Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror April 15, 2014
“His heart is a suspended lute, as soon as it is touched, it resounds.”
So goes the translation of Poe’s opening lines in French by De Beranger. Why am I featuring Poe’s most famous and probably most read short story? Because as the heart resounds, so does this story, just as Poe intended.
Why did Poe write this particular story?.
Once upon a time … oh no, let me rephrase with more modern language for this report that inspired Poe to create the Fall of the House of Usher.
As it was said … On Boston’s Lewis Wharf during the 1800s, a house stood, named the Usher House. After years of abandonment and decay, the structure was torn down. In the rubble, and in the deepest part of the cellar, behind a rusted iron gate two skeletons were found. Their boney remains intertwined each other in an embrace. Local gossip pointed to the couple’s adulterous rendezvous, apparently trapped in the cellar by the woman’s avenging husband. Romantic? Grisly? Or something else.
Clearly something else, as Poe redeveloped this report into a story suggesting vampirism, incest, murder, and the horror of being trapped and abandoned to die.
The Fall of the House of Usher is a fiction with high symbolism of splits and fissures, mad reflections, and grim resoundings at every turn.
From the beginning lines—
“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”
To the ending scene—
“… a blood-red moon … a fierce breath of the whirlwind … the deep and dark tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently…”
There’s a heartbeat of madness throbbing here and you are pulled deeper into the disquieting rhythms. Our narrator discovers an occult presence growing not only within the house and gardens but also within Roderick Usher who is obsessed with the “grim phantasm, FEAR.”
But it’s Lady Madeline Usher I am focused on today. We meet her only three times and she never utters a single word. Is she even real? Might she be a ghost? Madeline is said to be of cataleptic nature. Roderick claims she is his twin sister. Does the heart resound more in siblings and even more so in twins?
In full Poe fashion of psychological drama (some melodrama of course), Madeline holds the true mystery in this story. Come and spend some time with Roderick and his sister. Let our narrator point out the clues of fissures and collapses of not only the crumbling Usher House, but of Roderick and Madeline’s very souls.
.I think one of the most entertaining ways to appreciate this story is to read along with an audio version. Let the sound of Poe’s language throb into your mind. Let the words on the page drive the images vividly. Add candlelight. And sit by a dark window.
Read the full text at XRoads at Virginia Edu.
Listen to the audio at AudioTreasury, Librivox Recording. Scroll down to No. 4 on the black selection box. Recorded by Eden Rae Hedrick. (An excellent reading! I like this one the best.)
This link here at Lit2Go (44 minutes) has both the text and audio on one page but the reading is not as expressive as Eden Rae Hedrick’s above at Audio Treasury.
Watch the adapted film version by MGM with Vincent Price and Myrna Fahey.
Other Reading Web Sites to Visit
For Authors/Writers: The Writer Unboxed