As journalist A.J. Jacobs noted in The Know-It-All, quite a few famous men married their cousins. That includes Charles Darwin, pretty much every royal ever, and our favorite morbid monsieur, Edgar Allan Poe.
After he was thrown out of West Point, EAP moved in with his maternal aunt, Maria Clemm, and immediately cozied up to his cousin, the lovely Virginia. Initially, Virginia was sort of his errand girl, taking Edgar's letters to the women he pined after, but then he realized what a lovely lady he had closer to home - or, in this case, literally at home. Perhaps the creepiest part of this chapter of Poe's life? He was so close to Virginia that he regarded her as a sibling, dubbing her "Sis" or Sissy."
Eventually, most of his maternal relatives left the nest, and Poe decided to look out for the remaining ones - his aunt and cousin - the only ways he knew how. In 1834, Virginia was only 12 and Edgar was 25, but that didn't matter! He wanted to protect her and his aunt by marrying little Virginia. Not everyone thought this was a great idea: His cousin Neilson (also Virginia's brother-in-law) wanted to take Ginny in until she was old enough to get married, but Edgar wasn't having it. He regarded his cousin as a rival for Virginia's love, even thought Neilson was married.
The lovely Mrs. Poe, wife of her cousin. Image via The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington/Wikimedia Commons.
Edgar eventually emotionally blackmailed Virginia into marriage, telling her she couldn't dare break his heart. So, in 1836, they were married; Virginia was only 13, although a witness testified she was 21 at the time. Edgar continued Virginia's education, tutoring her; he waited to consummate their relationship until she was 16. But she never really grew up - or had the chance to.
In 1842, Virginia started coughing up blood; she was eventually diagnosed with tuberculous, a then deadly condition. Her health deteriorated over the next five years as the Poet moved around, and five years later, she died a very sad death. Poe fell into a deep, deep depression that actually wound up inspiring some of his most famous works. Her passing seems to have inspired some of his fascination with morbidity.
Feature image via Billy Hathorn/National Portrait Gallery.