The Scandalous Love Story of Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia Clemm

Edgar Allan Poe took creepiness and the obscure to real life when he married Virginia Clemm.

Isabel Cara

El escandaloso amor de Edgar Allan Poe y Virginia Clemm

166 years ago, the streets of Baltimore were witness to the wanderings of a destitute and ragged writer on his way to the place where he fell in love with his wife, who had died years before. That man was Edgar Allan Poe, guided by the delusions caused by the nostalgia of the final departure of his first cousin: Virginia Clemm…

The love between Poe and Virginia began to germinate in 1829 when their family had to live under the same roof in Baltimore for a while. He was twenty years old, and she was only seven. Innocent Virginia was so devoted to her cousin that, it is said, one day she gave him the lock of hair she had pulled from Mary Devereaux, a neighbor with whom Poe was having an affair, of which, moreover, the little girl was a messenger.

Pressed by the precarious economic situation in the United States in 1835, Poe moved to Richmond, where he worked as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. The writer had left the place where he met Clemm; however, the idea of marrying her persisted every night of the year until it could become a reality in May 1836 with the help of his aunt Maria, at the expense of Nelson Poe, who intended to take Virginia home to protect her from the precocious marriage. The poet had sent a letter to his Aunt Maria Clemm to prevent Virginia from being taken away:

“My last hold on life, the last of all, is slipping away from me. I have no desire to live and will not live. But I must do my duty. I love, you know, I love Virginia passionately, devotedly.” The ceremony required the forgery of the birth certificate of the almost teenager, but it is believed that in September 1835, the couple, aged 27 and 13, had already married in secret.

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All the authors who have dared to touch on the amorous stage of Edgar Allan Poe’s life affirm that scandalous union was very happy, and that, contrary to what most would think on the perverse subject of the age difference, it is speculated that the bond was almost like that of two brothers, so much so that Poe used to call his wife “Sissy” or “Sis,” as sister, sister, and as his friends affirmed: the lovers did not share a bed until Virginia was 16 years old.

On the other hand, Marie Bonaparte, one of the most serious biographers, suggests that Virginia may have died a virgin, while essayist Joseph Wood stated that Poe “did not need women the way normal men need them,” adding that the writer found the subject of sex repulsive.

Virginia used to curl up next to the poet while he wrote, and she also used to keep her papers in perfect order, like someone who guards with her soul something she knows to be valuable. Poe loved the tenderness of his young Sissy; perhaps in his mind, she was still that little girl of the old days who gave joy to his home, or perhaps he cherished the thought of knowing her to be more inexperienced in life than he was. Whatever it was, only they knew perfectly every paragraph of the story that was being written.

However, something dark was about to happen. As if by a mysterious act of revenge orchestrated by the Poe family, Virginia’s life was about to meet an end, and no one knew it, but she was slowly dying of the same disease that killed Edgar’s mother: tuberculosis. Her appetite vanished, her cheeks reddened, terrible fevers set in, her pulse became unsteady, and, said some malicious people, “she had a youthful appearance, with large violet eyes and a pearly whiteness of complexion. His hair, as black as raven’s wings, gave him an ultra-earthly air.” All that tragedy was surrounded by unfortunate poverty.

The wretched young woman was in agony, and what distressed her most was to know who was going to take care of “Eddy” in her absence, so she made her mother promise to always look after him and instructed her friend Mary Star to become a friend for her beloved, in a gesture of pure love: making them hold hands. Finally, Virginia died on January 30, 1847, at the age of 24.

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The most faithful witnesses of the poet’s pain were his works, in which he implicitly expressed his feelings. The most notorious examples are Annabel Lee, in which he mentions the tragic death of a maiden; Eleonora tells the story of a man about to marry his cousin; the plot of The Oblong Box exposes the lament of a man after the loss of his lover, and some say that the famous story The Raven highlights the “nevermore” through the sentence of the demonic specter, as a cruel reminder.

The descent of his little companion plunged Poe into a deep depression that sharpened his sensitivity to alcohol and transformed him into a completely lost, “disconnected” human being. It is said that he never wanted to go near Virginia’s coffin because he wanted to preserve the image of the little girl full of life she once was, although contradictorily he decided to immortalize her by painting her face in watercolor, using her corpse as a model.

One always returns to the places where one loved life; Edgar, in his drunken, lunatic, almost catatonic trance, tried to return to that house where he first saw the childish eyes he loved, but he never arrived and was found in a deplorable state that killed him four days later, on October 7, 1849. It is believed that his last words were “Lord, save my poor soul.”

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

Edgar Allan Poe: The unsolved mystery behind his odd death