1. 1. Edgar Allan Poe (II). The House of Usher (2014)Apunte Inglés
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1. 1. EDGAR ALLAN POE (II)
The author died quite young. A friend was jealous of him and he wrote a biography with fake
information. Poe was influenced by Wordsworth and mostly Coleridge. There are just a few women in his
life: his mother, who died when he was 2, his step-mother, and a friend’s mother who dead at age 28.
Women in his work are highly idealized. Nowadays, there’s also a lot of Poe tourism.
There are a lot of different opinions about him. He became one of the ‘cult’ kind of writers. Emerson (a transcendentalist, basically American individualist optimist) referred to him as “The jingle man”: if we remember ‘The Raven’, we see that it has a kind of sing-song quality that some people dislike. Same happens in the song that appears in The Song of Usher. Harry James also disliked him. He was a polemic writer.
As we said before, when it came to short stories, Poe believed that truth was beauty. Short stories must have brevity; they have to be read in one sitting or two hours. He also talked about the unity of effect: not the chronology, but the effect on the reader. There’s another treatise about it, Eureka, where he also writes about the role of God.
He uses ratiocination: he enhances a very odd characteristic of the character. It’s not a satire, but something grotesque (ex.: pale, dead-like, thin, etc.). He also added mirror games in his stories. In art, you just see traces. For Poe, it means supernatural tales because there are no explanations for some facts.
That would be the arabesque. Poe is also considered the creator of detective stories. He was a fan of supernatural phenomena like mesmerizing.
The sublime is also a remarkable characteristic: he makes horror and obscure very beautiful. We talk about awe, especially something that is happening in nature. It’s really romantic. In spite of talking about truth, the character’s impression of things could also be manipulating or view (e.g. unreliable narrator).
There’s a gradual descending to madness too.
However, are Poe’s stories scary? He read stories to an audience and especially ‘The Raven’ was very popular. A lot of times the lights would be turned down and some people got very scared.
The House of Usher We have a character that has arrived, and he describes a house for us. The sister is life in death, but Roderick is death in life. One of the topics we find here is the willingness to life versus the romantic death wish.
There are several mirror images, like the twins. The poem is an allegory about how the character is going mad. We have the ‘mise en abyme’: we have a story that talks about the same story inside. In Las Meninas, we have a mirror inside the picture showing part of the situation, it would be the same.
As for the style, he is very fond of the triple form when it comes to rhetorical effects: ‘dull, dark and soundless’, as if he was writing poetry. He also uses anaphors and repetitions. From the very beginning, we have the impression that we’re not in the plain of reality. It’s like a daydream. There is a thin line between the real and the supernatural. There are also a lot of symbols, a liminal experience (when you cross a limit, threshold). He says that he has the experience caused by opium, the feeling of being inbetween: the limit of reality and the beginning of another world. This is what happens when he enters the house of Usher.
‘Usher’ is actually a verb. In Spanish there’s a similar word: it’s someone, like a servant, that shows you in. In the text the verb appears ‘usher me’. Even Roderick’s hair is so wild that it’s called ‘arabesque’. He seems to be bipolar: at some moments he’s very excited, but then he’s very depressed.
In their free time, the narrator and Roderick play the guitar. Usher paints very weird paintings, reads strange books (fantastic literature, dark, occult, sub-literature) and sings wild melodies. ‘The Haunted Palace’ reminds us of the house’s and Usher’s situation. It gives us sadness and fear, and the poem summarizes what will happen in the short story. The Palace is both the house of Usher and Roderick’s smile. It’s like a fairy story. We talk about the physical sensitivity and also his mental state.
Twins are very united. Perhaps they had telepathy and perhaps there was even incest (‘scarcely intelligible nature’).
We find unity of effect from the very beginning: there’s always mystery in the stories, but in different ways. We don’t know if the narrator is crazy or not. The house is like a skull, human-like: Poe remembers the philosophy of furniture; he predicts death and the state in which he will find his friend later. Also, the house is in front of a little lake and it is reflected on the water. This makes sense if we remember that the siblings are twins: there’s a lot of doubles.
It’s important to know the difference between ‘fantastic’ and ‘supernatural’. The first one takes place when things happen ‘in real life’, sometimes inside of our lives. The second on happens when the character thinks that rare elements are common: it’s a different world, it’s there, one takes it for granted.
The atmosphere is somehow gothic, the wall is scratched (irruption in the natural mind/foreshadow of the splitting of the house), the house’s decay in general, the atmosphere, though there’s a kind of pleasure, he creates a rhythm, almost like poetry; it is a prose that involves you, surrounds you and when you begin to read you’re already in the story.
Poe’s Gothic Formula - Plot: somebody chasing somebody; somebody running away from something (Roderick or the narrator); successive withdrawals into something narrower and more claustrophobic (Roderick); there is often a flight and a pursuit; confrontation at the end (with the uncanny or with something that has changed; the repressed returns…) - Character: main character always intensely mentally agitated (Roderick and narrator); normally excited and obsessed (both: the narrator is influenced by the house, its atmosphere and Roderick; at the end of the story, he thinks like his friend); usually a male protagonist; the antagonist is the thing or person he’s running from - Setting: very elaborate; imaginary; rooms far back in the house; windows cut you off from the outside (the room in which they are is isolated); strange furniture (the room is quite disorganized); detached from nature; becomes an expression of the character’s disordered mind; you don’t know where you are.
- Narrator: always inside the story.