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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe

Hollywood made some bad movie versions of Poe's stories.
Book Review
The Fall of the House of Usher
by Edgar Allan Poe
Project Gutenberg Edition 
Published 1997, #932
p. 1839
Read on Ipad Ebooks Program

   Project Gutenberg has been out there, doing it's thing since waaayyyy before Ebooks, Ereaders, or, for that matter, the Internet really got going, but I would have to say that this is Project Gutenberg's moment to become the Wikipedia of Ereading.

  I'm more excited by the format combination:  Project Gutenberg/Ipad/Ebooks Program then the work itself. First of all, The Fall of the House of Usher is, at best, a novella, but more like a short story. It was 35 pages long on the Ebooks/Ipad vertical orientation.  Second, it's not one but THREE short stories that Poe gets on the 1001 Books list (2006 edition.)   There only about 150 books for the entire 19th century, so listing 3 works that together are less then a hundred pages is unwarranted, particularly since I'm pretty sure they are rarely published as stand alone 'books'- let alone qualifying as a 'novel.'

  Just to take the 3 stories that made it to the list: The Fall of The House of Usher, The Purloined Letter and The Pit and the Pendulum- only the first is available as a stand-alone Ebook- paid or free- for the other two you need to get the "Collected Works" or "Short Stories Of" the Author.

  A second strike against The Fall of the House of Usher is that I hate short stories with an abiding passion.  I've been reading the New Yorker for 20 years now, and I've read maybe- one? or two? short stories in that entire time.  I mean, I actually had pretensions of being a WRITER at one point, and I could never bring myself to read the weekly New Yorker short story- the best example of a market for that commodity (short story) as exists in the entire English speaking world.

 Getting a short story in the New Yorker is the equivalent of getting a BNM award on Pitchfork, ha ha.

  The final strike against The Fall of the House of Usher is I feel like Poe has scored tons of undeserved critical attention paid not to the work, but to his life and the critical/economic response to his work- which was mixed, at best.   According to Wiki Poe is allegedly the first "major" America to try to make a living off of writing.  His failure to do so puts him in the pantheon of early 19th century Romantic writers- just based on his biography.

      The work, meanwhile, The Fall of The House of Usher included, is interesting, but doesn't really contribute anything except an example of extreme brevity in a literary work with Novelistic scope.   The Fall of The House of Usher is an example of late, late, Gothic motifs.   The first flush of the Gothic Novel was actually in the 18th century, when books like The Castle of Otranto and The Monk were published- and achieved commercial and critical success.

     By the early 19th century, skilled Authors were incorporating Gothic literary themes, but typically as only one of a number of styles that were utilized to obtain the maximum of Audience and critical attention.   This incorporation of Gothic as a subsidiary style is seen in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and even earlier scattered throughout the work of Jane Austen.

   Which is to say that Poe wasn't doing anything particularly original, nor was he that great at it.   When you consider that both James Hoggs' The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner AND Charles Maturins',  Melmoth the Wanderer were published long before Poe wrote the The Fall of the House of Usher, the later begins to look like a pale imitation of more sophisticated source material.

   Or perhaps you could argue that by utilizing brevity Poe is the master stylist, whereas the earlier Authors, lumbering through 300 plus pages of cranky ghosts and clanky castles, are limiting their potential Audience.  There is no question that the short length of The Fall of the House of Usher helped it draw attention upon initial publication.   It also likely hurt critical reaction.

I guess you could say that The Fall of the House of Usher is a good point of introduction for the Gothic style, but it is literally starting at the end of the line.

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