Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore': On Edgar Allan Poe's 210th birth anniversary, a look at some of his most macabre stories
Perhaps one of Poe's most popular works, The Tell-Tale Heart has the reader questioning the sanity but firmly believing in the psychosis of the narrator.
Born on 19 January, 1809, Poe was orphaned just a year later after his father abandoned the family and his mother succumbed to tuberculosis
What transpired before his death in 1847 in Baltimore at the age of 40 remains largely unknown
Poe's Gothic writing, surreal, dark and exhilarating extends much beyond his most famed poem to include a vast collection of mystery stories
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted — nevermore!
Not for nothing is Edgar Allan Poe the master of the macabre. His Gothic writing, surreal, dark and exhilarating extends much beyond his most famed poem, The Raven, to include a vast collection of tales that became the foreground of the detective genre of storytelling.
Born on 19 January, 1809, he was orphaned just a year later after his father abandoned the family and his mother succumbed to tuberculosis. Poe was brought up in Virginia and he enlisted in the army early into his adult life. It was here that his literary career began and The Raven, one of his first published works, became an instant success. What transpired before his death in 1847 in Baltimore at the age of 40 remains largely unknown and there is no record of his death certificate. Much like his stories, his death remains a series of strange, mysterious occurrences although it has been by and large attributed to his alcoholism and possible substance abuse.
Poe's works have continued to be a significant part of the literary canon and on his 210th birth anniversary, here is a look at some of his most notable stories:
The Tell-Tale Heart
Perhaps one of Poe's most popular works, The Tell-Tale Heart has the reader questioning the sanity but firmly believing in the psychosis of the narrator. Hardly a reliable figure to tell the story, the narrator of this mysterious Gothic classic has been an inspiration for characters, including Alfred Hitchcock's notorious motelier, Norman Bates. As Poe explores the obsession and insanity, the brutality and the murder, one cannot help but wonder, whether what transpires is in the realm of the supernatural, or simply a hallucination.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue
Published in 1841, this story might well be a favourite today for creating C Auguste Dupin, who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create his own 'high functioning sociopath,' detective Sherlock Holmes. Money and belongings intact, Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter, Mademoiselle Camille, have been killed, ruling out robbery as a motive and their neighbours might just be on to something. The narrator assumes the role of Watson and Dupin the quick-witted detective, to solve this mystery of the Rue Morgue.
The Purloined Letter
In this story, the trailblazing detective, Dupin is at work again to tidy up the mystery of a letter that has been swapped with another. One can go on to find out how Dupin returns the letter to its owner, a woman from a royal order who is being blackmailed by the thief but in a classic Poe touch, what went into the letter remains quite the mystery.
The Pit and The Pendulum
Poe's Pit and The Pendulum, published in 1843 rests on one's fear of the unknown and introduces yet again a nameless narrator to tell his story. Imprisoned, and by all accounts, awaiting his death during the Spanish Inquisition, he awakes to find himself in a dark cell. A pendulum shaped like the Grim Reaper's scythe, inches down towards his chest, as the prisoner tries to prevent his impending death.
The Masque of the Red Death
Considered to be one of Poe's masterpieces, this story came at a time when Poe's wife was battling tuberculosis and explores perhaps deliberately the themes of death and vanity at length that have been woven often into his works. When Prince Prospero holds a masquerade to distract himself from the Red Death, the plague ravaging the population outside his castle, an intruder ventures in, whose physical appearance unleashes a horrific effect on those who come into his contact. Poe emerges as a truly marvellous writer in this story giving the literary world one of its most celebrated closing lines, "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."
The Fall of the House of Usher
The (in)famous haunted house makes an appearance in this tale, but with Poe's macabre twist. Roderick Usher, the master of the house, calls his friend, the narrator, to his side because he feels mentally and physically uneasy. The narrator meets Usher's twin sister, Madeline, also very ill, who dies shortly after their meeting. With her death, something dark, frightening and evil rises from the house and a distraught Usher is forced to admit his worst fear, that he may have buried his sister alive.
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