Bibliophile / Reading

Bibliophile: Short stories of Edgar Allan Poe

Despite my three years studying English literature, I had never read any fiction by Edgar Allan Poe. This might be because I have a completely irrational dislike of early American writing but also because so many of Poe’s stories are so well known that I sometimes assumed that I must have read them, when in fact I hadn’t. This week I read two collections of short stories encompassing the following tales:
  • The Black Cat
  • The Cask of Amontillado
  • Facts in the case of Mr Vadermar
  • The Gold Bug
  • The Fall of the House of Usher
  • Ligeia
  • The Pit and the Pendulum
  • The Tell-Tale Heart
  • Hop-Frog
  • The Murders in Rue Morgue
  • The Masque of the Red Death
  • The Oval Portrait
  • William Wilson

It’s impossible to be truly surprised by Poe’s writing style, it’s ingrained in our culture and has been continued by artists such as Tim Burton. That said, these short stories were actually considerably better than I had anticipated. I have read Frankenstein and other early works of horror and have never found myself moved by them but the horror stories of Poe caused me to feel quite drawn into his bizarre and fantastical stories. The supernatural often arises and Poe often explores the line between life and death in the Black Cat, the Fall of the House of Usher, Ligeria, Facts in the case of Mr Vademar, all of which have oppressive tones and blur the line between a person’s life and death.

The writing of Edgar Allan Poe is also extremely violent, giving the impression that any man may be suddenly moved to murder. And his murderers are not represented as frantic animals, often managing to effectively cover up their crimes unless fate transpires to reveal them. I really enjoyed this theme of the public person and the private person, with murder and crimes often hidden about the characters homes.

Not many of his stories have what I could call ‘happy’ endings. There are a few which are undeniably just or right, but only one seems to have any semblance of peace or comfort to it so if you’re feeling down, Ligeia may be the best choice for you. The oppressive nature of the stories is also impressive, with the Pit and the Pendulum being a very famous example of Poe’s suspenseful writing. The supernatural elements of his writing are usually not explained but this is not a point against the stories. As impossible, perhaps even ridiculous as the stories seem under scrutiny, in the moment where you are reading them Poe manages to dwell on making you feel unsettled.

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