I wanted to dust off my copy of The Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe this month and I thought it would be fun to publish some blogs about one of my favorite authors.
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston Massachusetts. His parents were both actors. His mother died of tuberculosis, and his father died within a few days of her, when Edgar was only three. He was sent to live with John and Frances Allan in Richmond, Virgina. John Allan was a tobacco merchant and instructed Poe in the family business, yet Poe was more interested in poetry and writing. Poe went to school in England when he was 6, staying there for 5 years while he learned Latin and French, math and history.
He published his first book at the age of 18, Tamerlane and other poems. Around this time (1826) he attended the University of Virginia but was reportedly low on funds as Allan did not provide much; Poe turned to gambling and began to accumulate debt. He entered the Army in 1827 and two years later returned to Richmond too late to see Frances Allan before she died, also of tuberculosis, and found out that his fiancé had gotten engaged to someone else. He published his second book, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and other poems in 1829. He went to West Point but was kicked out after 8 months. After leaving West Point, Poe published his third book, Poems, and focused on writing full-time. He traveled around in search of opportunity, living in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Richmond.
In 1931, after briefly trying to make it as a writer in New York without much success, he moved to Baltimore, Maryland (his father’s birth place) to live with his Aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter Virgina, who Poe incestualized and pedo’d. They married in 1836 when she was 13 years old.
He submitted five stories for a competition in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier, and while he did not win, the Courier would eventually publish the five stories through 1932. This helped Poe establish some connections, including a mention of his stories in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter. In 1833 he won a contest held in the Visiter and won $50 for "M.S. Found in a Bottle." During this period he completed several stories and had many of them published in what became known as 'Tales of The Folio Club', even though no complete volume of these stories was published with that title at the time. He would eventually gain an editorial position at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, Virgina in 1935, where he developed a reputation has a harsh literary critic...
Poe: The father of the detective novel
With his 1941 short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841),” Poe is credited with having created the first detective novel that would later inspire the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The story is part of a trilogy along with “The Mystery of Marie Roget (1845),” and “The Purloined Letter (1845).” They center around the narrator, Poe, and his companion and roommate Monsieur Auguste C. Dupin, who is the genius who figures out the mysteries. He’s not a detective; he helps the police when they can’t solve something. They actually spend most of their time reading books or deep in thought.
These stories are some of my favorites (The Purloined Letter, especially). In each, they exhibit not only an analysis of the details of the case, but also an analysis of reason itself. It can be a bit philosophical, but the point is unusual thinking is necessary to figure out unusual mysteries, using what Poe refers to as “racionation” and the “Calculus of Probabilities.” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” for instance, begins with a discussion of whether chess, checkers, or whist (a card game) is the true test of analysis and acumen.
In Murders, there is a brutal murder of two ladies, one found inside a locked-from-the-inside apartment - stuffed up the chimney, the other found in an alley behind the apartment, nearly decapitated. Other brutalities are apparent from the crime scene, such as the ripping of hair from the scalp of one of the victims. Witness accounts hear shouting voices but conflict with each other about what language one of them was speaking in. Dupin is able to solve the crime by focusing on the abnormal qualities of the crime, inspecting the apartment, and considering the contradicting accounts.
In Marie Roget, a girl disappears and on the fourth day of her disappearance a body is found in the seine, showing evidence of murder prior to being dumped in the river. There isn’t a “clew”, a reward is offered, and then increased, but over a month passes with no serious arrest made. Later, a clearing is found where there are signs of a struggle that took place and the garments of the deceased are found. The police inspector comes to Dupin for help. They read all the news reports about what is known about the disappearance and about the body found. In solving the mystery, Dupin spends a lot of time analyzing faulty logic from the editors of papers. A lot of this is separating coincidental information that does not help to solve the crime from the important evidence.
In Purloined, a letter is stolen from an important figure in plain sight. The letter is embarrassing for the lady it belongs to, and the thief uses an opportune moment in which someone else is in her room with him and she cannot draw attention to the letter as he takes it and replaces it with his own, accidently on purpose. He uses it as blackmail, and the police are charged with recovering it. They search his home rigorously (and his person) while he is out but cannot find it. They are meticulous in their methods. But Dupin is able to find where it is hiding by assessing the kind of man the thief is, knowing him, “as both mathematician and poet.”
One of my favorite parts: he tells the story of a boy who was exceptional at ‘even and odd,’ a game of guessing - like which hand behind the back a marble is in. The boy succeeds by considering the intellect of his opponent, like in the ‘which cup has the poison’ scene in The Princess Bride. The boy determines the intellect of his opponent by mimicking his facial expression and seeing what thoughts come to his mind.
Poe’s most famous works are undoubtedly The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven. So let’s talk about some others. This week’s Popular Poe’s are chosen because of their relation to Hell House. Thanks to poestories.com for the PDF’s.
The Cask of Amontillado (1846). This story is what Barret is referring to when he calls the finding of the body (D. B. ‘s) behind the wall in the wine cellar “Poe-esque”.
It is a tale of revenge; the narrator makes clear to us from the beginning. A revenge unsuspected, because our narrator deliberately conceals his animosity towards his target, Fortunato. He lures him into the wine cellar with the temptation of appraising a very fine, rare Italian wine. “The Amontillado!”
This story is really sinister. The narrator continuously tells Fortunato that he should turn back and not go down into the wine cellar on account of the dampness and Fortunato’s cough. Then, he tells him that he will have another man, Luchesi do the appraisal instead. This prompts Fortunato to call Luchesi a hack (“he cannot distinguish between Sherry and Amontillado.” “He is an ignoramus”) and press on. The narrator then makes him drink some wine to “defend us from the damps” as they continue deeper and deeper in.
When they come to an interior recess, inside a crypt laden with bones ala Parisian catacombs, he quickly chains up Fortunato and walls him up inside the recess while he is alive! This is pretty creepy, but you have to read the story. The dialogue between the two as Fortunato begins to realize what’s going on is psycho-creepy.
The Fall of the House of Usher (1839). This one isn’t one of my favorites but is always mentioned as one of his greatest hits. It is a good story. It is certainly relevant to Hell House. There’s a tarn.
The story begins when the narrator arrives at the House of Usher, which is a depressing sight. We find out that his friend, Roderick Usher, asked him to come help cheer him out of a depression.
I looked upon the scene before me --upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain --upon the bleak walls --upon the vacant eye-like windows -- upon a few rank sedges --and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees –with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium --the bitter lapse into everyday life --the hideous dropping off of the veil.
I had so worked upon my imagination as really to believe that about the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity-an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn –a pestilent and mystic vapour, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leadenhued.
There is a lot of description of the house, and all of it like that, gloomy and ugly. Then we meet the friend, who is suffering from terrible mental illness
He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odours of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.
The reason for this is revealed to be the impending death of his sister from a strange and incurable illness that will leave Roderick the last of the Usher’s. But he also shares a conspiracy that the house is responsible for his illness, and a curse upon the family. They engage in painting and reading phantasm and Gothic books. Usher plays and sings the song ‘The Haunted Palace’ (see below).
The sister dies and they put her body in a vault to preserve her for medical study. Usher begins to act even weirder, staring out into space as if he is listening to inaudible music. Then one night, when the narrator can’t sleep, he runs into Usher who shows him an incredible and very strange storm outside.
"And you have not seen it?" he said abruptly, after having stared about him for some moments in silence --"you have not then seen it? --but, stay! you shall." Thus speaking, and having carefully shaded his lamp, he hurried to one of the casements, and threw it freely open to the storm.
The narrator makes him look away and tries to calm him by reading a book. He keeps getting interrupted by sounds that mimic what he reads from the book, like a scream when the hero slays the dragon and the dragon screams. Usher is sitting in a chair staring at the door and muttering to himself. What happens next, I won’t spoil, but it causes the narrator to flee the house in terror! The house is consumed by wind and collapses as he is leaving, hence the title of the story.
This poem has a cryptographic puzzle that tells you whose “sweet name, that nestling lies upon the page.” Can you figure it out?
For her this rhyme is penned, whose luminous eyes,
Brightly expressive as the twins of Leda,
Shall find her own sweet name, that nestling lies
Upon the page, enwrapped from every reader.
Search narrowly the lines! - they hold a treasure
Divine- a talisman- an amulet
That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure-
The words- the syllables! Do not forget
The trivialest point, or you may lose your labor
And yet there is in this no Gordian knot
Which one might not undo without a sabre,
If one could merely comprehend the plot.
Enwritten upon the leaf where now are peering
Eyes scintillating soul, there lie perdus
Three eloquent words oft uttered in the hearing
Of poets, by poets- as the name is a poet's, too,
Its letters, although naturally lying
Like the knight Pinto- Mendez Ferdinando-
Still form a synonym for Truth- Cease trying!
You will not read the riddle, though you do the best you can do.
The Conqueror Worm
Lo! 'tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly-
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
That motley drama- oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!- it writhes!- with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out- out are the lights- out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, 'Man,'
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.
The Haunted Palace This poem is found in the ‘Fall of the House of Usher.’
In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace-
Radiant palace- reared its head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion-
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow,
(This- all this- was in the olden
Time long ago,)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.
Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically,
To a lute's well-tuned law,
Round about a throne where, sitting
In state his glory well-befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.
And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch's high estate.
(Ah, let us mourn!- for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms, that move fantastically
To a discordant melody,
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever
And laugh- but smile no more.