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POE'S SHORT STORIES
The Fall of the House of Usher The Pit and the Pendulum The Cask of Amontillado Ligeia, and Others
• • • •
Life and Background of the Author Critical Commentaries Critical Essays Selected Bibliography
by James L. Roberts, Ph.D. Department of English University of Nebraska-Lincoln
LINCOLN, NEBRASKA 68501 1-800-228-4078 www.CLIFFS.com ISBN 0-8220-7168-1 © Copyright 1980 by Cliffs Notes, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980
LIFE AND BACKGROUND OF THE AUTHOR
Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809, and died October 7, 1849; he lived only forty years, but during his brief lifetime, he made a permanent place for himself in American literature and also in world literature. A few facts about Poe's life are indisputable, but, unfortunately, almost everything else about Poe's life has been falsified, romanticized, slanderously distorted, or subjected to grotesque Freudian interpretations. Poe, it has been said at various times, was a manic depressive, a dope addict, an epileptic, and an alcoholic; moreover, it has been whispered that he was syphilitic, that he was impotent, and that he fathered at least one illegitimate child. Hardly any of Poe's biographers have been content to write a straight account of his life. This was particularly true of his early biographers, and only recently have those early studies been refuted. Intrigued with the horror and mystery of Poe's stories and by the dark romanticism of his poetry, his early critics and biographers often embroidered on the facts of his past in order to create their own imaginative vision of what kind of man produced these "strange" tales and poems. Thus Poe's true genius was neglected for a long time. Indeed, probably more fiction has been written about this American literary master than he himself produced; finally, however, fair and unbiased evaluations of his writings and of his life are available to us, and we can judge for ourselves what kind of a man Poe was. Yet, because the facts are scarce, Poe's claim to being America's first authentic neurotic genius will probably remain, and it is possible that Poe would be delighted. Both of Poe's parents were professional actors, and this fact in itself has fueled many of the melodramatic myths that surround Poe. Poe's mother was a teenage widow when she married David Poe, and Edgar was their second son. Poe's father had a fairly good reputation as an actor, but he had an even wider reputation as an alcoholic. He deserted the family a year after Poe was born, and the following year, Poe's mother died while she was acting in Richmond, Virginia. The children were parceled out, and young Poe was taken in as a foster-child by John Allan, a rich southern merchant. Allan never legally adopted Poe, but he did try to give him a good home and a good education. When Poe was six years old, the Allans moved to England, and for five years Poe attended the Manor House School, conducted by a man who was a good deal like the schoolmaster in "William Wilson." When the Allans returned to America, Poe began using his legal name for the first time. Poe and his foster-father often quarreled during his adolescence and as soon as he was able to leave home, Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia. While he was there, he earned a good academic record, but Mr. Allan never allowed him the means to live in the style his social status demanded. When Poe tried to keep up with his high-living classmates, he incurred so many gambling debts that the parsimonious Mr. Allan prevented his returning for a second year of study. Unhappy at home, Poe got money somehow (probably from Mrs. Allan) and went to Boston, where he arranged for publication of his first volume of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827). He then joined the army. Two years later, when he was a sergeant-major, he received a discharge to enter West Point, to which he was admitted with Mr. Allan's help. Again, however, he felt frustrated because of the paltry allowance which his foster-father doled out to him, so he arranged to be court-martialed and dismissed. Poe's next four years were spent in Baltimore, where he lived with an aunt, Maria Clemm; these were years of poverty. When Mr. Allan died in 1834, Poe hoped that he would receive some of his fosterfather's fortune, but he was disappointed. Allan left him not a cent. For that reason, Poe turned from
Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980
writing poetry, which he was deeply fond of--despite the fact that he knew he could never live off his earnings--and turned to writing stories, for which there was a market. He published five tales in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier in 1832, and because of his talent and certain influential friends, he became an editorial assistant at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond in December 1835. The editor of the Messenger recognized Poe's genius and published several of his stories, but he despaired at Poe's tendency to "sip the juice." Nevertheless, Poe's drinking does not seem to have interfered with his duties at the magazine; its circulation grew, Poe continued producing stories, and while he was advancing the reputation of the Messenger, he created a reputation of his own--not only as a fine writer, but also as a keen critic. Poe married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, in 1836, when she was fourteen years old. He left the Messenger the following year and took his aunt and wife to New York City. There, Poe barely eked out a living for two years as a free-lance writer. He did, however, finish a short novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and sold it to the Messenger, where it was published in two installments. Harper's bought out the magazine in 1838, but Poe never realized any more money from the novel because his former boss had recorded that the Narrative was only "edited" by Poe. From New York City, the Poes moved to Baltimore, and for two years, the young family lived in even more dire poverty than they had in New York City. Poe continued writing, however, and finally in May 1839, he was hired as a co-editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. He held this position for a year, during which he published some of his best fiction, including "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "William Wilson." Because of his drinking, Poe lost his job the following year. This was unfortunate because his Tales of the Grotesque, which had been published several months earlier, was not selling well. Once again, Poe and his wife found themselves on the edge of poverty, but Poe's former employer recommended Poe to the publisher of Graham's, and once again Poe found work as an editor while he worked on his own fiction and poetry. In January 1842, Poe suffered yet another setback. His wife, Virginia, burst a blood vessel in her throat. She did recover, but Poe's restlessness began to grow, as did the frequency of his drinking bouts, and he left Graham's under unpleasant circumstances. He attempted to found his own magazine and failed; he worked on cheap weeklies for awhile and, in a moment of despair, he went to Washington to seek out President Tyler. According to several accounts, he was so drunk when he called on the President that he wore his cloak inside out. Shortly afterward, Poe moved his family to New York City and began working for the Sunday Times. The following year was a good one: James Russell Lowell praised Poe's talent and genius in an article, and Poe's poem "The Raven" was published and received rave reviews. Seemingly, Poe had "made it"; "The Raven" was the sensation of the literary season. Poe began lecturing about this time and, shortly afterward, a new collection of his short stories appeared, as well as a collection of his poetry. Most biographers agree that Poe died of alcoholism--officially, "congestion of the brain." However, in 1996, cardiologist R. Michael Benitez, after conducting a blind clinical pathologic diagnosis of the symptoms of a patient described only as "E.P., a writer from Richmond," concluded that Poe died not from alcoholic poisoning, but from rabies. According to Dr. Benitez, Poe had become so hypersensitive to alcohol in his later years that he became ill for days after only one glass of wine. Benitez also refutes the myth that Poe died in a gutter, stating that he died at Washington College Hospital after four days of hallucinating and shouting at imaginary people.
Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980
and foul--all these effects are created for one reason: to give us a sense of the ghostly and the supernatural. the castle will be filled with cobwebs. Scotland. Germany. down which persecuted virgins might be running and screaming in terror. it is not in an old castle in the present era. it could be in Ireland. Frankenstein's monster and Count Dracula.www. and. he placed a strong emphasis on the life of the mind after the death of the body.com CRITICAL COMMENTARIES THE GOTHIC STORY: "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "Ligeia" These stories represent the highest achievements in the literary genre of the gothic horror story. Roderick Usher and the narrator of "Ligeia" share a super-sensitivity to the point of maladjustment--due to the narrator's opium addiction in "Ligeia. By gothic. one means that the author emphasizes the grotesque. the characters seem to possess some sort of psychic communication. We all know that a gothic story or a ghost story will often have a setting that will be in an old. Roderick Usher and his twin sister and. inhabiting one's own corpse. but also among the finest examples of the gothic genre in all of literature. "Ligeia"is set in an old castle on the Rhine or else in an abbey in the "most remote part of England. Clearly. Likewise. and the underground passages are smelly. Almost everyone is familiar with such characters as Dr. both stories have many qualities in common: (1) In addition to the gothic elements. Not surprisingly. The author uses every literary trick possible to give us eerie sensations or to make us jump if we hear an unexpected noise." and due to an undefined illness in Roderick Usher. and it is probably not an exaggeration to say that most adults in the Western world have been exposed to some type of gothic tale or ghost story. the time (the century) is set somewhere in the indefinite past. Poe also stressed another similar element. again. The story could. (2) One of the primary aims of both stories is to create the single effect of an eerie and ghostly atmosphere and to do so. we have either read about such places or seen them in the movies or on TV. Both "Ligeia" and "The Fall of the House of Usher" utilize many of these aspects of the gothic and are considered by critics to be not just among Poe's best short stories. or even Transylvania. there is also a sense of remoteness and a sense of indefiniteness--that is. the desolate. both of them climax with just such an incident: To this purpose Poe created the return of the entombed and living corpse of the Lady Madeleine. slimy. as well as the slow re-emergence into life by the enshrouded Lady Ligeia. the mysterious. In both stories. Virginia. This is standard fare. the abject fear that can be aroused in either the reader or in the viewer." In both stories also. in fact. there are trap doors to swallow us up. a man who could not function well in the "normal" world. decaying mansion far out in a desolate countryside. This is also true of the stories associated with Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 4 . take place anywhere as long as the area is remote to the reader. ultimately. moreover. The shadows seem menacing in these stories. and an abundance of secret panels and corridors. (4) Often in the gothic story. removed from his everyday environment. strange noises. this usually occurs between a member of the living world and a "living" corpse. two of today's pop culture horror characters who evolve from the gothic tradition. (3) In both stories. both stories emphasize the physical aspects of the various structures--the deep caverns or vaults where the Lady Madeline is buried and the weird room where the Lady Rowena died among various types of black sarcophagi. Poe uses this effect to its very best effect in these two stories. the horrible. the ghostly. bats. we see this kind of communication between. we are never told where "The Fall of the House of Usher" takes place in terms of setting. between the narrator and his beloved. (6) In addition to the above features of the gothic story. The haunted castle is a classic setting of the gothic story. a super-sensitive hero is presented. Ligeia. first. (5) One of the stock elements of the gothic story concerns the possibility of returning to life after one is dead and.cliffs.
the entire story is boxed within the confines of the gloomy rooms on an oppressive autumn day where every object and sound is attenuated to the over-refined and over-developed sensitivities of Roderick Usher. From the time the unnamed narrator enters the House of Usher until the end of the story when he flees in terror. or in any of the many movies about Count Dracula. Immediately Poe entraps us. Roderick Usher says: "I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together. it was as frightening and mysterious as UFOs are today. for this accounts for the fact that Roderick Usher has heard the buried Lady Madeline struggling with her coffin and her chains for over three days before the narrator hears her. He investigated this phenomenon in several stories. blowing out candles. Poe has chosen the "grim phantasm. one should realize by now that these are all basic effects that can be found in any modern Alfred Hitchcock-type of horror film. every word. where the focus is upon the continuation of the life of the mind after the body has become a living corpse. Here is the genesis of this type of story. there are mysterious rooms where windows suddenly whisk open. Besides having a fascination for the weird and the spectral. Late in the story. any ghost movie. for example. At least Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 5 . and the reverse. the ancient decaying castle is eerie and moldy and the surrounding moat seems stagnant. and so it is important to note that there is a special importance attached to the fact that Roderick Usher and the Lady Madeline are twins. a storm is raging and inside the castle. modern readers tend to be a little jaded by the many gothic effects. every image. Unfortunately. then. there is a superhuman strength to live--even after death." Like so many of Poe's stories. it is almost as if Poe were "inventing" ESP. no-nonsense America. a new nation not even sixty years old. the ironic. it is set somewhere in the past. ominous and foreboding as they are. FEAR" for his prime effect to be achieved in this story." Clearly. Poe was also interested in the concept of the double. the schizophrenic.com the Dracula legends. In terms of what plot there is. to the terrible conclusion with the appearance of the living corpse. This. and we find out that the narrator and Roderick Usher have been friends and schoolmates previous to the story's beginning. in some struggle with the grim phantasm.www. including "William Wilson" (a story which is analyzed in this volume). but in Poe's time. to the presentation of the over-sensitive. all of Poe's details combine to create the anxiety accompanying that "grim phantasm. hopelessly frail and delicate Roderick Usher. Outside the castle. we have a sense of being confined within the boundaries of the House of Usher. "The Fall of the House of Usher" exemplifies perfectly Poe's principle of composition that states that everything in the story must contribute to a single unified effect. From the opening paragraphs. As a result. FEAR. Poe's emphasis here additionally stresses that one does not yield oneself to death except through a weakness of the will. the greatness of this story lies more in the unity of design and the unity of atmosphere than it does in the plot itself. one hears creaking and moaning sounds and sees the living corpse of the Lady Madeline. and every description in the story is chosen with the central idea in mind of creating a sense of abject terror and fear within both the narrator and the reader. is rather old hat today as a gothic device. the setting here is inside a closed environment. "The Fall of the House of Usher" The first five paragraphs of the story are devoted to creating a gothic mood--that is. is the gothic and these are its trappings. ESP. Both in the Lady Madeline and in the Lady Ligeia. In fact. Both women overcome the most impossible barriers of the mortal world in order to live. created almost one hundred and fifty years ago in plain.cliffs. Poe is creating in this story his conception of a special affinity between a brother and his twin sister. The central concern of the Lady Ligeia is the continuation of the mind after physical death. FEAR.
or division. we are startled by Poe's unexpectedly introducing her ghostly form far in the distance. while Roderick is speaking. he suffers from a "morbid acuteness of the senses. these types of stories must occur in either darkness or in semi-darkness. between them. Suddenly.cliffs. Over everything. this is a key image. are "tortured by even a faint light. one finds it in all gothic. it is evening time and a "sense of insufferable gloom pervades" his spirit. he was not above using it if such symbolism contributed to his effect. and irredeemable gloom. he says twice that the windows of the house are "eyelike" and that the inside of the house has become a living "body" while the outside has become covered with moss and is decaying rapidly." and only a few sounds from certain stringed instruments are endurable." As the narrator approaches the melancholy House of Usher." As noted earlier. the House of Usher will literally fall into this tarn and be swallowed up by it. Here. Also central to this story is that fact that Roderick and the Lady Madeline are twins. between the living and the dead will be so critical that it will culminate ultimately in the Fall of the House of Usher." He evokes here his primary effect: We sense that some fearful event will soon transpire. of course. the bleak walls. imploring him to come to the Usher manor "post-haste. Furthermore. is a traditional prop for stories of this sort. finally united in the light of the full moon. signing his own death warrant. This suggests that when he buries her. Madeline passes "slowly through a remote portion of the apartment" and disappears without ever having noticed the narrator's presence. but a crack which the narrator notices. The image of the house. Never before has he seen a person who looks so much like a corpse with a "cadaverousness of complexion. this "sense of insufferable gloom. (The full moon.www. the barren landscape. At the end of the story. . Poe drapes his "atmosphere of sorrow ." "ebon blackness. ." He can eat "only the most insipid food. revolting mountain lake) which surrounds it." There are no gothic stories or ghost stories which take place in daylight or at high noon. wear only delicate garments. Usher tries to explain the nature of his illness. by which the narrator is able to see the tumultuous Fall of the House of Usher. the effect is electric with mystery. It is possible that Poe wanted us to imagine that when Usher tries to get rid of that other part of himself. Poe next sets up a sense of the "double" or the ironic reversal when he has the narrator first see the House of Usher as it is reflected in the "black and lurid tarn" (a dark and gruesome. you should note. and vampire-type stories. The house. When the narrator sees Roderick Usher. As Roderick Usher explains that he has not left the house in many years and that his only companion has been his beloved sister. No doctor has been able to discover the nature of her illness--it is "a settled apathy. the Lady Madeline. symbolically. in effect. the twin half. Certainly at the end of the story. Lady Madeline falls upon him in an almost vampire-like sucking position and the two of them are climactically.com Usher considers the narrator to be his friend--in fact." This is a tone which will become the mood throughout the entire story. the rank sedges in the moat--all these create a "sickening of the heart--an unredeemed dreariness. a gradual wasting away of the Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 6 . And even though Poe said in his critical theories that he shunned symbolism. and thus the narrator arrives at this dark and cryptic manor just as darkness is about to enshroud it. he is shocked at the change in his old friend. his only friend--and he has written an urgent letter to him. This crack. the ultimate Fall of the House is caused by an almost invisible crack in the structure. This is the first effect Poe creates. His eyes." and he must avoid the odors of all flowers. that is.) Upon entering the gothic archway of the deteriorating mansion." Death is in the air. or fissure. these details of old armor standing in the shadows and the intricate passageways leading mysteriously away are all traditional elements in all gothic horror stories. he will widen the crack. the narrator is led "through many dark and intricate passages" filled with "sombre tapestries. he says." and "armorial trophies. he is. totally one. the first meeting prepares us for the untimely and ghastly death of Roderick Usher later in the story. is upside down. ghostly.
"Have you not seen it?. the narrator begins to hear "certain low and indefinite sounds" which come from an undetermined source. Of course. and these are the sounds that Roderick Usher has been hearing for days. Often he stops and stares vacantly into space as though he is listening to some faint sound. these details are the true and authentic trappings of the gothic tale. that is. dark. his terrified condition brings terror to the narrator. ." Protectively." After he has finished reading the poem. . Again Poe is using a highly effective gothic technique by using these deep. the poem "The Haunted Palace. The narrator refuses. . singular in its terror and its beauty. the narrator helps carry the "encoffined" body to an underground vault where the atmosphere is so oppressive that their torches almost go out. and a decaying mansion in which "visible gaseous exhalations . Night. exaggerated by their reflection in the "rank miasma of the tarn. At the request of Usher. enshrouded the mansion"--all these elements contribute to the eerie gothic effect Poe aimed for. he says further that he is going to preserve her corpse for two weeks because of the inaccessibility of the family burial ground and also because of the "unusual character of the malady of the deceased. and yet Usher continues to be in a gloomy state of mind. Because of his over-sensitiveness and because of the extra-sensory relationship between him and his twin sister." which Poe places almost exactly in the center of the story. then. but he throws open the casement window and reveals a raging storm outside--"a tempestuous . dark underground vaults. these sounds are coming from the buried Lady Madeline. Usher offers another of his bizarre views. night . now he wanders feverishly and hurries from one chamber to another. they pass the days reading together or painting. When Usher appears at the narrator's door looking "cadaverously wan" and asking. Usher changes appreciably. this time. Then we read that on the night of the "seventh or eighth day" after the death of the Lady Madeline. and damp. they prepare the reader for the re-emergence of the Lady Madeline as a living corpse. . he shuts the window and takes down an antique volume entitled Mad Trist by Sir Launcelot Canning and begins reading aloud." the narrator is so ill at ease that he welcomes even the ghostly presence of his friend. that they are conscious and capable of having feelings of their own." These enigmatic statements are foreboding.cliffs. As we will learn later. is similar to the House of Usher in that some "evil things" are there influencing its occupants in the same way that Roderick Usher. a storm raging outside while another storm is raging in Usher's heart. the question at the end of the story is: Was the Lady Madeline ever alive? Or is the narrator deceiving the reader by this statement? Roderick Usher and the narrator speak no more of the Lady Madeline. Lady Madeline cannot respond to any outside stimuli. This visual image is symbolic of what will happen later.com person" in a "cataleptical" state. it suggests both the vault that Usher will put his sister into and also the maelstrom that will finally destroy the House of Usher. Usher does not identify the "it" he speaks of. the author of the poem seems to be haunted by some unnamed "evil things. After some days of bitter grief. We also learn that one of Usher's paintings impresses the narrator immensely with its originality and its bizarre depiction: It is a picture of a luminous tunnel or vault with no visible outlet. . to allow Usher to gaze out into the storm with its weird electrical phenomena. he muses on the possibility that vegetables and fungi are sentient beings--that is. and by having a dead body carried downward to a great depth where everything is dank. When he comes to the section where the hero forces his way into the entrance of the Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 7 ." Again. One day. This otherworldly atmosphere enhances Poe's already grimly threatening atmosphere. Roderick Usher announces that the Lady Madeline is "no more". .www. The narrator then tells us that nevermore will he see her alive. He feels that the growth around the House of Usher has this peculiar ability to feel and sense matters within the house itself. Roderick has been able to hear sounds long before the narrator is able to hear them. Likewise. lighted only by torches. however.
finally. bore him to the floor a corpse. In this view. yet apparently muffled. to force her way out and escape from her entombment in the vaults. "hollow. she is now on the stairs and so close that Usher can hear "the heavy and horrible beating of her heart. what might have been. he shrieks: "Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door!" At this moment. a vampire." There is blood upon her white robes and the evidence of a bitter struggle on every portion of her emaciated frame. . and withal so piercing. and as they had previously ushered Lady Madeline prematurely into her tomb. and then despite being drained of strength.com hermit's dwelling. the "fragments of the 'House of Usher. and his necessity to live constantly in the world of semi-darkness and muted sounds and colors is that the Lady Madeline is a vampire who has been sucking blood from him for years. this accounts for the difficulty Lady Madeline encounters in escaping from her entombment. come from Lady Madeline: "We have put her living in the tomb!" He heard the first feeble movements a few days ago while she was in the coffin. Another reading of the story involves the possibility that Roderick Usher's weakness. who seems to be rocking from side to side. usher also means doorkeeper. at the end of the story Lady Madeline stands outside the door waiting to be ushered in. In the concept of twins. his inability to function in light. The noises. falling upon her brother's throat and sucking the last drop of blood from him. metallic and clangorous. he believes. This would account for his paleness and would fit this story in a category with the stories of Count Dracula that were so popular in Europe at the time. the over-sensitive. the over-delicate. setting and blood-red moon" (emphasis mine) and saw the entire House of Usher split at the point where there was a zigzag fissure and watched as the entire house sank into the "deep and dank tarn" which covered. possesses a superhuman will to live. then he heard the rending of the coffin and the grating of the iron hinges of her prison and then her struggling with the vault and. The narrator continues reading. of course. she is able to find her brother and fall upon him. as many critics have pointed out. Thus. there is also a reversal of roles. the very cracking and ripping sound" which was described in the antique volume which he is reading to Usher. With the last of her energy. she falls heavily upon her brother. indistinctly. as evidenced by the blood on her shroud. while she is trembling and reeling. and yet he has not dared to speak about them. from some very remote portion of the mansion. . he turned to look back in the light of the "full. protracted and most unusual screaming or grating sound" which seems to be the exact counterpart of the scream in the antique volume. the antique doors are thrown open and in the half darkness there is revealed "the lofty and enshrouded figure of the Lady Madeline of Usher. the name of the main character. and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated. In contrast. For some of the widely differing interpretations. he hears a "low and apparently distant. He observes Usher. she ushers herself in and falls upon her brother. and he is then ushered into Roderick Usher's private apartment and into his private thoughts. thus." When he approaches Usher. Vampires had to be dealt with harshly. the narrator says that it "appeared to me that. failing that. the narrator is ushered into the house by a bizarre-looking servant. finally. at some distance. Very soon the narrator becomes aware of a distinct sound. It is Usher himself who seems to represent the weak. She is the masculine force which survives being buried alive and is able. filled with some unknown terror. with superhuman strength." he pauses because at the exact moment. Finally. the reader should consult the volume Twentieth-Century Interpretations of Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher.'" There are more varying interpretations of this story than there are of almost any of Poe's other works. his friend responds that he has been hearing noises for many days. and the feminine. in its exact similarity of character . In this interpretation. Lady Madeline. to my ears. but harsh." The narrator tells us that he fled from the chamber and from the entire mansion and. and when he comes to the description of a dragon being killed and dying with "a shriek so horrid and harsh. An usher is someone who lets one in or leads one in. there came.www. and "in her violent and now final death-agonies. the final embrace must be seen in terms of the Lady Madeline. by using almost supernatural strength." One key to the story is. Roderick Usher buries his sister so as to protect himself. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 8 ." With a leap upwards.cliffs.
outside. he replaces this moody setting with yet another gothic touch: a forlorn abbey located in some remote part of England.www. save only Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 9 ." expresses this concept even more directly than does the story just discussed. unto death utterly. Lady Madeline can then be seen as the incarnation of "otherworldliness. As noted in the introduction. therefore. she seems to float through the apartment in a cataleptic state. were the story not set in the ghostly castle. as well as the suspense that Poe creates." a time during which vampires are able to prey upon fresh victims." published exactly one year before "The Fall. presented in this very image. . She is.cliffs." the pure spirit purged of all earthly cares. and they believed that death was a reuniting of oneself with that original spirituality. Everywhere there is "verdant decay. the exact quotation has as yet not been found among the author's works. gothic horror tale. conjuring up all types of gothic visions for us. an element which plays such a major role in the history of the Lady Ligeia herself.com The final paragraph supports this view in that the actions occur during the "full blood-red moon. becomes the unifying of two divergent aspects into one whole being at birth. The walls there are "elaborately fretted with the wildest and most grotesque specimens of semi-gothic" that the narrator has ever seen. there are huge ottomans and tapestries and. an author who actually did live and who was a favorite of Poe's. At the opposite end of this phantasmal interpretation is the modern-day psychological view that the twins represent two aspects of one personality. in this case. Even though Poe maintains that he did not approve of symbols or allegory. later. at one point in the story. . This story is akin to "The Fall of the House of Usher" in that both the Lady Ligeia and the Lady Madeline possess an inordinate and superhuman strength to live. causing strange configurations. producing an eerie. note the quotation which is placed at the beginning of the story. one might note. is sustained. that Poe made up the quotation and merely assigned it to the writer. "Ligeia" Like "The Fall of the House of Usher.) The key words in this quotation. For example. this embrace would symbolize the union of a divided soul. as suggested above. the castle as Poe's setting sits molding on the Rhine. it is interesting that while Poe credited the quotation to Joseph Glanville. the wind is blowing the casement curtains. but both of them possess a will to live that will not let either one of them remain dead. express her strong belief that the weak may die but that the strong do "not yield . Both women are presumed to be dead. Certainly many Romantics considered birth itself to be a breaking away from supernatural beauty. this particular story has been. in which the element of fear is evoked in its highest form. the setting is in an old castle in an unknown or remote part of the world. They will now live in pure spirituality and everything that is material in the world is symbolized by the collapse of the House of Usher--the dematerialization of all that was earthly in exchange for the pure spirituality of Roderick Usher and the Lady Madeline. there are strange noises. The final embrace. indicating a final restoration and purification of that soul in a life to come. or even in the "semi-gothic" abbey. the story still functions as a great story on the very basic level of the gothic horror story. Likewise. It is suspected. Basically. subjected to many and varied types of allegorical or symbolic interpretations. it is used two more times in the story by the Lady Ligeia to express her belief that some type of life continues after the apparent death of the body. in its dark interior. (As a footnote. Yet." this story also has all of the trappings of a classic. This mood." Here. "Ligeia. however. the tale would still lend itself to the gothic genre merely by the presence of the supernatural element. "phantasmagoric" effect on the inhabitants. If Usher embodies the incertitude of life--a condition somewhere between waking and sleeping--when Lady Madeline embraces him. which the Lady Ligeia utters.
In his theory of poetics. or ignore. as noted. it is possible for her-and the dead--to assume the body of another person. it is glossy and luxuriant-. he would have been a mere child groping through this strange and alien field of study. Without her." and he is content to let her guide him through these studies. her beauty is unique: she is tall and slender with a "placid cast of beauty" and she speaks with the "thrilling eloquence of [a] low musical language. ultimately. Even though the narrator marries the Lady Rowena. perhaps. perhaps. her main attribute is the fact that she was always there beside him to help him in his studies. . we know him only through his mental states that we witness in the story. the mood is set: Poe (and many other Romantic writers) creates a certain vagueness and indefiniteness. This lady. As is the case in almost all of Poe's short stories. he felt. Because the narrator knows nothing of the Lady Ligeia's past (he does not even know her last name). she would pour out "the Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 10 . the emphasis is upon the purely transcendent nature of their relationship. is often typical of the Romantic writer. by extension. Despite the obscure origin of Ligeia and the origin of the narrator's love for her. the narrator is fully aware that she is infinitely superior to him in the "chaotic world of metaphysical investigations. and it is possible that it is this all-abounding love which helps the Lady Ligeia to return to the narrator at the end of the story. As a ghostly hue covered her being. her hair. we see a similar situation in the Romantic story of Goethe's Faust. the Lady Ligeia seemingly has the ability to retain her will to live through periods of time and to cross barriers of land and water. the Romantic hero is completely dominated by his concept of love. even though he cannot remember how or where he met her--or even if she has a family. for the narrator. ." no "maiden ever equalled her" in beauty of person. despite the woman's magnificent physical beauty. without any warning signs. were essential to the production of the perfect art form." Even though she later becomes "emaciated. Furthermore. In addition.cliffs." for the narrator says that she was also "most violently a prey to the tumultuous vultures of stern passion. The tale of Ligeia begins with the narrator asserting his deep love for the Lady Ligeia. these qualities." Curiously. the relationship between the narrator and Ligeia was ideal. the first-person narrator here is never named. . the power of his love for the Lady Ligeia." in the author's words. the Lady Ligeia grew ill. . Her eyes and lashes are beyond the beauty of "beings either above or apart from the earth. he has no family or friends. one where ethereal matters were the main concern of art. it would seem. Poe meant that he wanted his stories to be removed from the mundane world." Yet the Lady Ligeia is not so blandly pure that she could be called "perfect. The deep love which the narrator has for Ligeia is seemingly his sole reason for existing. We know nothing about his background. Thus. the certainty of that love is so strong that the narrator's entire being is suffused with it. a short story) would be "the death . Her wisdom is consummate. of a bereaved lover. The story takes place. she still expressed a strong desire to live. As death approached closer and closer." This short story fits that prescription perfectly. By this. then suddenly. he can never put aside. This characteristic. For a period of time."hyacinthine. He is totally devoted to the Lady Ligeia. he wanted them to exist on a higher plane. of a beautiful woman" as told through "the lips . the narrator values her most. it would seem. for her mind--that is. besides having a rare and perfect knowledge of many fields of study. the narrator is typical of many types of Romantic heroes in that he desires absolute knowledge. at some distant time in some unknown place and concerns characters who have no discernible past. Furthermore. possesses a rare understanding of life. Poe expressed the belief that the most perfect subject for a poem (and. therefore. The most outstanding feature of Ligeia is. then.www.com through the weakness of [a] feeble will!" Whereas in "The Fall" the Lady Madeline was able to break free of the iron that entombed her. at the very beginning of the story.
Lady Rowena is extremely earthly and temporal. senses a "gentle footfall upon the carpet. he notices a very slight tinge of color appear in her face. the narrator can no longer endure the "lonely desolation" of his decaying dwelling on the Rhine. she asked him to read a poem she had written about the ability to conquer life. he listens to her frail cries of fear and fright and. but she is blonde. One night when the narrators sits by the bed of the dying Lady Rowena. a "gigantic sarcophagus of black granite. he believes that his vivid imagination has been rendered morbidly active by the opium and by the late hour. we hear him confess to thinking not of his wife. filled with. he marries "the fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion of Tremaine. the narrator becomes aware of the fact that his wife does not love him--in fact. simple.cliffs. At midnight. significantly. she is in dreadful fear of his fierce moodiness." After the death of Ligeia." and that the hero of the play is "The Conqueror Worm.com overflowing of a heart whose more than passionate devotion amounted to idolatry" towards the narrator. Rising. she fervently reaffirms the idea that man does not yield to death except "through the weakness of his feeble will. After months of weary and aimless wanderings. feverish. She is constantly perturbed by strange sounds." and. At the end. but ultimately a "crawling shape intrudes" and "It writhes!--it writhes!--with mortal pangs The mimes become its food. motions. which is as central to this story as "The Haunted Palace" was to "The Fall of the House of Usher. and terribly excitable. he ignores her and takes pleasure only in remembering the perfection of the Lady Ligeia. In the second month of their marriage. Confused." Lady Rowena is the antithesis of the Lady Ligeia. he settles in a remote part of England--in "the wildest and least frequented portion of England.www. The narrator then becomes aware of a "palpable although invisible" presence in the room and. the Lady Rowena becomes very ill. and "phantasmagoric influences" within their chambers. Suddenly. among other grotesque specimens of the gothic setting. we discover that the poem is entitled "Man. She is nervous." Clearly. the poem deals with death in its most dreaded form--annihilation--a catastrophe that the Lady Ligeia believes is possible to defy. he hears a low sob come from the bed where the corpse of his wife has been laid out. and unsophisticated. or things. in one interpretation of the story. she Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 11 . the narrator notes several drops of a brilliant ruby-colored fluid suddenly appear in her glass of wine. She is also beautiful. Thus. after some time. he discovers that his wife is not so much afraid of death as she is afraid of strange and unknown presences in the room. moments later." is set in a theater where the audience is composed of angels. a phantom appears upon the stage and chases the mimes. and the actors are mimes (silent creatures) who are controlled by strange formless creatures. ethereal reality for a world of material reality. At the end of the play." As Lady Rowena drinks a glass of wine. He is aghast: The Lady Rowena still lives. transcendent. that is. the abbey which he purchases has a "gloomy and dreary grandeur. but only of the Lady Ligeia. Whereas the Lady Ligeia was superior to this world." After a time. In contrast to the metaphysical and spiritual qualities of the Lady Ligeia. After a month. since the worm is mankind's most potent and horrible symbol of death. to his astonishment." The bridal chamber is one of Poe's most masterful creations. the narrator seems to be exchanging a world of beautiful. In contrast. Lady Rowena embodies the material and mortal qualities of this physical world. the Lady Rowena is dead and on the fourth day. as he is sitting alone with the shrouded body of his wife. After the narrator has finished reading the poem. Three days later. the poem is the key to the Lady Ligeia's obsession with life beyond death. The poem. However. shortly thereafter. he studies the shrouded form of the Lady Rowena and.
all of the effects described in the story could exist only in the mind of the narrator--that is. It is as though he has no concept of this world except through the eyes of the Lady Ligeia. she is pale and wan. from many written accounts.www. and Coleridge often wrote under the influence of opium. and time and again. this "hideous drama of revivification" occurs until finally the corpse struggles more violently than ever. . he is aghast to see it shake loose from her head "the ghastly cerements which had confined it. the narrator. the reincarnation of the Lady Ligeia could be. there is an emphasis on the eyes of the Lady Ligeia. we know. " This occurs a second and a third time. For a brilliant interpretation of this story in terms of the spiritual versus the material. the corpse becomes intensely rigid and loathsome. was absolutely essential. with rich luxuriant hair and dark raven eyes. From this point of view. De Quincey wrote The Confessions of an English Opium Eater. and need for the lost Lady Ligeia. subconscious desires are freed under the influence of opium and make the narrator feel that they are real. (Among the famous English Romantics who experimented with drugs. The Lady Ligeia can also be viewed as the typical Romantic woman of mystery. he realizes immediately that she has grown taller. . Therefore. attachment. knows that he is looking not into the eyes of his wife. During the Romantic period. that drugs can cause the addict to vividly sense things of seemingly otherworldly natures that the non-addict is incapable of feeling or sensing. The narrator is profoundly affected by them. a variation of the "femme fatale. as the eyes of the corpse open. Between each of these horrible experiences. touching the corpse. the entire story can be read as a visual and mental result of hallucinogenic drugs.) Since the narrator is an opium addict. yet she has a fierce dark beauty. the narrator sinks into visions of the lovely Lady Ligeia. Such an explanation is possible. after the description of the house in Hawthorne's story." This. Unafraid. as the Romantic's search for the ideal and as an escape from the mundane. phantasmagorical events that took place. was also considered to be an essential part of life for many French Romanticists. and each time. strong signs of life appear and then. then. he is looking into the black and wild eyes of his last love--the Lady Ligeia! In addition to its being a superlative gothic horror tale. there were Thomas De Quincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Instead. who is the complete physical and sensual opposite to the Lady Ligeia. a direct result of the strong love.cliffs. he relies on her eyes at the end of the story to make clear to him the things of the other world. thus. there is "some strangeness in the proportion. Hawthorne's story "The Birthmark. in this story. for example. (See. it advances toward the narrator. As Poe handles the story. Significantly.com resumes the ghastly expression of death--"a repulsive clamminess and coldness . combined with the fact that the narrator feels a repulsion toward the Lady Rowena. see Richard Wilbur's introduction to Poe's Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 12 . As such." a short story which Poe admired very much--so much so that he even modeled the room of the narrator's English abbey." As is typical of this type of woman. for the Romantic. Then it rises and with tottering. These strong. Opium. many writers experimented with the hallucinogenic effects of various drugs. some irregular aspect of one's mien individualized one's beauty and gave a certain "peculiar" flaw to perfect beauty. various. likewise. feeble steps." Huge masses of dishevelled hair "blacker than the raven wings of midnight" tumble down and. first of all. suddenly. such an interpretation is possible. the result of opium on the mind of the addict. the story can also be read as a fine example of the effects of the use of the drug opium on a highly imaginative writer. they never really happened. in a frenzy of fierce excitement. certainly the story lends itself to the possibility that it is the visualization of the hallucinatory effects caused by opium. the opium simply caused him to see and hear all the supernatural. it is certainly a brilliant example in its surrealistic depiction of the supernatural.) Throughout "Ligeia" and especially at the story's climax. because he relied on her so completely for his metaphysical experiments. Then. for example.
Poe invented the term "Tale of Ratiocination. (4) the stupidity or ineptitude of the police. he begins the tradition of the chronicler of the famous detective's exploits--that is. is so rich in detail that it lends itself to many and varied interpretations. TALES OF RATIOCINATION. or worker for the clever detective. or listener. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" introduces more basic features of detective fiction than any of Poe's other short stories. however. and the perfection he achieved in creating gothic tales of terror and science fiction. This idea becomes very important in all subsequent works of detective fiction. then. publishers. while allowing the detective to keep certain information and interpretations to himself. is less brilliant but. and this has also become a standard feature of many detective stories. as well as for the detective. however. presenting what information he has to the reader. For example. Poe. this idea is expanded (though essentially retained) and is used when the author sets the scene of the murder in a closed environment--that is. and in addition to the above. the process of ratiocination which he sets up is also intended for the reader. along with the fact that the head of the police force feels. (3) the simple clues. For this reason. Auguste Dupin is the forerunner of a long line of fictional detectives who are eccentric and brilliant. all of the clues are available for the reader. as he does in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue. he is perhaps more rational and analytical than Dupin is. printed in Major Writers of America. Poe is clearly responsible for and should be given credit for giving literature these basics of the detective story as a foundation for an entirely new genre of fiction: (1) the eccentric but brilliant amateur sleuth. Archie Goodwin. the reader should be able to look back on the clues and realize that he could have solved the mystery.www. for the police and their methods. Almost as popular are the well-known novels of Rex Stout. This story. Harcourt and Brace. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" Because it was Poe's first tale of ratiocination. M. he is also acknowledged as the originator of detective fiction. Among these basic features are three central ideas: (1) the murder occurs in a locked room from which there is no apparent egress.cliffs. Watson combination." that this amateur detective. or contempt." The ratiocination. That is. This technique has since been employed by numerous writers of detective fiction. on a train. In all the cases that these detectives attempt to solve. OR DETECTIVE FICTION: "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter" Part of the genius of Edgar Allan Poe is that he exceeded in a number of different types of endeavors. His unnamed friend. at times. (5) the resentment of the police for the amateur's interference. who is a devoted admirer of the detective's methods. the most famous being the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. while solving the murder. In later detective fiction. is a meddler. the story becomes one in which the reader must also accompany the detective toward the solution and apply his own powers of logic and deduction alongside those of the detective. he mediates between reader and detective. the eccentric detective has a certain disdain. instead. has the flashes of genius that the detective exhibits. In fact. and (6) the simple but careful solution of the problem through logic and intuition. in all such fiction. is not just for the detective. obviously. it remains one of Poe's finest contributions to the genre of the short story. as well as the detective. dealing with the eccentric Nero Wolfe and his sidekick. In addition to his reputation as a poet. to solve the crime (usually murder). He never. (2) the sidekick. and at the end of the story. A detective story in which the solution is suddenly revealed to the reader is considered bad form.com selections. introduces one of the basic elements of the detective story--the presentation of clues for his readers. Poe is also credited with introducing and developing many other of the standard features of modern detective fiction. where the murderer is included among the Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 13 . his originality in his literary criticisms. further examples of Poe's methodology. Poe does not allow the reader to sit back and merely observe.
the amateur detective is drawn into the case because a friend or acquaintance has been falsely accused. In later detective fiction. the narrator is thinking about a certain actor. access. custom. furthermore. M. Here is where ingenuity becomes the most important aspect in solving a crime. Strolling along the street one night. we then have the superiority of the intuitive and brilliant detective. they found it in wild disorder. For example. (In this particular story.com passengers. and civilized order and commit such a gruesome and horrible atrocity on two well-protected women? The police cannot bring themselves to conclude that a "human" could possibly do this. Then M. the murders take place in the street (the Rue) of the Morgue. where the murderer must logically still be there. First. as is Le Bon (Adolphe de Bon). the truth is what remains after the impossible has been determined--no matter how improbable that truth may seem. Poe offers some of the views expressed above about the need of the detective to be observant (more than the ordinary person). and other surface evidence points to an innocent person. Not long after this. We have noted above that all of the clues should be present but. where the murderer has to be among the people in the house. which becomes logical only in retrospect. Auguste Dupin when they were looking for a rare volume in a library. they all heard two voices. The most casual movement or expression can often reveal more than the magnifying glass which M. and they entered the apartment. nevertheless. the brilliant detective and his sidekick will often share the same living abode. the case can be solved--by the key detective. The murders can only be solved. Then there was silence. The narrator then gives us an example of M. the appeal of detective fiction lies in the unexpected solution. the more easily. That is. this convention is repeated. and. inhuman being break through the bounds of law. he was able to deduce at what point his friend had come to a certain conclusion. Dupin's brilliant analytical ability.cliffs. when a person is able to place his human mind into conformity with a non-human mind and with the irrational acts of a beast.M. Frequently in detective fiction." Thus. shortly. Two aphorisms concerning detective fiction today are also presented for the first time in this story of Poe's. therefore. the police are completely baffled. or on an estate. the house is built in such a way as to protect it from the very acts which were committed there. there is an announcement in the paper of two "extraordinary murders. the problem in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" that has the police so stumped is simply how can a nonrational. Mademoiselle Camille. who "once rendered me a service for which I am not ungrateful. When the fourth story was reached. after hurrying up to the first landing. Dupin answers without the narrator's ever having asked anything. Dupin never uses. "eight or ten" neighbors were all aroused from sleep by a "succession of terrific shrieks" from the fourth floor of the apartments of Madame L'Espanaye and her daughter. they became friends and shared an old house together. The narrator first met Monsieur C. Dupin explains how through the logic of their previous conversation and by observing certain actions in his friend's movements. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 14 . even though the police constantly rely on one to help them solve crimes. The door was locked from within. In the opening section of the story. logically. ironically. Second.www. measured against the police as he infers possibilities and probabilities and observes the scene from the inferences due to the single-mindedness and limited viewpoint of the police. with there being no way for the murderer to escape.. he must know what to observe.). and suddenly M. It took the crowd some time to break into the heavily locked gates and doors and. the superlative detective must be able to make the proper inferences from the things he observes. and all the windows were securely locked. The title of the story is straightforward--that is. the police determine or surmise that there was no possible egress from the room of the murdered women. Consequently." One night at three A. (2) motive. And also too. on an island. Dupin is drawn into the case because of an obligation to the accused. the more apparently difficult the case is and the more out of the ordinary the case is. (3) the detective uses some sort of unexpected means to produce the solution.
but no one who heard that voice could identify the accent conclusively. a Spaniard. we are given the bare facts of the murder. the woman was completely covered with bruises. and so on in every case. Dupin is accused of the murders. the Englishman thought it belonged to a German. Furthermore. but he does not understand German. and all of the witnesses agree on one matter: There were two voices--one was the deep voice of a Frenchman and the other was a shriller. head downward. instead. M.000 francs in gold from her bank. Dupin. M.www. an Englishman. Dupin then begins his now-famous method of ratiocination. M. says that he will show that "these apparent 'impossibilities' are. a setting which is extremely intriguing since the newspapers report that the crime seems impossible to solve because there could be no way for a murderer to escape from the locked. "what has occurred that has never occurred before. higher voice. It is concluded that some kind of heavy club was used on her. since the police abandoned further examination of the windows after they saw that they were nailed down. a Hollander. the nail separated when the window was open. once pressed." possible. Using this logic. but he does not understand English. It would have taken super-human strength to have put her there because it took such violents tugs to remove her. the Italian believed it to be Russian. No person can identify the nationality of the shrill voice. The newspaper recounts how the old woman had just withdrawn 4. unaccountably. however. by the hands of an extremely powerful man. The body itself was found lying in the courtyard four flights down from the woman's apartment." but. the two bags of money were found in the middle of the room. He found a nail in one window to be broken off just at the shaft so that it only appeared to be nailed shut. he discovers that the locked windows have a spring in them that. Her daughter was choked to death. The men who entered the apartment were all interviewed by the police. the Spaniard thought it to be English. so terribly that the police assume that she was bludgeoned badly before her head was almost severed. Because an acquaintance of M.cliffs. the head fell off. He announces to his friend. can be opened. but he does not understand Russian. in reality. Thus someone could have entered by the open window and closed it upon Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 15 . M. the shrill voice uttered no discernible words--only sounds. and it is impossible to determine how the body got into the courtyard because the room was completely locked from within. The old woman had "thick tresses" of her hair pulled out. Dupin decided to examine the nails. The physician and the surgeon both agree that Mademoiselle Camille was "throttled to death" and that "the corpse of the mother was horribly mutilated. but none agreed on the nationality. Dupin receives permission to investigate the environs. Among the witnesses who heard the two voices were an Italian. furthermore. M. And whereas they all agree that the deep French voice uttered discernible words. He maintains that one should not ask "what has occurred." All the bones of the old woman's leg and arm were shattered and many other bones (ribs included) were splintered. Dupin then points out to the narrator some of the obvious things that the police have overlooked. and a Frenchman. he expects a person to arrive momentarily to confirm his theory. that he is waiting on confirmation of his solution. the narrator. Each one thought that the shrill voice they all heard was the voice of a foreigner. apparently. As to the matter of egress from the room being impossible. enclosed apartment." He maintains that the solution of the mystery is in direct ratio to its apparent insolubility. and she was stuffed up the chimney. according to the police. her throat was cut so deeply across that when the police picked up the body. which was totally torn apart. Furthermore. such as mon Dieu (my God) and sacre and diable. the police reject the notion because of its impossibility.com Thus.
the sailor reached for his whip to drive the animal back into the closet." Thus. began slashing about with the razor. however. superhuman strength. and quietly asks the sailor to give him "all the information in your power about these murders in the Rue Morgue. we read that it is difficult for the Prefect to conceal his chagrin "at the turn which the affairs had taken. that the handprint was identical in size to the paw of an Ourang-Outang. quickly locks the door. it immediately hurled [the old woman] through the window. The screams were heard throughout the neighborhood. and the other shrill "sounds" were the "jabberings of the brute. the police looked up at only one angle and decided that no one could possibly climb up the outside walls. seeing blood. M. the animal became inflamed into a frenzy. the corpse of Mademoiselle Camille and thrust it up the chimney . Dupin. . swing through the shutters and into an open bedroom. Dupin provides next. are like the narrator and will need even further clues. . Then. M.www." These clues alone should allow the careful reader to venture an educated guess as to the nature of the perpetrator of the crime. the animal had a razor in its hand (it had apparently often watched the sailor shave). he has advertised for the owner to come and pick up his animal. the narrator. When M. then . The sailor then tells how he acquired an Ourang-Outang in Borneo and brought it back with the intent of selling it. thereby gaining ingress and egress to the apartment and still giving the appearance of its being impossible. as did the Ourang-Outang. Furthermore. a person or thing of great agility could conceivably hop from the lightning rod to the shutter of the window. The sailor followed and watched it climb up the lightning rod to a lighted window. Furthermore. Dupin carries his report to the Prefect of Police. so as not to arouse the owner's suspicion. he must explain a murder (a butchery) without a motive--a grotesque "horror absolutely alien from humanity" and a "voice foreign to all ears and devoid of any distinct syllabifications. moreover. he came home late and found that the animal had escaped from the closet where he had kept it and was in the sailor's bedroom. notices that if the shutters were open." As has now become traditional at the end of Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 16 .cliffs. the words which the neighbors heard were the horrified exclamations of the sailor outside the window. saying that it was found in a wooded area far from the scene of the murders. ." He assures the sailor that he knows that the sailor is innocent. he feels sure that the animal belongs to a sailor because at the foot of the lightning rod. Similarly. and since he could not swing. . the narrator realizes that it was no human hand that killed the young woman. . Dupin notices that no human being could kill with such ferocity and brutality--no human being possesses such strength. and. Thus his intuitive and analytical mind now must conceive of a murderer who has astounding agility. M. The sailor watched as the animal cut Madame L'Espanaye's throat and yanked out handfuls of her hair. It "seized . he found a ribbon. M. in frenzy. but that an innocent man is being accused of the murders. Furthermore." who escaped just as the door was being battered down by the neighbors.com leaving. When the sailor arrives for the Ourang-Outang. He shows the narrator a "little tuft" of hair that was removed from the rigidly clutched fingers of Madame L'Espanaye. but it sprang through the open door and disappeared down a street. he was forced to watch as the animal. climbed up. a detail which the police overlooked. One night. . however. a brutal and inhuman ferocity. Even the narrator now recognizes that this is not human hair. These M. Dupin then explains to his friend. accustomed to climbing ropes. Dupin pulls out his pistol. In fright. When they observed the outside of the building. thereby springing the spring closed and making it appear as though it were nailed shut since the two parts of the nail met again after the window was closed. however. Most readers. The sailor. knotted in a peculiar way which only Maltese sailors wear. after drawing a diagram of the size and shape of the hand that killed Mademoiselle Camille. Additionally in his investigations.
he begins to look for a possible equation. Then. who dared not protest). and he left a snuffbox as an excuse to return. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 17 . Finally. he becomes the first in a series of brilliant. With this in mind. His solution introduces into detective fiction the formula of "the most obvious place. He memorized the appearance of the letter. a sense of resentment. since he encounters what seems impossible. as was noted.and found the letter in plain sight but boldly disguised. This is partially due to the fact that there are no gothic elements. deciding that he would very likely have hidden the letter in plain sight. there is. One of his basic assumptions is an inversion of one of the aphorisms that was introduced in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue". The second half of "The Purloined Letter" consists of Dupin's explanation. Prefect of Police in Paris. even taking the furniture apart. In the first part. he reviewed what he knew about the case. Since it was impossible for a human being to commit the murders. visits Dupin with a problem: A letter has been stolen and is being used to blackmail the person from whom it was stolen. The story is divided into two parts. He virtually "dreams" his solutions. Before he did anything else. of course." Dupin is.cliffs. it is as though he were gifted with extrasensory perception. therefore. Retrieving his snuff-box. this is the story that employs most effectively the principle of ratiocination. His logical method is to identify his own intellect with that of another and thereby divine what another person must think or do. Monsieur G----. Monsieur G---. M. He prefers the darkness and the evening. he and his men have found nothing. Dupin invites him to write the check. "The Purloined Letter" Of all of Poe's stories of ratiocination (or detective stories). the police accept Dupin's solution to the murder--which they were incapable of solving. In the first part of the story. Having duplicated the letter. Using this theory. the demands he is making are becoming dangerous politically. this story brilliantly illustrates the concept of the intuitive intellect at work as it solves a problem logically. Dupin hands the Prefect the letter without any further comment. have important posts in the government. he is able to solve a mystifying problem that no one else is able to solve. "The Purloined Letter" emphasizes several devices from "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and adds several others. A month later.returns. The problem is to retrieve the letter. this one is told with utmost economy. Dupin visited Minister D---. By this method of ratiocination and intuitive perception. there is no human person for his intellect to identify with. the case is so difficult to solve because it appears to be so simple. Dupin's advice is that they thoroughly re-search the house. This time. "The Purloined Letter" is considered his finest. Beyond that. he reviewed everything he knew about Minister D----. Dupin tried to reconstruct the Minister's thinking. to his chronicler. M. having found nothing. more than with most of his stories. though one with connections and acquaintances in many places. he departed. the original eccentric but brilliant detective.www. as there was in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue.com the detective novel. M. Dupin begins to look for other sources. since the writer and the victim. Dupin introduces the method of psychological deduction. In this way. The Prefect has searched Minister D----'s home thoroughly. Dupin is actually a representative of a man who has a pure poetic intuition bordering on omniscience. The thief is known (Minister D----) and the method is known (substitution viewed by the victim. he exchanged his facsimile for the original during a prearranged diversion. however. when this is done. he says that he will pay fifty thousand francs to anyone who can obtain the letter for him. In conclusion. But instead of being grateful. Dupin can so completely identify with the thoughts of others that he often answers questions before they are even asked." But more important. of how he obtained the letter. He seems to be a very private person. In this story. eccentric detectives who can solve difficult murders that baffle everyone else. such as the gruesome descriptions of dead bodies. as well as Minister D----.
is particularly conducive to reflection. In other words." the reader has little chance to participate. and so on--are thought to influence the way a person feels. the Dupin-chronicler. The personality of the unnamed narrator.believes in a great deal of physical activity during an investigation. that effect is thought to be general rather than specific. the distinctions are by no means as rigid as Poe made them seem.'s character is given in the first half of the story. he seems psychologically closer to G---. lies between these two extremes.talks much and says little. while Dupin believes in a maximum of thought and a minimum of physical exertion. He is. The particular methods that are used change as more is learned about human beings. so that the reader can feel superior to him. His reactions are similar to those of the reader. he is guided in that direction to some degree. The Prefect. G----. Anything G---. this idea is somewhat still current. because there is no indication of any activity by Dupin until the second half. their behaviors. Though he shares some of Dupin's tastes--silent contemplation in darkness. Monsieur G----. seems dated. but rather to emphasize rationality. such a narrator guides our attitudes toward Dupin. his assumptions and his interjections are often erroneous. He prefers to gather his information and to ponder thoroughly before any action is taken. nor are the qualities so Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 18 . it is probably true that certain habits of thinking are likely to contribute to a person's success in a field. and we no longer believe that we can gain much knowledge of another person in this way.does not understand is "odd" and not worth considering. it would certainly be very different if it had. but only as he receives it. they also change. and. Though Dupin says that the Paris police are excellent within their limitations. The idea that the reader is a participant in the investigation of a crime and thus should be given all the information on which the detective bases his conclusions is quite modern. to evolve the idea of the reader as a participant. the narrator takes the common view and attitude toward mathematicians. for example. indeed. and rather easy. Consequently. an hour or more of contemplative silence seems common. however. Naturally. however. as psychological theories change. Attempting to determine the psychology of the criminal is an honorable tradition in detective fiction. the narrator is a mediator between Dupin and the reader. stressing logical thinking as the means of solving problems. and their motivations. though he is somewhat less astute than the reader.'s point of view is extremely narrow. with this method and approach established. For instance. because he did not witness the case being solved. that if the police have not been able to find the letter after their search. such a narrator determines the amount of information which a reader receives and guides the attention of the reader to the information received. in awe of Dupin's abilities and methods. while G---. the detective story may never have developed. In this case. that is a matter for investigation. However. G---.'s limitations are quite severe. And. he seems to be learned in a number of areas--mathematics and poetry. while the reader may maintain a more critical distance. perhaps even more. for example. Dupin considers things broadly.is almost wholly concerned with physical details and evidence. Thus. he is an expert in the psychology of people of various types. Thus. he feels.than to Dupin. G---. and the case. second.cliffs. In addition. Poe's purpose was not to invite reader participation. the boy whom Dupin uses as an example arranges his face so it is as similar to the other person's expression as possible. In the sense that outward expressions--facial expressions. He seems to be a rather ordinary person with rather ordinary views and ideas. much of Poe's--or Dupin's--psychology. this is supposed to give rise to thoughts and feelings that are similar to those of the other person. Dupin's exposition of his thought processes are the most important part of the story. In "The Purloined Letter. he assumes.com darkness. Finally. clothes. of course. especially the explanations. Without this highlighting of the logical investigation and solution of a problem.www. it became logical. then it must be elsewhere. for example. the narrator tells us everything. for example--and has some understanding of Dupin's methods. is a contrast to Dupin. He talks little. for Dupin. a position that Dupin explicitly suggests is idiocy. the reader doesn't either. Whereas Dupin is primarily concerned with the psychological elements of the case. first because little information about Minister D---. G---. it is clear that G---. In his argument with Dupin about mathematicians.
Unlike some commentators who thought that Poe was trying to determine exactly what constitutes madness. particularly when that madness manifests itself in an otherwise normal person.com narrow." is on the fact that the narrator is sometimes aware that he is going mad. therefore. each of them loses his sanity momentarily. In both stories treated here. The cruel acts performed by the criminal in both stories are de-emphasized in order to examine the mind of the criminal. (5) both love their victims deeply (the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" loves the old man he murders. is capable of performing the most irrational and horrible act imaginable. of course. The stories in this section. Thus. we note the mental state of the psychotic killer. Yet even with this self-knowledge. applicable to other kinds of problems posed in detective fiction.www. and. and the sciences in particular. Other details in "The Purloined Letter" reveal the story's era--the political system in France. there are even more basic similarities: Both stories. Poe made one assumption throughout his writings that is very important in understanding both of these stories. his method is direct. part of Poe's greatness lies in the diversity of his creativity. Instead. and the assumption that the case that seems simplest may be the most difficult to solve. Poe's emphasis in these stories. he is closer to the solution of the crime. are Poe's best examples of another type of story. the solution of the most obvious place. Although the principles that Dupin works from are rather outdated. yet in fact. is capable of falling into madness at any given moment. the story still reads well. STORIES OF THE PSYCHOTIC PERSONALITY: "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" Many of Poe's short stories treat the same type of phenomena. (3) in addition. average. one who tries to give a rational explanation for his irrational and compulsive acts. Aside from the general patterns and concerns that are present in both stories. In other stories. these stories deal with those subconscious mental activities which cause a person who leads a socalled normal existence to suddenly change and perform drastic. both narrators are seemingly average people at the beginning of their chronological narratives. and the details are overshadowed by the sweep of the puzzle and the story. changing mental state. mad am I not"). This method is. Nevertheless. "The Purloined Letter" would be of prime historical importance for it establishes the method of psychological deduction. and (4) both perform crimes that are both irrational and intensely personal. "The Purloined Letter" provides both.cliffs. Poe creates a feeling of horror in the reader's mind by certain acts of cruelty: Here. begin with (1) a first-person narrator who (2) begins his story by asserting that he is not mad ("Why will you say I am mad" and "Yet. every mind. whenever the detective can learn and apply some knowledge of the criminal's psychology. and the narrator of "The Black Cat" loves and adores his wife. for example. particularly in "The Black Cat. Even if the story were not still interesting reading. he believed. ironically (6) the murderers' love for their victims makes their crimes Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 19 . Poe assumed that any man. mathematics. the narrator's murder of his wife in "The Black Cat" occurs so suddenly that we hardly notice the horrible cruelty of the act. the reverse is true. these are tales of the psychotic personality. horrible deeds. Yet without warning. Poe was more accurately concerned with the conditions and the various stages which lead a person to commit acts of madness. Both narrators in these stories are--just prior to their atrocities--considered to be normal. Whether one is interested in good reading or has a historical interest in detective fiction. Dupin's comments about poetry. at any given moment. he can do nothing about his terrifying. and everything he wrote carries with it the distinctive trademark that would identify it as being a work by Edgar Allan Poe. likewise. the criminal is so completely occupied with his own mental state and in justifying his horrifying actions that the reader is not nearly as aghast at the horrors that the criminal perpetrates. as he is at the bizarre mental state of the criminal. commonplace men. for example.
he opened his lantern just enough so that one small ray of light would cast its tiny ray upon "the vulture eye." and would quietly and cunningly poke his head very slowly through the door. but that he is terribly mad. for example.cliffs.www. The story gains its intensity by the manner in which it portrays how the narrator stalks his victim--as though he were a beast of prey." As with Usher. with a film over it. Every night at twelve o'clock." Next. ambiguous investigation of a man's paranoia. he hopes. he opened the door ever so cautiously. There are other similarities in the two stories. adding.com even more irrational. This type is found throughout all of Poe's fiction." and in "The Black Cat" it is considered before the narrator finally decides to entomb the corpse in the chimney. "The Tell-Tale Heart" Even though this is one of Poe's shortest stories. The story begins with the narrator admitting that he is a "very dreadfully nervous" type. particularly in the over-wrought. Ironically. foresight. he would slowly open the door. only a human being could so completely terrorize his victim before finally killing it. Both narrators begin their stories at a moment when they are sane and rational. which in turn causes him to murder the old man. and on earth that other people are not even aware of. His over-sensitivity becomes in this story the ultimate cause of his obsession with the old man's eye. this story shows the narrator's attempt to rationalize his irrational behavior. Both stories attempt to present an exterior view of the interior disintegration of the narrator. he decides to take the old man's life. yet." Without any real motivation. the narrator's over-confidence in the superiority of his concealment of the body leads directly to the discovery of the body. this is actually done in "The Tell-Tale Heart. might consider him mad for this decision. how thoroughly objective he can be while commenting on the horrible deed he committed. (8) in both cases." The Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 20 . the narrator offers as proof of his sanity the calmness with which he can narrate the story. the narrator deliberately terrorizes the old man before killing him. In a sense. In conclusion." Thus. the narrator here believes that his nervousness has "sharpened my senses--not destroyed--not dulled them. other than his psychotic obsession. It would sometimes take him an hour to go that far--"would a madman have been so wise as this?" he asks. Poe's "murderer" is created into a type of grotesque anomaly. and dissimulation he executed his deeds. it is nevertheless a profound and. elevated by human intelligence to a higher level of human endeavor. The story begins boldly and unexpectedly: "I loved the old man. he reveals that he was obsessed with the old man's eye--"the eye of a vulture--a pale blue eye. These tales are perhaps Poe's most thorough investigations of the capacity of the human mind to deceive itself and then to speculate on the nature of its own destruction. at times. at the same time. He attempts to bring reason into the picture to explain a completely irrational act. yet he will continue his story and will reveal not only that he is mad. then when he was just inside. and throughout the story." the narrator says. hyper-sensitive Roderick Usher in "The Fall of the House of Usher. then. (7) both narrators consider dismembering the corpses of the victims. he begins by stating that he is not mad. the narrator is worse than a beast. "He had never wronged me. thus showing. the readers. we observe their changing mental states. And as noted in the introduction to this section. Even though he knows that we. the narrator attempts a rational examination and explanation for his impulsive and irrational actions. yet he plans to prove his sanity by showing how "wisely" and with what extreme precaution. in both of these stories. but these basic correlatives suffice to show how Poe uses similar techniques to achieve the desired effects in each story. "oh so gently. For seven nights. as. hell. His sensitivities allow him to hear and sense things in heaven.
for the heart seemed to be "beating . he decided it was now the time to commit the deed. As he surveyed his work.www. When he says "I fairly chuckled at the idea. as in most of Poe's stories. unlike the preceding seven nights. It is at this point in the story that we have our first ambiguity based upon the narrator's over-sensitivity and madness. the unexpected becomes the normal.com following morning. On this particular night. the narrator's hand slipped on the clasp of the lantern." We should note that the words used here to describe the beating of the heart are the exact words used only moments earlier to describe the murder of the old man. the narrator thinks that he is hearing his own increased heartbeat. The police were there to investigate some shrieks. He grew agitated and spoke with a heightened voice." The officers were so convinced that there was nothing to be discovered in the apartment that could account for the shrieks that they sat around chatting idly." we know that we are indeed dealing with a highly disturbed personality--despite the fact that he seems to present his story very coherently. Here. when he opened his lantern to let a small ray of light out. he dismembered the old man. (To the reader. quick sound": It was the beating of the old man's heart. dull. dramatically. louder [and] louder. Consequently. this is an unexpected turn of events. the narrator carefully removed the planks from the floor in the old man's room and placed all the parts of the body under the floor. that he is. . he would go into the old man's chamber and speak to him with cordiality and friendship. The question is. the door bell rang at 4 A. Thus. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 21 . obviously. pulled the mattress over him and slowly the muffled sound of the heart ceased to beat." the moans of the victim heighten the terror of the story. and he brought a chair and sat upon "the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim. Furthermore. On the eighth night. But he warns the reader not to mistake his "over-acuteness of the senses" for madness because he says that suddenly there came to his ears "a low. crying out--'Who's there?'" He can see nothing because the shutters are all closed." When he saw that "hideous veiled eye. in fact.") The narrator admitted the police to the house "with a light heart" since the old man's heart was no longer beating. He dragged the old man to the floor.cliffs. whose heart does he hear? We all know that in moments of stress and fright our own heartbeat increases so rapidly that we feel every beat. the murder of the old man is within the confines of his small bedroom with the shutters closed and in complete darkness. as in works like "The Cask of Amontillado. not mad. Likewise. and the old man immediately "sprang up in bed." The narrator knew that the old man felt that he was in the room and. and afterward there was not a spot of blood anywhere: "A tub had caught all--ha! ha!" The mere narration here shows how the narrator. with his wild laughter. Afterward." The narrator was suddenly aware that the old man's heartbeat was so loud that the neighbors might hear it. the action proper of the story takes place within a closed surrounding--that is. from the psychological point of view. First. the delight he takes in dismembering the old man is an act of extreme abnormality. dull quick sound. . no one could consider him to be mad. has indeed lost his rational faculties." Again the narrator attempts to show us that because of the wise precautions he took. The old man's moans were "low stifled sounds that arose from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. it was "a low. it "fell full upon the vulture eye. see the section on "Edgar Allan Poe and Romanticism. The sound increased. Then suddenly a noise began within the narrator's ears. After the dismembering and the cleaning up were finished. The old man was dead--"his eye would trouble me no more.M. he bade the police to sit down. the heartbeat which he heard excited him to uncontrollable terror. the time had come." he became furious. and he let the police thoroughly search the entire house. but in such tales. As he waits.
In virtually all of Poe's tales. the police continued to chat pleasantly. a narrator who believes that he is not mad because he can logically describe events which seem to prove him to be mad. if there really were a beating heart up under the floor boards." And during the process of proving that he is not mad. we see increasingly the actions of a madman who knows that he is going mad but who. PERVERSENESS.com As the beating increased. on the present occasion. [and] anything was better than this agony!" Thus. Poe has given us one of the most powerful examples of the capacity of the human mind to deceive itself and then to speculate on the nature of its own destruction. but he finds himself unable to reverse his falling into madness. it is akin to "The Tell-Tale Heart" in that the narrator begins his story by asserting that he is not mad ("Yet. At the end of the story.www. "The Black Cat" illustrates best the capacity of the human mind to observe its own deterioration and the ability of the mind to comment upon its own destruction without being able to objectively halt that deterioration. who has just finished the gruesome act of dismembering a corpse. By this. The narrator of "The Black Cat" is fully aware of his mental deterioration. It is established at the beginning of the story that he is over-sensitive--that he can hear and feel things that others cannot. "The Black Cat" More than any of Poe's stories. and at certain points in the story." he wrote about the importance of creating a unity or totality of effect in his stories. Clearly."it is obvious that the chief effect that Poe wanted to achieve was a sense of absolute and total perverseness--"irrevocable . here!--it is the beating of his hideous heart!" Early commentators on the story saw this as merely another tale of terror or horror in which something supernatural was happening. . we know nothing about the narrator's background. These two factors cause his heart rate to accelerate to the point that his heartbeat is pounding in his ears so loudly that he cannot stand the psychological pressure any longer.cliffs. He can stand the horror no longer because he knows that "they were making a mockery of my horror . he screams out to the police: "I admit the deed!--tear up the planks! here. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 22 . mad am I not--") and. as the beating of the heart becomes intolerable. at times. the narrator. The narrator's "tell-tale" heart causes him to convict himself. it is less ambiguous. he recognizes the change that is occurring within him." Clearly. In contrast to the turmoil going on in the narrator's mind. many of the narrator's acts are without logic or motivation. the narrator "foamed [and] raved" adjectives commonly used to apply to a mad man. what one shall I. In Poe's critical essay. then the police would have heard it. . The conciseness of the story and its intensity and economy all contribute to the total impact and the overall unity of effect. he wants to place before the world a logical outline of the events that "have terrified--have tortured--have destroyed me. select?" In "The Black Cat. To the modern reader. "The Philosophy of Composition. In addition. this particular story is no exception. of which the heart or the soul is susceptible. then. the beating of the heart occurs within the narrator himself. at the same time. he meant that the artist should decide what effect he wants to create in a story and in the reader's emotional response and then proceed to use all of his creative powers to achieve that particular effect: "Of the innumerable effects. Thus he confesses to his horrible deed. and he tries to do something about it. The narrator wonders how it was possible that they did not hear the loud beating which was becoming louder and louder. but that he actually heard the heart of the old man still beating. . . or impressions. cannot cope with the highly emotional challenge needed when the police are searching the house. In the narrator's belief that he is not mad. We have here. is able to objectively comment on the process of his increasing madness. they are merely acts of perversity.
. their instincts. the narrator could not forget about the black cat. their logic. "I grew. Interestingly. Then suddenly (due partly to alcohol). and the ammonia from the carcass (cats are filled with ammonia. . the spirit of perverseness overcame him again--this time. which had just been replastered and was still wet. His parents indulged his fondness for animals. he visited the ruins of the house and saw a crowd of people gathered about. this superstition becomes a part of the story when the second black cat is believed to be a reincarnation of the dead Pluto with only one slight but horrible modification--the imprint of the gallows on its breast. One wall. was still standing. and he was allowed to have many different kinds of pets." To reiterate the comments in the introduction to this section. and their habits)--all these factors contributed to the creation of the graven image. he writes. day by day. the narrator underwent a significant change. then grasped the cat by its throat and with a pen knife.cliffs. thus we must assume that the image took on gigantic proportions only within the mind of the narrator. he found out that no one knew anything about the cat. But the narrator does not account for the fact that the image is that of a gigantic cat. more irritable. he slipped a noose around the neck of the cat and hanged it from the limb of a tree. The effect of this change is indicated when he came home intoxicated. This act of perversity is the beginning of several such acts which will characterize the "totality of effect" that Poe wanted to achieve in this story. which he then proceeded to take Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 23 . It was the wall just above where his bed had previously stood and engraved into the plaster was a perfect image of the figure of a gigantic cat. on the following day. flung it into the burning house to awaken the narrator. The other popular notion relevant to this story is the belief that a cat has nine lives. Again. imagined that the beloved cat avoided him. the name Pluto (which is the name of one of the gods of the underworld in charge of witches) becomes significant in terms of the entire story. The next morning. the narrator undergoes such a change. As the cat continued to avoid the narrator. known for his docility and his humane considerations of animals and people. and the burning of the house. more moody. For months. Among the many animals that they possessed was a black cat which they named Pluto. tears streamed down his face. Poe believed that a man was capable at any time of undergoing a complete and total reversal of personality and of falling into a state of madness at any moment. he was very fortunate to marry a woman who was also fond of animals. after the cruel deed was executed. more regardless of the feelings of others. cut out one of its eyes. and one night when he was drinking heavily. Here. he was horrified by what he had done. to do wrong for the wrong's sake only. However. with an unfathomable longing of the soul to "offer violence . Being a rational and analytical person. Poe wrote essays on cats." Suddenly one morning.com In this story. and in time the cat recovered but now it deliberately avoided the narrator. He believes that someone found the cat's dead body. Pluto was the narrator's favorite animal and for several years. What he did was an act of pure perversity. the narrator refuses to see a connection between his perverse atrocity of killing the cat and the disaster that consumed his house. the narrator begins his confession in retrospect. but even while doing it. He is ashamed of his perversity because he knows that the cat had loved him and had given him no reason to hang it. the falling of the walls. we have an example of the mad mind offering up a rational rejection of anything so superstitious that the burning of the house might be retribution for his killing the cat. That night. the narrator's mad mind attempts to offer a rational explanation for this phenomena. and there was a rope about the animal's neck. he saw another black cat that looked exactly like Pluto--except for a splash of white on its breast. his house burned to the ground. there was a very special relationship between the animal and the narrator. Furthermore. Since his wife often made allusions to the popular notion that all black cats are witches in disguise. at a time when he was considered to be a perfectly normal person.www. Upon inquiry. Once again.
the narrator decided to put the cat to death. In the mind of the narrator. but his wife arrested the blow. As in "The Tell-Tale Heart. One day. Like the narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart. the narrator decided that the "monster of a cat" had disappeared forever. in an act of insane bravado." The walls next to the projecting chimney lent themselves to this type of interment. such as might have arisen only out of hell.www. a party of police unexpectedly arrives to inspect the premises. I had walled the monster up within the tomb. He withdrew his arm and then buried the axe in her brain. the narrator develops an absolute dread of the cat." here we can assume that the change occurs within the mind of the mad man in the same way that he considers this beast to be a reincarnation of the original Pluto. he was now able to sleep soundly in spite of the foul deed that he had done. ghastly. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 24 . . conjointly from the throats of the damned in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation.com home with him." The final irony. and after having accomplished the deed and cleaning up in such a way that nothing was detectable. he cries out. one of its eyes missing. and they discover the rotting corpse of the narrator's wife and. the cat nearly tripped him. it was a muffled and broken cry.cliffs. and loathsome image of the gallows. "Oh. This lack of guilt is certainly a change from what his feelings were at the beginning of the story." the narrator here realizes that he must get rid of the body. caused him to soon change. . but then it swelled into an "utterly anomalous and inhuman . is that the cat which he had come to so despise--the cat that might have been the reincarnation of Pluto--serves as a figure of retribution against the murderer. standing upon her decayed head was the "hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder . he decided to "wall it up in the cellar" in a similar way that Montresor walled up his victim in "The Cask of Amontillado." he says. this act of perversity far exceeds the hanging of Pluto and can only be accounted for by Poe's theme of the perversity of the narrator's acts. . however. a wailing shriek. he delights in the fact that he has so cleverly and so completely concealed his horrible crime that he welcomes an inspection of the premises. What increased his loathing of the new cat was that it had. . He even notes to himself that the one trait that had once distinguished him--a humanity of feeling--had now almost totally disappeared." when the police arrive unexpectedly. When he discovers that the white splash on its breast. However. of how the mad man can stand at a distance and watch the process of his own change and madness. that to his abject terror. of course. On the fourth day. . the narrator here is overconfident. He thought of "cutting the corpse into minute fragments. By the end of the story." The police immediately began to tear down the brick wall. The narrator's perversity. The cat became a great favorite of his and his wife. we never know what motivated the police to come on a search. This is an example. like Pluto. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the narrator loved his wife very deeply. as he and his wife were going into the cellar. it had disappeared. After a time. as noted in the introduction. here. After three days. . he raps so heavily upon the bricks that entomb his wife. this cat was obviously a reincarnation of Pluto. Unaccountably. had "assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline" and was clearly and obviously a hideous." but rather than dismemberment. a "voice from within the tomb" answered. This sudden gruesome act is not prepared for in any way. he grabbed an axe to kill it. At first. as did the previous narrator in "The TellTale Heart. It was at this time that he began to loathe the cat. half of horror and half of triumph. mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime--of Agony and of Death!" As we were able to do in "The TellTale Heart. and the cat's fondness for them began to disgust him. which at first was rather indefinite. Consequently. howl . And in the same way.
Furthermore. in order to make the evil seem both more alien and more horrible. In these two stories of Poe's. Also in both cases. there is an emphasis upon the labyrinthine cellars of the school and the long underground vaults of the Montresor mansion. but it conforms in principle to Montresor's vengeance against Fortunato. and yet each succeeds only in convincing the reader that he is indeed mad. In the stories of the psychotic criminal. The plot is quite simple. the name is not the important issue. thus we know that the entombment occurred at least fifty years ago. also. the critics Alternbrand and Lewis: Introduction to Literature: The Short Story). In contrast. the setting is some time in the past. in fact. it is short and can be read at one sitting. like so many of Poe's stories. each narrator of those stories is trying to convince his readers through his logical method of narration that he is not mad. an assumed name is as good as any. there is a perverse. In "William Wilson. it has often been considered to be one of the world's most perfect short stories. Finally. In each case. in some foreign country (or countries). Montresor can stand no more. for some critics. "the entombed body of Fortunato has gone for fifty years without being detected. it is a completely unified work and while it is seemingly simple. there is a strong kinship to the psychotic criminal as seen in "The TellTale Heart" and "The Black Cat. "The Cask of Amontillado" "The Cask of Amontillado" has been almost universally referred to as Poe's most perfect short story. well-wrought plan conceived in order to wreak vengeance upon an unsuspecting victim. it is a mood piece with every sentence contributing to the total effect. (2) In both stories.www. while quite different in their ultimate aim. Glendinning. we must note that the story is narrated some time after the horrible deed was performed. in both stories. in contrast to the highly disreputable deed he commits. In "William Wilson. announces immediately that someone named Fortunato has injured him repeatedly and has recently insulted him. (5) Finally." Yet there are significant differences: (1) These stories are among the very few stories that Poe wrote where the narrator of the story is given a name. these two masterpieces. Montresor and William Wilson seem to have other reasons for telling about their heinous deeds. the other character (Fortunato) addresses the narrator as Montresor. in "The Cask of Amontillado. consequently. he vows revenge upon Fortunato. TALES OF THE EVIL (OR DOUBLE) PERSONALITY: "The Cask of Amontillado" and "William Wilson" These are two of Poe's greatest short stories. for example. show the perverse mind of the narrator operating in a seemingly rational manner. is not the main aspect of the story." however. every line and comment contributes to the totality or unity of effect that Poe sought to achieve. In "The Cask of Amontillado. the main character's motive in telling about his horrible and heinous crime is never revealed. (4) In both stories. Thus. it conforms to and illustrates perfectly many of Poe's literary theories about the nature of the short story: that is. we can see how the narrator. The first-person narrator. the narrator comes from a highly respected family. For example. do share many qualities in common and do.com therefore. in commenting on his own actions. The remainder of the story Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 25 . it abounds in ironies of many kinds. convicts himself of the madness which he vehemently declaimed at the beginning of the story. In both stories. whom we later discover to be named Montresor. which are in fact so great that they almost escape classification. thus allowing the reader to know the narrator's name.cliffs. (3) And in each case. "The Cask of Amontillado"is often used as an example of the perfect short story (see. in fact. the reader must wonder why the narrator chose to reveal such a horrible deed about himself." the narrator announces that he is assuming this name since his real name would shock us--why we don't know. But in the latter story." the plan against the gambling opponent. which in fact deals with a double.
however. Amid the gaiety of the carnival." When Fortunato noted how extensive the vaults were. and Montresor returned the toast to Fortunato's "long life. even pretending that his vaults where the wine was stored had too much dampness and "nitre" for Fortunato's afffiction. at the end of the story. which he brought with him. Foremost is the fact that Montresor has never let Fortunato know of his hatred. a double irony since the trowel is not only an instrument used by real masons (bricklayers. This seemingly kind act. Fortunato says that he has forgotten what Montresor's coat of arms looks like. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 26 . the cold and the nitre fumes increased. In fact. and Fortunato asked for another drink. in a field azure.). of fine wines. As they passed deeper into the vaults. Montresor had been planning this revenge for a long time and. ironically. and in this case it will become an instrument of Fortunato's death--shortly after he implies that Montresor is not good enough to be a member of the Masonic Order. Earlier. Fortunato walked unsteadily and the "bells upon his cap jingled" as they descended. but it is one of the emblems of the Masonic Order." Then. Apparently. In only a few minutes. and especially a devotee of a sherry known as Amontillado. mad plan into motion with full confidence that he would never be discovered. Fortunato was sure that Montresor didn't understand the gesture because it belonged to the secret order of the masons--an order that Fortunato was certain that Montresor couldn't belong to. Accordingly.www. of course. had chosen carnival time as the setting for this most horrible type of crime. he was sure he would avoid any possibility of being detected. which Fortunato emptied and then tossed the bottle into the air with a certain symbolic gesture. As the two men proceeded further along the tunnels. or connoisseur. This statement. This is. in this way he would avoid arousing Fortunato's suspicions and would also prevent anyone from witnessing the atrocity he planned to commit. both the motto and the coat of arms imply that the entire Montresor family history is filled with acts of revenge. At this point. Montresor set his fiendish. unknowingly. one evening during carnival time. He tantalized Fortunato with the rare liquor. Fortunato then showed him a sign of the masons--a trowel. He states that his family's coat of arms has on it "a huge human foot d'or [foot of gold]. since what appears to be an act of kindness is only an act performed to keep the victim alive long enough to get him to the niche where he will be buried alive.cliffs. Montresor complied while wrapping himself in a cloak to make sure that he would not be recognized. At one point. stone masons. he had let all of the servants off for the night. etc. creating a further carnival atmosphere or a joyous time. in his drunkenness. As they descended into the vaults. bringing himself closer to his living death. it will he seen that Montresor is indeed a superb mason. Montresor flattered him by obsequiously asking his opinion on a newly acquired cask of Amontillado. Montresor paused and offered Fortunato a bottle of Medoc wine to help ward off the cold and the fumes of the nitre. of course. Montresor gave him a bottle of De Grave. Knowing that Fortunato considered himself a great expert. Fortunato was determined to taste the wine and insisted on being taken to Montresor's home. the readers. Fortunato drank the Medoc and once again became boisterous and once more "his bells jingled. However. using the excuse of the carnival. carries undertones of the most vicious irony." Fortunato toasted Montresor's buried ancestors. Thus. a time which will ironically end soon with the living death of the unfortunate Fortunato. at the time of the story's setting. a time when much frivolity and celebration would be taking place. we. Montresor told him that he heard that the Montresors "were a great and numerous family. but he was drunkenly determined to continue. thus flinging Montresor another insult and. are certain that his atrocity will never be discovered. the nitre caused Fortunato to cough constantly. the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel" and that the family motto is "Nemo me impune lacessit" (No one attacks me with impunity).com deals with Montresor's methods of entrapping Fortunato and effecting his revenge upon the unfortunate Fortunato. would be yet one more of the many blatant insults for which Montresor hates Fortunato.
Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 27 . Montresor is using the atmosphere of celebration to disguise the horribly atrocious act of entombing a man alive. but he did hear the jingling of Fortunato's bells as he laid the last stone in place. in paintings. Thus. from what we can glean from the story. there came a long low laugh from within. in wines. After all. diabolical scheme of revenge. When Fortunato stepped inside. If indeed there was an insult of such magnitude. in spite of the reputed insults of Fortunato. then since Montresor seems to be apparently addressing someone. Montresor uncovered a "quantity of building stone and mortar" and began to "wall up the entrance. his victim has rested in peace for fifty years. At one of the catacombs. he ran into the granite wall. perhaps noble family. ironically. The reader should. and at the time of the deed Montresor could not have been a young person. and it is evident that he possesses considerable intelligence. they have progressed to the place of the dead where Fortunato will spend the rest of his existence--ironically. he "heard the furious vibrations of the chain. of course. Montresor told Fortunato that the Amontillado was inside. is shocked by the diabolical efficiency of the murderer. his entire plan of revenge was contrived with such perfection that Montresor had to be an exceptionally gifted person. then is Fortunato unaware of it to such an extent that he would accompany the person that he has insulted into such a dreadful place? Or was he simply drunk with the carnival madness that was occurring throughout the city? The reader." Resuming his chore. and Montresor quickly locked him to the wall with a chain. By the time Montresor had finished the last tier. too." a request which Montresor mocked by repeating the phrase. But then. in height six or seven. The name of the victim. which was "in depth about four feet. Fortunato pleaded "For the love of God. Then there was silence. the story abounds in ironies. or niche. Montresor.cliffs." is the first irony. at first. Suddenly there was "a succession of loud and shrill screams" from inside the crypt and. and he is also a person of considerable taste (in gems. alongside the relatives of a man who hates him with an unbelievable intensity. the reader should ask himself whom Montresor is talking to (or writing about) and why. with only one more stone to be put into place. the most terrible and gruesome deeds are executed in a carnival atmosphere of gaiety and happiness. he completed three more tiers. Then." With only the first tier completed. Since the deed was committed some fifty years ago. meaning "the fortunate one. clearly. As noted in this discussion. much less resist his imprisonment. and also by the fact that Montresor has lived with impunity. at one point ask himself who is Montresor. he was clever at the right time. It could be that he is talking to one of his descendants. Montresor.com As they continued their journey. Finally. again. Montresor heard deep moans from within. Fortunato was too drunk to even realize what was going on. Montresor was momentarily frightened and then he delighted in joining in with the screams.www. Then Fortunato's voice called upon Montresor to put an end to this joke. Montresor led Fortunato into a small crypt. Very quickly. came from an ancient. in width three. he must now be very old. albeit a type of diabolical intelligence. Then Montresor looked through the remaining opening with his torch and could see nothing. the question arises: How could a gifted person imagine insults of such magnitude so as to cause him to effect such a horrible revenge? Informing the entire story is the nature of an insult that could evoke such a well-planned. and also. Remember that he anticipated letting the servants off at a time that would not arouse suspicion since it was carnival time. or else making his last confession to a priest. For fifty years. perhaps. Fortunato. and in other matters). In his plan to entomb Fortunato in the Montresor catacombs. no one has disturbed the peace of this place. he tells us. his planning was perfect. the entire situation is ironic--that is. we discover that there are numerous catacombs of long deceased relatives. and by the time he had laid the fourth tier. and.
who thought he saw a smile of warmth and friendliness. but Poe's genius is most evident when he creates such a catalogue as this. Montresor's first words to him were "you are luckily met. The same is true when Fortunato insults Montresor concerning the masons--both a secret. Likewise. the jingling of the bells announcing his death. a tool of which Montresor will use for a most dishonorable deed. that someone might extend a bit of sympathy to him. He became suddenly evil. the irony of the coat of arms. honorable order which requires close scrutiny for a person to become a member and. The school that Wilson attended was an old one. hollow notes of the church-bell.com The double and ironic viewpoint continues on every plane." The reason for this secrecy. and the only respite from its strict Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 28 . this story fits well into Poe's dictum that everything in a well-written story must contribute to a total effect. he also says that the story he will relate about himself has no parallel as a tale of evil. He was not. When Montresor met Fortunato. the narrator has decided to tell his story.www. Poe's multitude of details are spell-binding and create a complete unity of effect for this tale. he says. he little knows that he is drinking a toast to his own impending death. the irony of Fortunato's name. Wilson grew up in a "large. he says. But it happened. "all virtue dropped bodily as a mantle." ancient houses. and later when he sneers at the possibility that Montresor could be a mason (and the irony connected with the type of mason which Montresor actually becomes)--all of these and many more contribute to the complete unity of this perfect short story. instead. The constant use of irony--the drinking of the wine to warm Fortunato so that he can continue his journey to his death. an honorable trade. the irony in the unintentional remarks (or were they?) that Fortunato makes. he smiled continually at Fortunato. and the "deep. It is as though Poe suddenly thrust a sharp symbol of unknown mystery into his already darkly picturesque chronicle. in fact. lies "embedded" in this sleepy atmosphere. For the present. it is a descriptive stage setting for his story." Here." The ironic reversal is true: Within a short time." All this can be easily visualized. as most men do. rambling Elizabethan house" in a "misty-looking village of England. the carnival atmosphere versus the atrocities. evil." and there can be no argument about their effectiveness.) Because he is near death. Wilson recalls "gigantic and gnarled trees. surrounded by high walls that were topped with a layer of mortar and jagged glass. note the abundance of adjectives which Poe uses to create a "totality of effect. it seems. it seems more like some fearsome dream than reality. of course. he insists. It was prison-like." (As noted in the introduction to "Stories of the Psychotic Personality. the chilliness of deep shady walks. is that his real name would stain the purity of the white paper he writes upon. we should call him "William Wilson. he says." What happened now seems impossible. "William Wilson" The narrator of this short story prefers that his real name remain a secret. extremely severe. when in reality. Likewise. he was a "slave of circumstances beyond human control. Wilson. This exaggeration is one of the distinguishing features of Poe's style. Fortunato will be entombed alive. the smile was a satanic smile in anticipation of Fortunato's entombment. In general. in this same vein. saying that he doesn't remember what the Montresor coat of arms is." Poe believes that any man is capable of performing irrational acts at any time and that every mind can instantly move from sanity to madness.cliffs. and thus he begins his story with a description of his early years. In his memory. did not become evil by degrees. when Fortunato drinks a toast to the people buried in the catacombs. Note in particular one feature--the gothic church steeple. and he hopes. though rather futilely.
The many corridors and "windings" further evoke Poe's favorite subject: the unexplainable dimensions and secret recesses of the human soul. where he quickly "washed away the froth of [his] past hours" and dived into a sea of "thoughtless folly. ironically. in the latest fashion. . The man is a paradox. At any minute the school might realize what a joke the Other was making of Wilson--and yet it was unfair that they couldn't see through the charade he was making of Wilson. the "double nature" of the Reverend Dr. a figure who made his breast "heave. Wilson became sober in an instant. this other William Wilson. but no one seemed to notice--only Wilson did." and Wilson wondered if what he now saw "was the result. seized Wilson by the arm and whispered "William Wilson!" in his ear. Wilson is well aware that his frustration and fear and hatred of the Other was ridiculous." The figure was Wilson. as coincidence would have it. It is easy to get lost in its bowels. And when Wilson did best him. it foreshadows Wilson's confusion about this "double" at the school. The stranger strode up. his voice seemed to be a weird and ghostly echo of Wilson's own voice. he put out the light and left the school." his knees "totter." and his whole spirit become "possessed with horror. Wilson has never forgotten the preacher-principal of the school." The only discernible difference between the two chaps was that the Other could not speak above a whisper. One night after a week of partying. for he considered himself a mini-dictator of sorts among his school pals. The house. whom we shall call the Other. he had a "sour visage" and administered the school's laws with extreme severity. it is impossible to figure out where in its two-story construction (even the construction is "double") the students sleep. Furthermore. he and the Other were "the most inseparable of companions. He had planned to play a practical joke on him for a long time. we should also note how Wilson describes the building where the students eat and sleep and have their instruction. The Other seemed to mock him by acting like a caricature of Wilson. This cannot be. and of the same height and build as Wilson and. In church. close to the end of Wilson's fifth year at the school. . and neither should we. is symbolic of the two William Wilsons who will appear. Wilson got out of bed. Wilson saw lying there before him in a pool of bright light. The corrupt secret about Wilson's life which he will shortly reveal to us is also a paradox: At the school is a boy with the same name. and standing outside the school. When he did speak.cliffs. He competed with him in the classroom. and on the playground--all of which infuriated Wilson. Carrying a lamp and pulling aside the curtains. he enrolled as a student at Eton. Wilson confesses that. never to return again." He will not describe his life of dissolution at Eton.www. he had a "countenance . moreover. the same birthday. As another element of foreshadowing. Not surprisingly. The old house has "really no end". in sports. merely of the habitual practice of sarcastic imitation?" With a shudder. he simply excelled and dominated with ease. but he does tell us of one strange incident that happened. near morning. he arrives at the school on the same day that Wilson does. Wilson feared the Other because his rival didn't seem to have a burning desire to excel and dominate. a visitor was announced. then. and yet it was not Wilson. One night. stole through "a wilderness of narrow passages" and found his rival sleeping. was a rival of Wilson. Then the stranger's manner Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 29 .com oppressiveness were the brief walking trips on Saturdays and the ceremony of the Sunday church services. From the beginning. demurely benign". His rival did not look like this "in the vivacity of his waking hours. its corridors are like a labyrinth and double back on themselves." Secretly. and it was embarrassing that the Other challenged him to a "perpetual struggle. Bransby is an inkling of what is about to happen to Wilson. After some months. Only Wilson seemed to be aware of the Other's "knowing and sarcastic" smiles. Wilson found it infuriating that the Other seemed to like him. In addition. he and a few of his friends were drinking and gambling in his apartment when. and yet it is. and the puzzle of where the students actually sleep suggests the mysterious dreamlike nature of the story which Wilson is going to tell us. the Other was so adroit at losing that he made it seem like he should have won. Wilson staggered through the feeble light of dawn to the vestibule and there he barely perceived a young man. yet at school. dressed as Wilson was. He also considered himself somewhat of a genius and a child prodigy.
Because Wilson's parents granted their son his every whim. thou has murdered thyself. he spent money wildly. spurning "the common restraints of decency in the mad infatuation of [his] revels. and dragged him into a small antechamber. his voice uttering "those few. Before he could "recover the uses of [his] senses. in my death . low. so that he could have an audience for his perverse plans. both cloaks were rare furs." In particular. and familiar. and plunged it repeatedly into his opponent's chest. he arranged a party of eight or ten.cliffs." One of these fellows. he gave himself up to wine. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 30 . loudly threatened him with death. when he felt a light hand on his shoulder and heard that "ever-remembered. "." Wherever he went--Paris." The stranger. the success of the story depends not only on the fact that the narrator undergoes suspense. distinct. The stranger announced in a "low. and identical. . so Wilson turned his thoughts to his upcoming departure to Oxford. and Wilson fancies that he himself was speaking as the other Wilson said. Wilson could bear no more: He raged at the stranger. his pale image dabbled in blood. indulging in every sort of vice possible. was dressed in a Spanish costume identical to Wilson's. fascinated Wilson: It was young Glendinning. fantastically fashioned." THE HORROR STORY: "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Masque of the Red Death" Some critics have described such tales as "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Masque of the Red Death" as unrelieved "horror" stories. Furthermore. in particular." the stranger was gone. . Wilson placed the second cloak over his own and departed. in me didst thou exist--and. rich and lacking intellect. and mental torture. suddenly he became a pitiable victim to all who saw him. and never-to-be-forgotten whisper" that Wilson was a fraud and a cheat. Wilson was addicted to gambling. and doubling the stakes. Wilson drew his sword. Just as suddenly. Moscow--he found fresh evidence that the Other pursued him. Wilson's landlord stepped forward and handed Wilson his fur cloak. had all this really happened? He inquired about the other Wilson at Dr. he challenged Wilson's friends to search their playboy gambler. When the bet was quadrupled.com and. but that we. Glendinning performed exactly as Wilson planned. That is. going ever deeper into debt. horror. yet whispered syllables" sent him reeling. hidden behind a mask of black silk. and he turned deathly pale. damnable whisper within my ear. And yet what he saw was not a mirror: it was the Other. Wilson found himself before a mirror. Before he vanished into the night. drinking heavily. Wilson remembers that he had been drinking heavily and the closeness of the room seemed to suffocate him. Wilson "was wrapped in a cloud of morbid speculation". especially at fleecing his "weak-minded fellow collegians. For weeks. above all. During a masquerade carnival in Rome. Wilson took it and then shuddered as he realized that his own cloak was already on his arm. In desperation. the Other appeared. . The mystery seemed insolvable. Wilson began to let Glendinning win at cards. the readers. and he was quite good at it. To this end. speaking no longer in a whisper. . Bransby's school and learned that the fellow left on the same day that Wilson himself did. simple. Rome. He was trying to force his way through a maze of people. Vienna. and its "maddening influence" made him convinced that once and for all he must risk everything to gain control over this phantom who was attempting to drive him mad. a stranger burst in with such a flourish that all the candles were extinguished. The success of this type of story (and it is one of Poe's most successful approaches to the short story) relies upon the completeness with which he is able to communicate a terrible sense of horror and torture and fear. leaving Oxford and going to Europe "in a perfect agony of horror and shame. they did and discovered hidden cards. trying to locate his host's young and beautiful wife. ripening the young man for a stunning reversal. and Wilson got his chance for revenge. When the doors were opened. Glendinning's face lost its wine-colored tinge.www. They struggled.
the most successful story occurs when the author decides what effect or effects he wants to achieve and then decides what techniques to use to achieve that effect. the narrator awakens in total darkness. he is now completely bound head and foot. we feel in the actual presence of those horrors." we are exposed to a series of suspenses. he wonders if he is dead yet still mentally conscious. when he is again awake. ultimately. it has descended. It seems as though it is days before the pendulum comes so close to him that the "odor of the sharp steel forced itself into my nostrils. and later. dismal circular pit. but he slips on the slimy floor and falls. he realizes that the water must have been drugged since he immediately loses consciousness again." Poe carefully chooses every word and every description to make us feel the utter fear and horror of the presence of the dreaded "Red Death. He knows that he is condemned to death. before opening his eyes. The story begins with the trial of the narrator. The floors are covered with slime. After drinking deeply. except for his left hand up to his left elbow. he recalls all of the horrible tales of "monkish tortures" which awaited the victims of the Inquisition. Turning to survey the rest of the vault. as he sits before seven very severe judges. Logically. but he will still retain the mental ability to know things after the death of the physical body. This concept often appears in Poe's fiction--that is. But to his horror." The sweep of "the pendulum was at right angles [and] was designed to cross the region of the heart. A few steps more and he would have fallen to a horrible death. circular pit. He is bound to a "species of low framework of wood." Looking upward. He then begins to traverse the vault. Arousing from a sleep." Poe apparently had in mind the effects of unrelieved torture and suspense. he tries to determine how he originally made such an error. he intended the reader to understand that when an author used certain calculated effects. After many moments of suspense." The narrator is so completely obsessed by the horror of the proceedings that he cannot even hear his sentence as it is being pronounced. he determines that it is in the shape of a vault. but the method and the time for his execution are unknown to him. terrors. and when the pendulum vibrates within only three inches of his breast. He knows that he is in the same place because of the horrible. he is "sick--sick unto death." "The Pit and the Pendulum" As Poe repeatedly maintained in his critical views." because the judges have an "immoveable resolution--of stern contempt of human torture. instead. he could make the reader's reading experience (and emotions) identical to those of the protagonist (or narrator). Now he "can no longer doubt the doom prepared for [him] by monkish ingenuity in torture. he investigates his situation. After swooning." The vault and the bottomless pit are just as horrible as the very pit of hell itself might be. In "The Pit and the Pendulum. he again looks at the pendulum and is horrified to realize that the sweep has increased considerably and even more disturbing. Since he has heard so much about the horrors of the dungeons. At last. there is a sulfurous light which reveals that the walls are one-half their original size." or as being in the "realm of ideality. Likewise. Poe designated such effects and responses as the "ideal. After watching the rats for about thirty minutes." but eventually it does. he finds by his side a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water. in "The Masque of the Red Death. criss-crossing his body. a person will be physically dead. he calculates that the vault is about fifty feet wide.www. His body hits the floor and he discovers that his head lies on the perimeter of a seemingly bottomless.com are also forced to undergo the same feelings. he sees enormous rats running across the slimy floor.cliffs. he sees a huge razor-sharp pendulum swinging in an arch. he calmly reasons that the pendulum Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 31 . In "The Pit and the Pendulum. thus achieving a perfect empathy between reader and main character." At first." By this. he is certain that he is in one of those dungeons. his worse fears are confirmed: "The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. After feeling around. he imagines the horrors that await him. and horrors and. but carefully feeling his way around.
Poe has shown himself to be a master of achieving the effect of mental torture and horror as the narrator is offered a horrible choice of death: He can plunge to death in a bottomless pit of unknown horrors filled with ravenous rats. For a moment. With all of "the keen. (2) is set in the distant past. unprepared-for rescue would be condemned as artificial or as being forced and contrived. Dupin (the rationalist). and by putting them to use in a calm rational manner." and other stories). and. Again. he gathers his mental powers together. In terms of realistic fiction. the dungeon becomes hotter. the bizarre. one horror follows another." "The Fall of the House of Usher. (3) concentrates upon a single effect--the effect of terror or horror by means of mental suspense. 'Any death but that of the pit. ultimately. However. and he is about to be punished for an unknown crime. The narrator is rescued. Fool! Might I not have known that into the pit was the object of the burning iron to urge me?'" As the walls are closing in on him. The narrator. the first-person narrator is not named.' I said. The pendulum is immediately withdrawn." "The Premature Burial. he can jump into the horrible pit. or he can wait and be sliced up by the razor-sharp pendulum--or he can wait to be crushed by the burning hot walls closing in on him. In this story. the walls begin to close in upon him. As the heat rapidly increases. in view of the fact that at the crucial moment between life and death. the essence of Romantic fiction is the unexpected.www.cliffs. Poe's story has (1) an unnamed narrator. It gradually becomes hotter and hotter. thus making it apparent that his every action has been observed. some part of the human essence ("even in the grave all is not lost" is a main idea of Poe's "Ligeia. Furthermore. even after death. who is related mentally to many of the over-sensitive heroes of the other stories (he often faints and loses control). we do know the time and place of this story: It takes place in Toledo. Even though he is free. Using his left hand. But unlike many of Poe's stories. the narrator is saved. he considers jumping into the pit to escape the burning metal closing in on him. the narrator is also akin to M. there is a "something" that still lives and is still active. collected calmness of despair.com will cut his bandages before it will cut him. during the Spanish Inquisition. and the unusual (see "Poe and Romanticism"). he realizes that he is being forced toward the very edge of the horrible pit. Spain." he conceives of a plan. until the engraved faces of the fiends on the wall begin to glow. while almost succumbing to disgust. however. finally. Of course. Almost immediately. suddenly there is a blast of trumpets and the walls roll back. this setting and time is so far removed from the present day that the story does conform to the Romantic tradition of placing stories in some distant place and time so that there are no real identifications made. he takes what spicy food he is able to rescue from the rats and smears it all over the bandages that bind him. this sudden. he is able to effect his release from certain death by the pendulum. in fainting. As is often the case in Poe's stories. and the torture of the Inquisition is over. The most unexpected aspect of the story is that it has a "happy ending". The rats then throng all over his body ravenously gnawing at the bandages. is at last able to free himself--just as the pendulum is about to cut through his clothes. or. His "seared and writhing body" can stand it no more and as he lets out a piercing scream. and he notices that the walls are not attached to the floor. and (4) is related to many other stories by Poe's concept that in sleeping. in spite of the emphasis of this story being on the unrelieved mental torture inflicted upon the narrator. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 32 . '''Death.
pestilence. the "Red Death". particularly the black room. The disease is so deadly rapid that one is dead within thirty minutes after he is infected. contributes to the overall effect the author is after. in the short opening paragraph. Poe's story deals with the inevitability of death and the futility of trying to escape death. we are told that the window panes look out onto the hall rather than the outside world. he meets another character called Death. described in almost surrealistic terms. However. and they are all happy and secure within." In contrast. hideous. unified effect--in order to show the close proximity of the revelry of life and the masquerade to the inevitability of death itself." And this continues through the green room (third). The first room is decorated in blue and the stained glass has a blue hue. instead. But Poe wants to achieve an effect--a total. bold enough to set foot within it. emphasizing the redness of the blood and the scarlet stains. this black chamber is the most westernly and "the effect of the firelight upon the blood tinted panes is ghastly in the extreme. Thus. scarlet stains. the inhabitants are locked inside the castle by the high walls and the gates of iron. masked as "the Red Death. he passes in close proximity to all of the revelers. worked for a unity of effect. when the stranger. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 33 . the orange room (fourth). Everyman cries out to him: "O Death. In reality." Poe's purpose in these descriptions." but the panes are "scarlet--a deep blood-color. create an immediate effect of the horror of death caused by the "Red Death. Here the apartment is "shrouded in black velvet. the last room." Similarly. has no relation to reality. In this ancient play. and the violet room (sixth). sharp pains. The importance of the seven rooms lies in the seventh and. the people are entertained by the merriment of a "masked" ball. as described at the beginning of the story. has summoned a thousand of his "lighthearted friends" from the nobility to join him in a "castellated abbey" which has strong and lofty walls and "gates of iron. the white room (fifth). This is the method that Poe chose to achieve his unity of effect (see section on Poe's "Critical Theories").cliffs. Poe next underscores his theme by suggesting the folly of these foolish people who think that they can escape death by such physical barriers as high walls and iron gates. thy comest when I had thee least in mind.www. Likewise. enclosed seven halls. and that they take on the colors and hues of the decoration of each room. One method he often used for this effect was to have his stories take place in a closed circle where one has the impression of there being no escape. while outside the "Red Death" is rampaging. After setting the tone." Furthermore. and they are further enclosed during the ball by the circular. profuse bleeding." walks through the room. Many critics have looked for a consistent symbolic pattern in the seven rooms in which the ball is held. the main character is named Everyman and early in the play while walking down the road. but Poe eschewed elaborate symbolic structures and. fatal. the seventh room is different. Consequently. The story opens with a recounting of a plague. we hear that Prince Prospero. a name that connotes happiness and prosperity. and produces so wild a look upon the countenance of those who enter it that there are few . Accordingly. victim. therefore. This essential theme is presented directly and with extreme economy through the plot. gathered together. As the narrator describes the rooms. no such place as the black room would be used as a part of a ballroom." Poe presents an age-old theme. . and the narrator describes the process of the disease.com "The Masque of the Red Death" In "The Masque of the Red Death. The second is purple and so "the panes are purple. it has long been devastating the country. disease and death--and all these words. ." The prince has very carefully provided entertainment of all types. The contrast of the gaiety within and the ravaging death outside. a theme as old as the medieval morality play Everyman. horror of blood. or narrative element. Poe uses such words as devastated.
In conjunction with man's quick and brief journey through life is the rapid passing of time. died from the Red Death and to create more horror. Likewise. but all are universally frightened to seize this Red Death. therefore. his entire outfit is sprinkled with blood and "all the features of the face were besprinkled with the scarlet horror. the reader should note how effectively Poe." they find nothing under the shrouds or behind the corpse-like mask. holds "illimitable dominion over all." In spite of all things. Furthermore. wanton . for example). Here. unified mood of fear and horror. . and he falls dead upon the black carpet. To emphasize the brevity of life. in describing the black decor of the room. he brings us into the horror of the story. note Poe's description: The guests have donned costumes that are often grotesque. shrouded being a word always referring to death. it is shocking. the end of life. a bizarre situation. The reader discovers that this "guest" is even more fantastic and strange than all the other guests." but as he approaches the figure. (It would almost be too simplistic to say that all people are indignant at the intrusion of death on their lives. The story achieves credibility simply through Poe's powerful unity of effect that he creates so marvelously. Poe reminds the reader that between the striking of each hour.cliffs. Infuriated." When the masked "Red Death" makes his appearance. This is the end of the day and. and it is usually used in connection with death. the masqueraders continue their gaiety and revelry. the musicians quit playing and all of the revelers momentarily cease their celebrating. and an evocative style all combine to make this one of Poe's most effective stories. the window panes are "scarlet--a deep blood color. the significance of the seventh room cannot escape the reader's attention. because the maskers are so bizarre themselves. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 34 . of horror. Significantly. When Prince Prospero sees the stranger. Each word of each description contributes to one single. he is indignant at such an intrusion. The greatness of the story lies in his use of an age-old theme--the inevitability of death--and in the way that Poe creates and maintains a total unity of effect." The figure is "shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. the prince draws a dagger and rushes 'hurriedly through the six chambers. all of them drop dead. .) The prince immediately instructs the stranger to be seized. and the nearness of death. represented by the black clock. His appearance strikes a note of "terror. there elapses "three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies. Byron's Childe Harold. Black usually symbolizes death. bizarre . we assume it to be a southern European country. . every time the clock strikes the hour. when the mask of the "Red Death" appears." Poe describes the party in terms of "delirious fancies" and as "beautiful . One by one.www. due to the name of the prince. He is horrendous by comparison. captures man's universal fear of death and its horrors. we gather. Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. his dagger stops." These descriptions are reminiscent of orgies which are described in other great Romantic works (in Goethe's Faust. The "Red Death. The story makes no effort to present a realistic view of any known aspect of life. The other revelers fall upon the black "mummer" but to their "unutterable horror. terrible." His mask is that of a corpse which. . by analogy. Moreover.com As noted above." This is an obvious reference to the "Red Death. ." Poe tells us. the fleeting of life and time. there is "much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm". regardless of whether or not the first six rooms have any symbolic function. We do not even know what country the story takes place in." Poe's story possesses no real characters. the narrator says that it is shrouded in velvet. but. by his choice of words. An atmosphere of strangeness. and not a little of that which might have excited disgust." Again. and of disgust. there are "arabesque figures" and "madman fashions. It is as though each hour is "to be stricken" upon their brief and fleeting lives. the appearance of the "Red Death" at midnight is propitious and symbolic. . he moves rapidly from the Eastern room (symbolic of the beginning of life) to the Western room (symbolic of the end of life).
changed the entire course of American literature.com CRITICAL ESSAYS EDGAR ALLAN POE AND ROMANTICISM Few writers exist outside of the currents of the times in which they live. The subject matter of art should deal with the emotions. and. The purpose for this is so that none of Poe's readers would be diverted by references to contemporary ideas. and Sir Walter Scott." In other words. John Keats. such as in "The Fall of the House of Usher. but instead. Roderick Usher's emotions are overwrought. almost simultaneously. Dupin. after all. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ligeia and the narrator of that story both exist in the world of emotions. As one examines M. such as M. Even Poe's most intellectual characters." the hatred of Montresor exceeds all rational explanations." or else they are set during the period of the Spanish Inquisition (the fourteenth century). man felt and sensed things before he thought about them. Poe emphasized that didactic and intellectual elements had no place in art. and Poe is no exception. Romantic writers in America who were contemporaries of Poe include Hawthorne (whose works Poe reviewed and admired).). Henry David Thoreau. (2) Setting and Time Usually in a Romantic story. This concept explains much of the seemingly erratic behavior of the characters in all of the stories. one notes that he solves his crimes by intuitively placing himself in the mind of the criminal. Poe reasoned. vagueness and indefiniteness were necessary to alienate the reader from the everyday world and to thrust him toward the ideal and the beautiful. He is clearly a product of his time. much of the behavior of his characters must be viewed and can be explained best in terms of the Romantic period in which he wrote. Poe's brand of Romanticism was akin to his contemporaries but most of his works often bordered on what was later called the gothic genre. whereas the emotions were the sole province of art. rely more on intuition than on rationality. moved through all of Europe and Russia. and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The Romantic movement was one which began in Germany." etc. whom Poe did not like and to whom he was rather insulting in a review. Poe's reader will not find a story which is set in some recognizable place in the present time. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 35 . Ralph Waldo Emerson. The intellectual and the didactic was for sermons and treatises. Thus. Even Poe's detective fiction is set in France rather than in America. Among England's great Romantic writers are William Wordsworth. which in terms of literature.www. Throughout Poe's works. Percy Shelley. or in an abbey in some remote part of England. thus giving it a Romantic distance from the reader. and the greatest art was that which had a direct effect on the emotions. In his critical theories and through his art. and in order to create this realm. Herman Melville. the setting is in some obscure or unknown place. Dupin ("The Purloined Letter. The following discussion is not a comprehensive view of Romantic concepts. (1) Intuition and Emotion Perhaps the most dominant characteristic of the Romantic movement was the rejection of the rational and the intellectual in favor of the intuitive and the emotional. or else it is set at some distant time in the past. Poe created new worlds so that his readers would concentrate wholly on the themes or atmospheres with which he infused his stories. as in "The Pit and the Pendulum. Poe's famous detective. Lord Byron.cliffs. in "The Cask of Amontillado. the behaviors of the narrators of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" are not rational. as in "Ligeia. his characters are usually dominated by their emotions. Poe believed that the highest art existed in a realm that was different from this world. Poe's stories are set either in some unknown place." "The Murders in the Rue Morgue. is called the Romantic era. Throughout Poe's fiction. it is intended as a basic guide and explanation for some of the conventions or some of the devices often found in Poe's stories." or else they are set in some romantic castle on the Rhine.
or even the names of the narrators of most of Poes other works. with frightening experiences. and with situations which even we have never imagined before." where the narrator is addressed by another character." a review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short stories. Poe eschewed or despised literature that dealt with mundane subjects. in which he attempted to present in a logical. in the critical principles that can be drawn from Poe's writings themselves. we usually do not know the names of the narrators of the other stories discussed in this volume.com (3) Characterization Often the characters are not named or else they are given only a semblance of a name." they take on further significance as superb examples of the Romantic tradition. at least. As an editor of a magazine. his critical views on the nature of what was and was not acceptable in a work of art have become famous and have had an enormous influence on subsequent writers. But irrespective of his journalistic position. With the exception of a story like "The Cask of Amontillado. the emphasis of literature ought to be on the final effect and the emotion produced thereby. the bizarre. his most famous review is entitled "Twice-Told Tales. (4) in the official critical articles he wrote. principles which he did not include in his critical dicta (dictums) per se. for Poe. the first major writer in America to write seriously about criticism. and it is out of the Romantic tradition that we get such figures as the monster in Frankenstein and Count Dracula. The greatness of "The Pit and the Pendulum" is not in knowing the name of the narrator but in sensing his fears and his terrors. Such things could be seen every day. Poe's major theories can be found (1) in the many reviews he wrote analyzing the writings of other authors. While his tales can be read as "stories. with horrors which startled the reader. as examples.cliffs. He was also the first to set down a consistent set of principles about what he thought was acceptable in art and what should be essentially rejected in art. what might sometimes seem puzzling in a story by Poe. such as an unexpected ending or an unexpected event.www. is not puzzling if we remember that what he created was a result of his writing during the Romantic tradition. the unusual. (2) in the many letters." where the title identifies the pseudonym of the narrator. (4) Subject Matter The Romantic writer is often both praised and condemned for emphasizing the strange. POE'S CRITICAL THEORIES Edgar Allan Poe is considered to be America's first significant literary critic or. "The Poetic Principle" and "The Philosophy of Composition" both contain the unified core and basis of Poe's critical theories. (3) in the various editorials he wrote for the magazines he was associated with. The purpose of art. For a Romantic like Poe. finally. epistles. and the unexpected in his or her writing. In conclusion. about the theory of composition. or as answers he gave as an editor. and about the principles of creative art. coherent manner his critical views. Thus. and these two essays alone suffice to give one a full understanding of Poe's critical views. in this genre. or a story like "William Wilson. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 36 . The Romantic felt that the common or the ordinary had no place in the realm of art. among the more famous being the one entitled "Letter to B_____". The narrator in "Ligeia" does not even know the Lady Ligeia's last name nor that of her family. and applications he sent for jobs. "Exordium" being one of the best examples of this type. was to choose subjects which could affect the reader in a manner which he would not encounter in everyday life. the subject matter of many of his tales dealt with living corpses. Poe's views on literary criticism were influenced by the nature of the short works of art that would appeal to the magazine-reading public. (5) and.
Consequently. Writings that were moralistic or allegorical were likewise unacceptable to Poe because they failed to appeal to one's sense of beauty. of which the heart or the soul is susceptible. or by a "peculiarity both of incident and tone . (4) the brevity of a work of art. writer to recognize the genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne. in the construction of the effect" ("Philosophy of Composition"). he believed that didactic writing was for the pulpit and had no place in the realm of artistic creation." "the novelty of the effect alone. Poe meant that the artist should decide what effect he wants to create in the reader's emotional response and then proceed to use all of his creative powers to achieve that particular effect: "Of the in-numerable effects. words and phrases that occur and re-occur in Poe's various critical writings include the following: "to affect. and Poe believed that the epigrammatic approach to art could not create a lasting emotional impression within the reader. a period which concerned itself mainly with satire.www." As a result of these views." for example. From these cited works. on the present occasion. Poe felt that the most effective subject for a work of art was the death of a beautiful young lady. and "if beauty is the province of the poem. he rejected all works of primitive art or works based on a primitive sense of art." "The Tell-Tale Heart." he said in the same essay. . Anything that appealed solely to the intellect could not be considered art because art existed in the world of the beautiful. as shall best aid . . Poe says that "Mr. in addition. . for example. restated.") After choosing the effect that one desires. And also. . looking . More than any other principle. and the aesthetic. "The Raven"). the effect he most aimed for was one of beauty and melancholy. . see the critical discussions of "The Fall of the House of Usher. what one shall I. Fear. we can easily compile certain key principles that Poe consistently believed in and used. . For example." we have access to Poe's critical statements--stated. In Poe's review of Twice-Told Tales and in his two main essays on criticism. yet . or impressions. . . select?" ("The Philosophy of Composition").cliffs. Poe's writings contain many more examples of this emphasis. or influential. deals in detail with his methodology of composing his most famous poem. and not only does he apply his own principles to his own works but he applies them to the works of other writers for critical evaluations. much of eighteenth-century literature is epigrammatic (something short). For example. For Poe. (2) his rejection of allegory and didacticism. therefore." and "The Pit and the Pendulum. By these statements. or tone. attests to Poe's keen critical faculties.com Among Poe's greatnesses was his ability as an editor to recognize great literature and to dismiss insignificant works. and (7) the importance of emotional responses. Poe emphasized the unity of effect that one should strive for in any work of art." This critical recognition of Hawthorne. this is perhaps Poe's most Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 37 . he evinces extraordinary genius. Likewise. and applied to his own works ("The Philosophy of Composition. satire could create no sense of the beautiful within the reader. . In much of his poetry. Hawthorne is scarcely recognized by the press or by the public . having no rival either in America or elsewhere. (3) the epic poem's being a non-poem. as a Romantic writer." "the totality of impression. few critics have made such wholly accurate summations about a writer's talent which subsequent generations of critics have verified." "the unity of effect. the refined. dismissed most of the literary works of the eighteenth century. for such combinations of event. then the tone should be one of sadness. emphasized. was often the effect Poe chose for many of his short stories and every word and every image was carefully chosen to create an effect of fear within the mind of the reader. Poe was the first major. . These include his emphasis on (1) the unity of effect. whether by incidents or plot. Poe. (5) the appeal to the emotions. In his review of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales. "The Poetic Principle" and "The Philosophy of Composition. (6) the ideal subject matter for art. because Poe put such importance on creating an effect that would appeal to the emotions." and "the single effect." and these are only selected examples of his repetition of the value of this principle. "The most elevating and the most pure pleasure is found in the contemplation of the beautiful. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones. . . (In regard to this. For example. each of these separate ideas is closely associated with the others. or by a peculiar tone. by narration. the artist should then decide on the best manner to achieve that effect. .
and. or nonobjective writing. In conjunction with the unity of effect. we have "Annabel Lee. for Poe. that the literary principles that Poe employed in writing his own detective stories." yet Poe himself never wrote down a unified critical principle which should govern the writing of a detective story. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 38 . as we look at the totality of his creative work. and Poe. to achieve that unity of effect. but they do give us a good idea of the importance he placed on this device: "The Cask of Amontillado" occurs in an underground. in a similar vein. Poe also wrote about the unity of effect. although many people do not agree with Poe's theories. Consequently. the people in "The Masque of the Red Death" are locked behind closed iron gates and confined within a closed castle. "The Raven. "The Fall of the House of Usher" is set in the closed confines of a decaying castle. it is clearly one of Poe's prime precepts for an ingredient of the short story. and the action of "The Tell-Tale Heart" is confined within a closed room. then "after the lapse of half an hour." "Ligeia. And even though Poe did recognize other subjects as legitimate topics for art (he did praise Hawthorne. however. as some say." "To Helen" and numerous other works on this subject. he said. that the phrase 'a long poem' is a flat contradiction in terms. who very rarely concerned himself with a beautiful. closed vault. In conclusion. the most poetical topic in the world--and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such a topic are those of a bereaved lover" ("Philosophy of Composition"). but that he practiced again and again as an author. If the purpose of art--a poem. even though few artists and writers today adhere strictly to his critical principles." the mind cannot sustain such pure emotion.www. was destroyed if two sittings were required for a work of art. For example. the death of the beautiful young lady should be expressed by the lips of the bereaved lover.. Such long poems as Paradise Lost were. One can see. the death of a beautiful woman remained Poe's favorite subject." Therefore. or a short story--is to excite and elevate the soul. unquestionably. to achieve the greatest amount of emotional melancholy. The following selected examples do not exhaust Poe's use of this principle. similarly.cliffs. dying woman). furthermore. and the action in the poem "The Raven" takes place within a closed room or possibly. per se. In his own words. "The Pit and the Pendulum" takes place within the closed confines above a pit. The application of this principle can also apply to the major portion of Poe's works. The totality of effect. Some of Poe's theories may seem. Poe's critical theories and principles will continue to be important. yet his theories are still valid and provocative and are still discussed. Concerning this. then. a series of poems. Poe believed that the greatest art was contained in a poem of about 100 lines (his most famous poem. However. they have nevertheless been the subject of continual discussion." is 108 lines long). within the narrator's mind. .com famous and most often repeated dictum. "William Wilson" is told within the frenzied mind of a schizophrenic. at times.C. . As examples." "Lenore. are universal principles that apply to a major portion of all detective fiction being written today. One could also point out that Aristotle. of a beautiful woman is. but as long as Romantic literature is read. we see that a large portion of his works takes place in a very closed environment. a work of art should be able to achieve its effect in one sitting. the reader or critic can deduce certain principles that Poe himself never set down. the world's most famous critic. Poe is considered to be the father of the modern detective story. believed that the short story should be of a length that one could read it in one sitting. Poe holds that "a long poem does not exist . lived about 380 B. certain critical principles associated with the writing of the detective story are presented in the introduction to and discussions of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter. but he never wrote about the use of a closed environment. Poe's theory about the length of the work of art--"to be read in one sitting" and no more than "half an hour"--has influenced many subsequent writers. For this reason. In terms of Poe's actual practice of writing literature. in large part. to be out of style when one compares them with the current theories of no form at all. we have Poe's dictum on the appropriate length of a work of art. he writes: "The death.
QUINN. 1941. LERVEY.com SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY BIOGRAPHY ALLEN. F. 1959. PATRICK F. WOODBERRY. A more recent account of Poe's life that is modern and very readable. somewhat fictional. 1926. FAGIN. This is a somewhat extended. 1957. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Israfel. B. G. This work is viewed as the most definitive life of Poe yet to appear. The Histrionic Mr. SELECTED CRITICAL WORKS DAVIDSON. LEVIN. Poe: A Critical Study. 1885. EDWARD H.www. It is highly accurate and very scholarly. This early account of Poe's life is still one of the most interesting and readable in spite of the fact that there are some factual errors. ARTHUR HOBSON. Life of Poe. 1958. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 39 . HARRY. but extremely readable account of Poe's life. WINWART. N. Poe. The French Face of Edgar Allan Poe.cliffs. QUINN. revised 1934. 1940. E. The Haunted Palace. 1957. 2 vols. The Power of Blackness.