Lady Madeline of Usher

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.


House_of_usherAs 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

Horror Novel Reviews   Hell Horror    HorrorPalace

 Monster Librarian  Tales to Terrify       Spooky Reads

 Lovecraft Ezine      Rob Around Books    The Story Reading Ape Blog

     The Gothic Wanderer   Sirens Call Publications  The Fussy Librarian

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed








Filed under classic horror stories, Edgar Allan Poe, fiction, short stories, tales of terror

10 responses to “Lady Madeline of Usher

  1. Jay

    I know this post is from last year, but I re-read the story a couple times this week as my new ‘short story book club’ is reading this one for our October meeting tonight. There are a lot of smart people in this group and I’ll try to post about the story and our meeting on my blog afterward.

    I had read the story about twenty years ago, but it didn’t impress me then as much as it did this time around. Maybe I am growing as a reader. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I often get a deeper perspective on stories that I re-read years later. And Poe’s stories tend to grow with each re-read as if they are alive in themselves. I’d be interested in hearing what your reading group has to say, Jay. Tx.


  2. Hi Paula,

    I thought a fun exercise would be to re-write the story from Madeline’s point of view. You can see the results here:

    You might want to try it yourself. It’s quite interesting getting into a character’s head. The only thing I didn’t try to duplicate at this time was Poe’s writing style.

    I also think that someone should write Miss Emily’s POV from the A Rose for Emily by Faulkner.


    • It is fun, Lisa. I love to explore historical characters/authors and recreate stories from them. I did just that in my short story, Between the Darkness and the Dawn, a ghost story that takes place at the Old Manse in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home in Concord, Massachusetts. Whistling Shade Lit Journal published it last October. And my novel The Dazzling Darkness employs Ralph Waldo Emerson from the 1800s into a modern day ghost story. I find that these stories take a lot of research to ring authentic for the time period, style, language, etc., but that’s half the fun! Your exercise on Lady Madeline is certainly intriguing and nicely done.


  3. M.D.

    Thanks for the audio link. I’ve never tried an audio book before and found it strange. After listening to parts of several recordings, I gave up. The pace seems to fast for me to grasp what was being recited. The accent on the speaker for The Fall of The House of Usher made it hard to understand some of the words. Oh well. I tried.


    • Thank you for your thoughts, M.D. Did you try the link for Lit2Go above? That has the audio and the read along text, which might make your first experience with audio more enjoyable to follow the words on the page. I love to read along with the narrator but it does take a bit of practice.


  4. Love your comments and thoughts, Lisa. Very insightful. Poor Madeline, yes, I agree. A pity she’s been overlooked by so many Poe fans. I wish Poe had given her some lines! I wonder what she’d be telling us.


  5. I love this story but I’ve never heard that Poe was inspired by a real life incident. Cool! The puzzle of the story is why Usher does what he does to his sister. Some critics say he is trying to suppress something in himself: perhaps his feminine side or perhaps some sort of forbidden, incestuous longing.

    My theory is that Usher makes it clear he suffers from the fear that something terrible will one day happen. He’s been a slave to this unknown fear for a long time. By the time the narrator visits him, Usher is well nigh driven mad by it. So Usher finally decides to put an end to his fear – by making something horrifying actually happen. Then the most terrible thing that could possibly be imagined will FINALLY happen and put an end to the endless anticipation.

    It’s an interesting sort of therapy he’s devised for himself. My theory rests on the definition of terror vs horror. Terror is the moment before something terrible happens. Horror happens after something terrible happens. Terror can be inspiring (though clearly not in Usher’s case) but horror never is – it usually leads to death or dissolution.

    On a different note, I see you’ve got a still from the new animated version with Christopher Lee. I’d love to be able to watch it but I don’t know where it is available yet. It’s supposed to be released this year.


    • Lisa, your thoughts are quite fascinating, especially the terror vs. horror. One of the reasons I focused on Lady Usher is because so many readers don’t and instead examine the narrator and Roderick. But it is the psychological aspect of Madeline that I am curious about. What is the cause of her catalepsy? Was the true horror here the implied incest that actually did happen? Did Roderick go mad with guilt and bury her alive to bury his deed? What is your take on Lady Madeline?


      • Well, if she was a victim of incest (or a willing participant), then her symptoms of “settled apathy” and a “gradual wasting away” might suggest psychological distress. There is that unspecified “constitutional and family evil” she would be heir to – that could be anything from degenerate inbreeding to just a general feebleness of mind and body.

        Of course, her symptoms could also be the result of poisoning – arsenic poisoning for example. Usher admits the medical men are perplexed by her condition. That would also help to explain why Usher hastily entombs her. Also, it would explain the description of the doctor the narrator passes on the stairway: “His countenance, I thought, wore a mingled expression of low cunning and perplexity.” Had Usher ordered her treated by a doctor he has bribed?

        If I take all the clues together, my feeling is that she is definitely a victim of her brother’s increasing madness – his reason is tottering on its throne, as it is described by the narrator.

        That brings me to my theory of terror and horror again. Madeline is used by her brother to relieve himself of his permanent state of terror. Her horrific death will bring the waiting to a close. Therefore, he has most likely poisoned her and had her treated by a confederate doctor. Madeline would have suspected what was happening but she had no boon companion from school to call upon. She was completely cut off from community in that isolated mansion and could therefore be used by her brother as he choose. What a life she would have lived with a madman and what an end.

        Poor Madeline….

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s