make much money, but was he well-known outside of Baltimore and literary circles? A Rowling, someone self-publishing on Amazon, or somewhere in between?

Thanks! Recently visited his house in Baltimore and he seemed like a fascinating person.

CatherineBaabMuguira66 karma

Not a Rowling, or even among the handful of the most famous writers of his day. The apex of his fame was circa 1845, when "The Raven" came out and proved to be a huge pop hit. Before that he had only a modest reputation. "The Gold Bug" won him fans as well. But he was not universally beloved in his own day, by any means. He seems to have always been a polarizing (Poe-larizing?) figure. Thanks for the q! Totally agree, he's fascinating.

OG_ursinejuggernaut6 karma

So this might be a question too complicated to answer here, but do you think you could describe how a poem could be a huge pop hit in its day without comparing it to e.g pop music? I'm genuinely curious because it's something I struggle with in my areas of what might generously be called 'expertise'- if the cultural phenomena are described too...aloofly.... you of course risk alienating most people, but if you draw too close parallels you risk undermining the cultural context which often is pretty essential to understanding the author and the work...

edit to say i mean 'you' as in 'one', not you as in you...I'm never sure if i effectively communicate that

CatherineBaabMuguira32 karma

Yeah, I hear you. I get some blowback myself for speaking about Poe's work and his era in an anachronistic, slangy way, but my feeling is that Poe is a widely loved writer who's always had more of an audience among the "common people" than in academia. Keeping the discussion strict would be silly, then, because Poe is fun and we should treat him that way, and anyway, it's possible we can best advance our understanding of him by comparing parts of his life to our own. About the "pop hit" thing particularly, I call it that because the poem was run and rerun in many newspapers across the US and Europe, and people loved to hear it recited. It's got a huge musical element. So, between the musicality and the enthusiastic popular reception, you get an 1845 pop hit akin to anything by Taylor Swift. (Okay, I'm really kidding about the Swift, haha.)

kaidenka27 karma

I've heard it said that the three great American horror writers are Poe, Lovecraft and King, with each one subsequently influencing the follower.

Do you think that this is a fair/true analysis of American horror literature? How much of an influence was Poe on Lovecraft?

CatherineBaabMuguira48 karma

Lovecraft himself acknowledged Poe as his greatest influence, and King has said that every horror or mystery writer should recognize Poe as their predecessor, so I think this is a pretty accurate picture of the landscape! I'm not a huge Lovecraft fan myself, but I'll read anything King writes. He's the Dickens of our time.

PuraVida324 karma

What's your favorite writing that isn't poetry? Also, here in Baltimore, we lost the Poe Toaster years ago. What are your thoughts on the Toaster?

CatherineBaabMuguira75 karma

One of my favorite Poe stories is "The Imp of the Perverse." It is so dead-on accurate about people's self-destructive tendencies, and the writing is amazing. Like this bit:

"We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss -- we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness and dizziness and horror become merged in a cloud of unnamable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice's edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall -- this rushing annihilation -- for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination -- for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it."

excited4thenextsteps21 karma

I read your book and really enjoyed it! Which works of Poe's would you recommend to someone who hasn't read any of his work since high school?

CatherineBaabMuguira40 karma

Aww, thanks so much! So glad you enjoyed it! An easy way to dip back into Poe is to listen to James Earl Jones reciting "The Raven" on YouTube. I also really enjoy dipping into "MS Found in a Bottle" which is a really beautiful metaphor for despair, and "The Man of the Crowd" which at least for me is like looking into a mirror--it gives me intense feelings of recognition. Maybe you'll feel them, too.

I_Boomer19 karma

What about those three red roses and a bottle of cognac left on Poe's grave every year? Any ideas on who and why the torch seems to have been passed to others over the years?

CatherineBaabMuguira15 karma

I have no clue who it was or is, but I would sure love to find out! It's one of the most fun lines of speculation. Seems like everyone in Baltimore has a theory to share.

tmmtx12 karma

If you didn't know the tradition has sadly ended for the past several years the famous Cognac and Rose person has not arrived or at least not the one that was doing it that we "know" of. If it's being done again then it's been revived and it's somebody else other than the person/people that were traditionally responsible for it.

CatherineBaabMuguira12 karma

I've heard it lapsed--how sad! There's a virtual Poe Toaster on Facebook who's extremely knowledgeable and nice, but it's not quite the same, of course.

inksmudgedhands14 karma

Given how much Poe moved around during his lifetime, what sort of accent do you think he had? I've always wondered about that. But what do you think?

CatherineBaabMuguira19 karma

Super interesting question. I think he probably had a Mid-Atlantic accent, despite his Southern upbringing. He spent some key years in childhood in an English boarding school, too.

Takis_Whore3414 karma

What initially attracted you to Poe in the first place?

CatherineBaabMuguira28 karma

As a child, I found his work--especially "The Raven"--beautiful and thrilling. Later, when I came back to read him as an adult, I was struck by how much he knows about the pain of the human condition, and how articulate and creative he is in describing it. I don't know that any writer has ever described grief or depression as well as Poe did. So in a way, I now read him for comfort and companionship, while at the same time, as a writer myself, I read him to marvel at his craft. He's such an impressive writer on the craft level.

omelettesurprise14 karma

Hi Catherine! Thanks for making this AMA. Annabel Lee is my all time favorite poem of Poe. Can you tell me anything about it, please?

CatherineBaabMuguira35 karma

It helped to inspire the novel Lolita. In fact, you can read Lolita as a 330-page burlesque of "Annabel Lee."

Teikbo7 karma

Boring personal fact - I was a deckhand and then first mate on the Annabel Lee on the James River in Richmond, VA in the late 90's. The company (and vessel) was sold to Spirit Marine in 1998 and subsequently moved to Washington DC in 1999 or 2000, I think. I lost track of it after that.

CatherineBaabMuguira4 karma

Was the job fun?

LegalAction13 karma

Hi Catherine!

What do you know about the composition of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket? Aside from the weirdness of the story itself, it's so much longer than his usual short story form, and it's the only novella by Poe known to me, and certainly the only one in my edition of Poe's complete works.

Why did he change format? Is it incomplete on purpose?

CatherineBaabMuguira26 karma

Great q! And thanks for coming. Poe wrote Pym hoping that it would be a commercial blockbuster--he was trying to write a novel for the market after hearing for years that customers don't want to buy short-story collections. The other major thing is that Poe was writing Pym at roughly the time of The Panic of 1837, a devastating financial crisis, and he was between jobs. He was just desperate for money, in other words, and so he wrote Pym in a blue streak. Unfortunately, the novel didn't sell well, and Poe's compensation was apparently only a few copies of his own book! How disappointing is that?

I know Pym famously ends abruptly, but I'm pretty fond of that ending myself. You?

LegalAction8 karma

It is possibly the weirdest thing I've ever read, and my reading list includes Apuleius. I think the idea of Antarctic exploration is a little ahead of its time? And there's so much just weird stuff, like right away the lost time thing, and then the plague ship.

It's just strange.

CatherineBaabMuguira11 karma

It really is. It feels like he's just tossing in kitchen sink after kitchen sink.

LegalAction6 karma

It does feel to me like the only sort of novel Poe would write though, and it's enjoyable, if you're the sort of person that can appreciate weird.

CatherineBaabMuguira7 karma

Couldn't agree more!

ScammerC13 karma

Do you subscribe to the cooping theory?

CatherineBaabMuguira30 karma

Nope. I don't think we can know what happened, but that one seems like a bit of a reach. The simpler explanation is that he was ill and got robbed.

ScammerC7 karma

Thank you!

CatherineBaabMuguira10 karma

Hey, thank you for the q! I appreciate it.

yodasodabob12 karma

Maybe this was already asked but what's your favorite lesser known poem and/or story by Poe? I did an adaptation of Poe to the stage 2 years ago and was surprised to find some of his writing I'd never heard of before.

CatherineBaabMuguira24 karma

Good q! There is so much Poe. Dude was just incredibly prolific. I'm not sure it's a true deep cut, but f you haven't already read "Ulalume," I can recommend that one. Some people find it to be too rich, like a dessert that's too rich, but it contains one of my favorite Poe lines ever, "These were days when my heart was volcanic."


yodasodabob7 karma

Thanks for answering! I was not familiar with that one, it's an interesting poem! I can see why some people say it's too rich.

Oh also i have another question, since it's my favorite of his works (coincidentally also the easiest to adapt to stage and one of the more popular in general): what is your opinion of Tell-Tale Heart?

CatherineBaabMuguira17 karma

Oooh, good q. I just reread "The Tell-Tale Heart" this past week, and it made me think of how Poe is always pointing to the absurdity of the human condition. No matter how smart we are, we can't escape our conscience, he hints. Perfect crime may well be possible, but not if humans are involved, because we sabotage everything we touch. It's a very dark kind of joke but I love it.

palemistress10 karma

The Fall of the House of Usher, What can you tell me about this amazing story? Did you like the film version? I watched it as a child and it was so chilling. Thank you

CatherineBaabMuguira19 karma

I think that story is a masterpiece--even with the boring poem inserted in the middle of it. Have you heard that Netflix is doing an adaptation? Excited to see it, even if it's pure cheese. I don't mind cheesy adaptations.

ControlYourPoison10 karma

I have a very weird question and a long story leading up to it so please forgive me ahead of time.

In the Fall of 1996, I was a freshman at Maryland Institute College of Art. I was way out of my league so I basically stopped going to classes. I liked to just explore the city so one day, my friend and I happened upon the library. I don’t know which one, which branch etc. but we were just wandering around the building and we ended up on I think the 2nd floor. There was a room with glass doors and we just opened them and walked in.

Turns out, it was a Poe room. Glass gases lines the walls and they were full of handwritten letters, first editions of books. So much stuff. We were in awe.

We took our time and took in everything.

Just as we left the room and closed the doors, a worker asked us if we had an appointment. We said noooo? And then she said that the room was private and required an appointment.

We realized - oh shit - and quickly said sorry and ran downstairs.

My question is - does such a room exist? Is it really private? What did we see?!

CatherineBaabMuguira14 karma

Wow, what an experience. Frankly, I'm jealous. This isn't a collection I'm familiar with but such collections exist all over--in Boston, at UVA, etc. So I'm guessing you landed on the (unattended) genuine article. How cool.

D3f4lt_player8 karma

I'm familiar with his name but I have no clue about who he is or what he's done. how would you describe him?

CatherineBaabMuguira36 karma

Sure thing. Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer born in 1809. His career coincided with the rise of magazines and newspapers and, really, the emergence of mass media. His most famous works, published in these venues, were "The Raven" (a poem about grief and talking birds) and short, gothic horror tales including "The Tell-Tale Heart" (man murders his roommate only to go crazy with guilt). These works have only grown in popularity since Poe's death in 1849, to the point he's now considered the most influential American writer of all time.

ButtsexEurope8 karma

So I’ve heard that a great way to start a fight among Poe scholars is to talk about the orangutan.

So can you tell us about the orangutan?

Edit: for those who don’t know, the killer in The Murder in the Rue Morgue turns out to be an orangutan.

CatherineBaabMuguira13 karma

The monkey is a copout! I love Poe but that's not a story of his that I cherish. You? (P.S. Poe scholars will fight over pretty much anything. The field is contentious.)

ButtsexEurope4 karma

I heard the fight especially centers on whether the orangutan is racist or not.

CatherineBaabMuguira7 karma

Arguably, there are much more obvious examples than the orangutan. "A Predicament" makes for pretty uncomfortable reading now, as do parts of Pym.

ButtsexEurope5 karma

Ah, but this is where the controversy comes! The orangutan could actually be an anti colonialist message about how we pillage other countries, bring their wealth back to Europe, and how that’ll bite us in the ass one day and we’re only hurting ourselves. It’s entirely possible that Poe heard a story similar to Travis the pet chimp but about an orangutan.

This racist vs antiracist controversy is apparently so divisive that bringing up The Murder in the Rue Morgue is banned at some conventions.

CatherineBaabMuguira8 karma

I think you just got tenure. Ha.

ButtsexEurope4 karma

I do so wish I could claim I came up with that theory, but it’s apparently been widely published and debated (to the point of fisticuffs, allegedly). Do tell us how it goes when you bring it up at the next meeting.

CatherineBaabMuguira4 karma

Will do

ButtsexEurope4 karma

So while THAT particular theory has been published, my personal opinion is that it’s antiracist. I believe it’s a bait and switch, especially with the dehumanizing language used so people assume it’s going to be a racist African caricature but then when it’s shown to be literally an animal, it makes the reader reflect on the fact that the racist language used to describe a human is how you describe an animal, thereby, making the reader consider how they perceive their fellow human beings as less than human. However, I’m no scholar and have nothing to back this up.

CatherineBaabMuguira4 karma

That’s super interesting. You might really enjoy Terence Whalen’s “Average Racism,” a really fascinating look at Poe’s views and what we think we know about them. The whole book (called Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses) is great, but that one chapter is the best analysis on this question that I’ve ever seen.

TADodger8 karma

I'm an amateur writer and no one is reading any of my work.

What advice would Poe have for me?

CatherineBaabMuguira16 karma

Keep at it. Force them to notice you through sheer dogged persistence. Ignore rejection, keep writing.

EDRada7 karma

What did you think of John Cusack’s depiction of Poe in the not so great film The Raven?

CatherineBaabMuguira14 karma

Hmmm, I don't want to hate on Cusack because I'm a fan of his, and it was a kind of bold casting choice to put him in the role. All that said, it was like watching Lloyd Dobler in a Poe costume. Too harsh? What did you think?

EDRada4 karma

I hadn’t made the connection to Lloyd, but now that you mention it, it’s spot on. It definitely ran counter to my understanding of Poe

CatherineBaabMuguira17 karma

Yeah, same page. For instance, portraying Poe as the kind of person who drooled over cleavage (like they do in that movie) is a biiiiiiggg stretch. Poe was almost excessively gentlemanly in his manners, even by the standards of his day. But I get it. Hollywood will take license, that's just how these things go.

forgedimagination7 karma

What's your opinion about the orangutan?

CatherineBaabMuguira11 karma

Maybe this is terrible to say, but "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" isn't my favorite Poe because the monkey-did-it thing always seemed kind of a copout to me. What do you think?

Double-Drop7 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA. I can see by your answers and writing here that your book must be a worthwhile read.

Can you expound at all on The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar? Any little history or influencing fact would be delicious. Is this where J.K. got the name for Valdemort?

CatherineBaabMuguira7 karma

That story is so convincingly written that some people at the time took it to be an actual scientific case study, which I kind of doubt Poe would've minded. He loved to spin satires, though the story reads to me as though it's genuinely about his interest in some possible life after death. I've never thought about that with JK and Voldemort but wow, maybe so?!

Manaleaking6 karma

Have you given a talk that is on youtube that I can listen to while I work?

CatherineBaabMuguira9 karma

I really need to do some YouTube, so thanks for the spur. I'll get on it!

Alderscorn6 karma

Is it a coincidence that he died on this day that you're doing the ama? (My birthday, too!)

CatherineBaabMuguira9 karma

Nope, not a coincidence. Scheduled for the anniversary. (Happy birthday!)

Alderscorn4 karma

Thanks! That fun happenstance, and being from Baltimore, is part of what lead me to his work during my own periods of depression in my teens. I still revisit him once in a while to reminese about the bad old days.

I think Masque of the Red Death was my first 'non-The Raven' story I read by him in middle school (I was a weirdo). The visceral and 'real' darkness was unlike anything I'd encountered at that time and still holds up in terms of fear. Him and Lovecraft are the only ones that can really scare me...

Why do you think his stories endure?

CatherineBaabMuguira7 karma

Basically, for all the reasons you mention, plus the fact that he was working in commercial genres that have endured. Horror is more popular now than it was in his day, for instance. I also think he managed to make the right enemies. Griswold, with his smear job, really helped attract attention to Poe, helped make him the controversial figure that he still is today. Goes to show you have to piss off the right people in order to succeed! A hopeful message.

Larszx6 karma

What is your opinion of Poe in the series Altered Carbon?

CatherineBaabMuguira11 karma

I think it's pretty much perfect. Fun, visually interesting, and not taking itself too seriously. You?

Duke_Sweden6 karma

Did he live in the Bronx at one time? I remember seeing a building off Fordham Rd that my uncle told me he lived in. I was a big fan of Poe when i was younger.

CatherineBaabMuguira13 karma

Yeah, he lived in the Bronx for a couple of years--at the time, it was a completely rural area outside the city--and the cottage where he lived with his family is still there. Highly recommend a visit. It's modest but beautiful.

chillifocus6 karma

What was his favourite meal for breakfast?

CatherineBaabMuguira20 karma

Interesting q! He wrote about breakfast pretty vividly in one of his letters. Check it out. He's telling his mother in law about checking into a new boarding house, and he says:

"For breakfast we had excellent-flavored coffe [coffee], hot & strong — not very clear & no great deal of cream — veal cutlets, elegant ham & eggs & nice bread and butter. I never sat down to a more plentiful or a nicer breakfast. I wish you could have seen the eggs — and the great dishes of meat. I ate the first hearty breakfast I have eaten since I left our little home."

chillifocus5 karma

Thanks! What is elegant ham?

CatherineBaabMuguira12 karma

My best guess is he means elegantly sliced ham, but I could be wrong! Now you mention it, ham isn't one of those foods that tend to be elegant...

Nefarious__Nebula5 karma

There's an anecdote that I heard in a documentary years ago about Poe and Virginia playing in a park (I think they were playing leapfrog), and Poe rather embarrassingly tearing his pants. Do you know of any more funny anecdotes about him? It's always fun to hear more 'human' stories about famous figures, especially ones that are thought of as grim and humorless.

Same documentary stated that Poe was very athletic in his youth, but grew to despise sports. Do you know whether or not this is true, and why that might be?

CatherineBaabMuguira12 karma

I find the accounts of Poe's "Eureka" lecture to be poignantly hilarious. To my mind, he basically had a total nervous breakdown in public, akin to Charlie Sheen ranting about tiger blood or Britney Spears attacking a van with an umbrella. Here's a piece I wrote about it, if you're interested.

subcinco5 karma

Thanks CBM, this is an interesting thread. you've obvious done a lot of research. What do you htink holds up as Poe's best work? What is his greatest Literary achievement?

Also, I'm form Frankfort KY, rumor is he wrote a story that takes place there or was at least inspired by true life events that happened in the capital of the bluegrass state. Do you know which story that is?

CatherineBaabMuguira9 karma

Glad you're enjoying it, and thanks for coming! I'm pretty sure the story you're looking for is The Journal of Julius Rodman, which is a kind of cross-country adventure story that Poe never really finished. I'm almost sure the adventure begins in Kentucky...

As for his greatest achievement, I know it's kind of basic to say so, but find a poem that's more of a crowd-pleaser than "The Raven" and I'll be shocked. It's a classic for good reason.

JeffRyan15 karma

Do you own any Baltimore Ravens gear?

CatherineBaabMuguira24 karma

I don't, but I have a lot of Poe items in general. A Poe action figure. A bottle of amontillado. Tons of books about him. A pillow printed with a raven. A coffee mug that says "Poe me a cup." :)

jonesmcbones5 karma

Be honest, are you hot for mr Poe?

CatherineBaabMuguira14 karma

Ha! Well, I am super into him. He's fascinating to me. But if I had my pick, give me Lord Byron any day. That guy was hot. I'm only like the 7 millionth person to say so.

badmrbones4 karma

Should I invest time into reading Eureka? Why don’t we talk about that work?

CatherineBaabMuguira9 karma

I definitely think it is worth your time, though I might recommend you just skim the first 40 or so pages about science, and then start paying keen attention near the end, where Poe explains his metaphysical views, basically, what he thinks the moral structure of the universe is. It's absolutely gorgeous and it makes you think, too.

Sufficient_Ad24824 karma

Hey! I did my university dissertation about the relationship between Poe and the British poet Alfred Tennyson and their thoughts on beauty in death, (specifically in The Raven and The Lady of Shallot). Are you a fan of the British poets during this time, too?

CatherineBaabMuguira8 karma

I love Tennyson, and Poe did too. One of the GOATS for sure. "Ulysses" is one for the ages. Your diss sounds great.

_LouSandwich_4 karma

Have you been to the Poe museum (https://poemuseum.org ) and if so, what did you think of it?

Edit: I see you are familiar with this museum.

CatherineBaabMuguira4 karma

Yes, many times. I'm a huge fan. Did some research there--amazing to see Poe's childhood bed, among many other things--and the museum hosted my book launch, too. Everyone who works there is so nice. Have you had a chance to go?

SatanScotty4 karma

Why did he keep writing phrases in another language and leave them untranslated in his stories? Was it a fair assumption that his audience would know what he said?

CatherineBaabMuguira8 karma

He was trying to bowl people over with his learning. He used high-minded quotes to seem more educated than he was. He didn't know some of the languages that he claimed to, even.

bobisourlord4 karma

Did he ever eat a hot dog?

CatherineBaabMuguira25 karma

No, not that I know of, but he was fond of Welsh Rarebit, aka cheese sauce on toast.

dj_swearengen4 karma

Did Poe ever get kicked out of a tavern in Newark Delaware for being drunk and belligerent? It’s a rumor in that town and an old tavern markets itself using the rumor and Poe iconography.

CatherineBaabMuguira8 karma

It's not totally implausible, as Poe would have passed through Delaware a few times, and he did have episodes of binge drinking... but impossible to say for sure. I love a good Poe pub, anyway. :) There's one here in Richmond, and several in Philly and elsewhere.

dj_swearengen6 karma

Since you like Poe Pubs, if you’re ever in Newark, stop in the Deer Park Tavern.

CatherineBaabMuguira4 karma

I'll do that! Thanks for the tip.

tamagotchieuthaniser4 karma

I was born in Stoke Newington, London where Poe lived some of his life, growing up my friends family owned a wine bar which was his school for a while when he lived here as a teenager, there is a bust mounted on the side of it now and it’s currently a shop that’s being refurbished. As someone interested in the local history here, is there much of note about his time here? I only know he was here as a younger man, so there might not be much more to say about it but anything would be interesting.

CatherineBaabMuguira5 karma

It's a super interesting phase of his life. Poe had already lost his primary attachments (his biological mother and father), then, when his foster family relocated to London, he effectively lost his attachments all over again when he was sent to boarding school. He wrote "William Wilson" in part about his experiences at the school there, which were arguably formative. I'd love to visit some day myself.

MatchTat774 karma

Poe married his much younger cousin, but their relationship seemed quite paternal. Was there a sexual component?

CatherineBaabMuguira4 karma

I think they did consummate the marriage, and afterward enjoyed a sex life, but I’m not sure they consummated it immediately. His story “Eleonora” is worth reading for the details it offers or seems to offer about their marriage. There’s more eroticism in it than almost anything else he wrote.

MrBillyLotion3 karma

What’s your favorite work by Poe?

CatherineBaabMuguira14 karma

For me, it's "The Man of the Crowd." It's such a great portrayal of loneliness and observing yourself from the outside. One thing I really love about Poe is how the stories work on both a literal and metaphorical level... Like that story is about a literal chase but it's also really about how alien we are even to ourselves.


Can you tell us any sex things about poe?

CatherineBaabMuguira31 karma

Sure. I would say "Eleonora" contains the most explicit stuff Poe ever wrote. It's pretty transparently about his own marriage, and he and Virginia's discovery of "Eros," and it's all swelling murmurs and throbbing bliss, etc etc--even as Poe disguises the explicitness by describing the lushness of the landscape.

More generally, I would say that Poe just wasn't a guy who was super sexually motivated. He had something of a mommy complex, and so while he seems to have been totally straight and to have some kind of sex drive, you don't really see him pursuing relationships with women in a typical player kind of way. W.H. Auden made a joke about how Poe's love life was "largely confined to crying in laps," and like all good putdowns, it lands close to the truth.

dezzz3 karma

Ever heard the song Edgar from the French Canadian rockstar Jeanleloup?


CatherineBaabMuguira3 karma

I have not, but will listen now! In terms of musical adaptations, I really love Alan Parsons' "The Raven." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAE1XTvKLXA

shane515dsm3 karma

Poe at West Point?

CatherineBaabMuguira6 karma

It's true, he was enrolled there. He only got kicked out because he wanted to be. Wild, right?

Mapaloo3 karma

How's it going?

CatherineBaabMuguira8 karma

Pretty good, thanks. Never done an AMA before but this is really fun.

Ratso273 karma

I've heard that the night before he died, he kept calling out the name 'Reynolds'. Do you have any idea as to who that was, or what he meant? Or was that just a myth, or rambling that didn't mean anything?

CatherineBaabMuguira8 karma

Yes, it seems to have been true that he was saying that name over and over. This isn't my original theory, but Arthur Hobson Quinn's: Poe may have been somehow thinking of a South Seas explorer by that name, perhaps because Poe was setting off on his own "final voyage." Just a theory, though.

bunsNT3 karma

Have you read Mat Johnson's Pym? Is his description of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket accurate?

CatherineBaabMuguira5 karma

I haven't read it, but have been meaning to for a while. Pym is definitely a rich text for social and racial questions in Poe's work. Toni Morrison has some great commentary on it, too.

Zorops3 karma

What did you think of the tv show TheFollowing that follow a cult leader that use Poe writing as his cult base?

CatherineBaabMuguira4 karma

This one is new to me. Is it good, should I watch? Sounds interesting...

IdentityS2 karma

I have heard a theory he died if rabies, is there any truth to this?

CatherineBaabMuguira3 karma

It's impossible to say, but it's not a theory I lean into myself. Down thread, there's more discussion.


saltytriscuit2 karma

Do you have a recommendation of a biography of Poe? I’d love to learn more about him (and pick up your book at the same time!)

CatherineBaabMuguira2 karma

The best one is Arthur Hobson Quinn's Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. It's very thorough, reliable and fair. If you want a short one, there's mine or Paul Collins' one, which came out a few years ago.

rikkimongoose2 karma

Is there any influence of Russian culture for Poe? Did he mention Russia in any of his stories?

CatherineBaabMuguira3 karma

Poe implied he'd visited Russia, but he never did. His brushes with Russian culture are real, though--Dostoevsky claimed him as an influence and (I'd have to google to be sure) but may have translated him as well.

ProgressIsAMyth2 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA! What are some of your thoughts on Poe's early (and long) work, "Al Aaraaf?" My understanding is that it's been rather overlooked compared to a lot of his other works.

CatherineBaabMuguira3 karma

I can't say a fan. It's very pretentious and kind of obviously an early work, but that Poe persisted and kept writing and eventually became great? I love that. It's inspiring. We all have to start somewhere.

Lefty_222 karma

The circumstances of Poe’s death seem to be unknown but hint at foul election play. What do you think really happened?

CatherineBaabMuguira2 karma

I think it's impossible to know, though I can say I'm not partial to the cooping theory. My best guess is that he was ill for months before he left Richmond that final time, and that he became even sicker on the journey, to the point that he was confused and unable to fend for himself, and at some point, he may have been robbed. The election theories require more elaborate explanations, I think.

a_burdie_from_hell1 karma

Wasn't there some super weird way Poe died that people still don't quite understand?

CatherineBaabMuguira3 karma

His death is definitely mysterious. No one knows what caused it, or what Poe was doing in the days leading up to it. He may have been ill and robbed--that's my theory, but it's impossible to say for sure. He wasn't lucid enough to tell anyone what had happened once he was found, and he never reached lucidity again. Very sad.