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Unraveling a Poe Mystery: Authorship Verification Program Strikes Again

Edgar Allan Poe, a giant in the horror genre and father of the detective novel, remains a man of mystery centuries after his death.

But the literary debut of Poe's works have become less mysterious, thanks to the authorship verification software of Dr. Patrick Juola, associate professor of mathematics and computer science at Duquesne University, and the diligence of a New Yorker writer.

Poe's life, often re-examined at the spooky time of year, was shaped by the death of his parents, his failure as a West Point cadet, a marriage to young cousin who died of tuberculosis in her 20s and an iterant, hard-drinking life as a literary critic and writer. Whether to escape creditors or to follow the fashion of the day, Poe was known to write under pseudonyms. He was also known to have a writing brother, Henry.

Or did Poe's first works appear under Henry's name?

Asked by a New Yorker blogger Paul Collins about the verifying the authorship of the Poe poems in question, Juola again steps from the shadows to put his authorship verification software program to literary use.

Juola's software suggests "yes," the author likely is an 18-year-old Edgar Allan Poe. The writing samples of the works align very strongly with Edgar Allan's style compared with six contemporaries. In another test of samples that Collins ran, the writings align more closely with Edgar Allan than with Henry. In yet a third sample, the writings in question stylistically align even more closely to Edgar Allan than some of his attributed work.

Earlier this year, Juola was asked by England's Sunday Times to compare a book written under the name of Robert Galbraith with that of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. He and his style-sensitive author verification software indicated "yes," and Rowling confessed her identity.

"One of the great things about this technology is the way that it puts modern science at the disposal of people working on a 19th-century problem," Juola said. "With the Rowling case, we could just ask her and get answers. We can't ask Poe anything, but the technology is just as accurate for his work."

For those who study 19th-century writing, the finding is significant.

"Though Poe is now better-known as a writer of short stories, particularly horror stories, he is also a major figure in poetry circles in 19th-century America, an important critic of 19th-century poetry and a shaping influence on many other poets of this era," said Dr. Faith Barrett, associate professor of English at Duquesne, who specializes in 19th-century American poetry and Civil War culture. "So finding a cache of early poems that could potentially be connected to Poe would be an important development in 19th-century American studies."

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.