Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Review: 'The Fall of the House of Usher' by Edgar Allan Poe

It is day 2 of the Poe Week and I think my nightmare from last night might have something to do with having read this book. It is a rather haunting tale.  G.R. Thompson said "the tale has long been hailed as a masterpiece of Gothic horror; it is also a masterpiece of dramatic irony and structural symbolism."

Here's the basic info:
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Publication date: September 1839
Published as: a periodical in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine

In this tale an unnamed narrator (this seems to be something Poe used a lot) goes to visit his friend, Roderick Usher, who is suffering from a psychological illness.  He goes there to find out his friend's troubles are worse than he expected and that they are linked to the possibly speedy death of Roderick's sister. This is as much as I will tell because I don't want to spoil the story.

What I especially loved was that the first six or so pages are filled with the narrator's description of the landscape and the House of Usher. The House really is the first character that's introduced, since 'The House of Usher' doesn't only mean the actual house but also the family. Through that description you immediately get into the atmosphere of the story. The story is a good example of how everything, every detail, is important. It is crucial to understand that Usher's senses are over-active and therefore cannot be trusted and that he expects to be ill more than he is actually ill. It explains a lot of what happens later on. 

Roderick also has a sister, who falls into cataleptical shocks, which means her body becomes rigid and unresponsive. This contributed to one of the most horrific moments in this story. Poe also mentions the heart again: 'Do I not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart?' It seems that he saw the heart as something treacherous that pops up in the most unfortunate of moments. This has been called Poe's best prose story and I must agree, so far, because never before have I seen a story so well crafted and executed. For example, read the next couple of lines. 

There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime.

How perfectly does Poe describe the feeling of fear and terror? This story deals with so many emotions and especially with how a mind can cause itself to go crazy. And here is where I see a comparison to 'The Tell-Tale Heart'. It's narrator caused himself to go crazy as well and again it has something to do with family.

So, how do you feel about this story? Does its intense description of emotion and landscape scare you off or does it sound like your cup of tea? And don't forget, tomorrow's story is 'The Cask of Amontillado'.

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