The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 1849)

The Fall of the House
of Usher
by Edgar Allan Poe (1809
- 1849)

Type of Work:

Gothic horror story

Setting

An ancient English manor house; nineteenth
century

Principal Characters

An unidentified Narrator

Roderick Usher, the Narrator's gravely
ill friend Lady Madcline, Roderick's even
more in firm sister

Story Overveiw
(Classical gothic imagery - drippingly
dark surroundings and terrifying ghostly symbols - is used throughout this
tale to evoke a sense of fear and forboding that present-day novels and
films have made commonplace to modern lovers of horror. Thus, imagine yourself
living in the relatively tranquil and circumscribed realm of rural England
in the 1800's.)

The Narrator had received a letter from
a boyhood acquaintance, Roderick Usher, begging that he come to him "posthaste."

Usher had written to explain that he was suffering from a terrible mental
and bodily illness, and longed for the companionship of "his only personal
friend." The plea seemed so heartfelt that the Narrator immediately set
out for the Usher ancestral home.

Approaching the ivy-covered, decaying old
house, the Narrator was struck b y an overwhelming sense of gloom which
seemed to envelop the estate. The very sight of the manor caused within
him "an illness, a sickening of the heart, an unredeemed dreariness." But
even though the"eye-like" windows of the mansion seemed to be staring at
him, he managed to swallow his fear and continue in his carriage up the
path to the door. As he rode, he tried to recall Roderick Usher as he had
once known him; years had passed since they had last met. He remembered
his old friend as an extremely reserved fellow, quite handsome but possessing
an eerie, morbid demeanor. Roderick's family was noted for its particular
musical genius - and for the fact that no new branch of the family had
ever been generated. For centuries, the title of the estate had passed
directly from father to son, so that the term "House of Usher" had come
to refer both to the family and to the mansion. Sadly, though, Roderick
was the last surviving male issue of the Usher clan.

Finally, the carriage crossed over the
creaking moat bridge to the door, and a servant admitted the Narrator.

He was led through intricate passageways and past hung armored trophies
to Roderick Usher's inner chamber, a sorrowful room where sunlight had
never entered.

Usher himself looked equally shut in, almost
terrifying: pallid skin like that of a corpse, lustrous eyes, and long
hair that seemed to float about his head. Moreover, he was plagued by a
kind of sullen, intense, nervous agitation, similar to that of a drug-addict
experiencing withdrawal. The list of his complaints was dismaying:

He suffered much from a morbid acuteness
of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear
only garments of a certain texture; the odors of all flowers were oppressive;
his eyes were tortured even by faint light; and there were but peculiar
sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him
with horror.

But Usher wasn't alone in the house the

Narrator caught a fleeting glimpse of his friend's twin sister, Madeline,
who bore an astonishing resemblance to Roderick. Additionally, it became
evident that the brother and sister shared an eerie, almost supernatural,
sympathetic bond. Roderick could sense just what Madeline was feeling,
and she in turn could read his every thought. Pathetically, though, beloved

Madeline was grievously ill, a , gradual wasting away of the person" that
was beyond the powers of physicians to cure. On the very night of the Narrator's
arrival, Madeline was confined to bed; he never again saw her alive.

For weeks the Narrator tried to distract
his depressed friend. They talked, painted, and read together. Usher himself
even played the guitar. Once he improvised a wildly horrible ballad about
a noble castle invaded by demons - a song which finally convinced the Narrator
that Usher had gone mad. During this time, the two former schoolmates discussed
their opinions on various matters. One discussion was especially intense:

Usher believed that all matter, even inanimate objects, possessed some
measure of intelligence; therefore the very stones of his house, he contended,
were in essence alive. Indeed, he had long felt that the entire estate,
with its dark atmosphere and personality, had ,'moulded the destinies of
his family" and made him what he was.

Then one day Usher announced to his friend
that Madeline was "no more," and that he intended to entomb her body in
the house's dungeon rather than bury it. The two carried Madeline's encoffined
corpse to the grim and moss-covered underground catacombs and laid it in
a