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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Fall of the House of Usher

The Fall of the House of Usher
by Edgar Allan Poe
20 pages
first published in 1839

*** The Plot (without spoilers) ***

An unnamed narrator travels to the home of his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher. Usher requested the visit in the hopes that it would cheer him up. Upon arrival the narrator find that Roderick, always a hypochondriac, is much changed in appearance and is complaining of various maladies. Also in the house is Madeline Usher, Roderick’s sister. She is ill as well and not expect to live long. The narrator and Roderick spend much time together over the next few weeks, and what happens during those days is the focus of the rest of the story.

*** Literary Criticism & My Thoughts ***

(I so wanted to call this section LitCrit but I figured that was overdoing it.)

Since this is such a short story, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check out what the “official” opinion of it is, and contrast that with my own. Here’s a bit of what I came up with, with links to where I found the info.

According to Wikipedia, this story was first published in BURTON’S GENTLEMEN’S MAGAZINE in 1839. It is Poe’s most famous work, but it has also been criticized for being too formulaic.

One article I read was quite informative; all the following quotes and references are from there.

“As is typical of the Gothic genre, the story is set in a dark, medieval castle, and uses a first-person narrator to instill a sense of dread and terror in the reader.” The article goes on to say the this story “has been lauded by scholars as a prime example of the Gothic short story.” Poe’s use of the first-person POV *is* very powerful and I was definitely feeling that sense of dread through the story.

The article points out the probability that Poe was attributing Roderick’s and Madeline’s illnesses to repeated inbreeding (incest!) in their family. I totally didn’t get that impression when I read the story, but it does make a lot of sense now. I'm still not sure I buy it but it *is* plausible based on the text.

That same article goes on to say that others attribute the illnesses to something supernatural rather than something natural. These dual interpretations, the ambiguity of the illnesses, and the general *feel* of the story itself, reminded me of THE TURN OF THE SCREW (which I reviewed here). I think if you liked either one of these stories you’d definitely like the other one.

*** Other Thoughts ***

On the whole I rather liked this story. It was a bit dense (word-wise) but the creepy mood was set perfectly. It's definitely got me wanting to read more Poe.

And speaking of Poe, this year is his 200th birthday. I live just outside Baltimore, Maryland, where Poe is buried, and we're having a year-long celebration of Poe here. You can go to to get all the details.

I'm trying desperately to finish the 1% Well Read Challenge by Feb. 28 and this story counts - yeah! Now I just have to finish Phineas Finn (776 pages, and I'm halfway through), Delta of Venus (about 150 pages left) and read one more short story ... I think I can handle that.

*** Questions ***

Are you a Poe fan? Have you read this story? Reviewed it? Please share your thoughts.


Amanda said...

You're almost done with the challenge! Yay! I honestly was a little disappointed in this story. I'd say it's one of my least favorite stories of his. Good review though. It does have the Turn of the Screw kind of creepy feel to it.

Michelle said...

I read this last week. I was enjoying how atmospheric it was feeling but even though it's quite short, it dragged for me a bit.

Erika Robuck said...

I'm a Poe junkie. I'm partial to Ligeia and William Wilson. If you've ever seen Fight Club (with Brad Pitt), it's straight up William Wilson.

Amy said...

It's been a long time, but I feel like this is not one of my favorite Poe stories. Maybe I'll have to reread it and see how the new angle changes it (I don't recall thinking incest!).

Alyce said...

I read this story in high school, and remember thinking that it was a very good story. I also remember that we high school students were very weirded out by the incest part. I haven't read all of Poe's stories, but I did read most of them in various high school English classes.

Serena said...

I love Poe's Poetry, but I have only read Cask of Amontillado, Pit and the Pendulum, and Tell-Tale Heart for his prose/fiction works.

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