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Edgar Allan Poe Likely Didn't Kill Himself

Researchers study his language, don't think he was suicidal
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 25, 2020 7:59 AM CST

(Newser) – Psychologists looking into the death of Edgar Allen Poe are disputing a widely held theory that the famous author committed suicide. The 40-year-old Poe died in a hospital in 1849 after what has been described as days of delirium, notes Fast Company. The cause of his death remains unclear to this day, but contemporary Charles Baudelaire pushed one theory into the mainstream by observing that Poe's death was "almost a suicide, a suicide prepared for a long time." However, in a new study in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers cast doubt on the notion that Poe killed himself. They did so after a close examination of Poe's lifelong writing, particularly in his later years, searching for telltale clues about his mental state.

"My hunch is that he was indeed spiralling into a depression toward the end of his life, but that he didn't kill himself," says psychologist Ryan Boyd of Lancaster University in a news release. The team looked for "linguistic markers" in samples of Poe's work from throughout his life—specifically 309 personal letters, 49 poems, and 63 short stories—to look for signs of depression. Those include more "negative emotion words" (bad, sad, or angry, etc.) and increased use of first-person singular pronouns (I, me, my). While the analysis suggests that Poe suffered from depression at rough periods, including the death of his wife, "significant, consistent patterns of depression were not found and do not support suicide as a cause of death," the researchers write. (Poe once had a mysterious, modern visitor who showed up at his burial site in Baltimore every year.)

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