Rating: ★★★★★ // Spookily good
Favorite Line: “His heart is a suspended lute; As soon as you touch it, it resonates.”
*some very mild spoilers ahead, but it is like hundreds of years old, so not really…. 😉
This mysterious short story is nothing less than expected from the great Edgar Allan Poe. Poe, with his intense vocabulary and lengthy sentences, brings an air of suspense into this story within the first paragraph, even when all he ultimately did was describe a house.
This story follows a man, an unnamed man, who travels to the House of Usher upon request of his childhood friend Roderick Usher. The two had fallen out of contact, yet Roderick pleaded he come to his house, for he was suffering from a mental disorder, and thinking his presence may help his old friend, our narrator answers his call.
Upon arriving, the narrator finds out his friend is a severe hypochondriac, and refuses even to leave his house (despite the house being one of the causes for his severe anxiety and fear). The fear is so strong, Roderick admitted to the narrator that “In this unnerved, in this pitiable, condition I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.” This fear, the narrator notes, is a new quality to his old friend, and it has changed his entire demeanor and appearance.
“To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave.”
Along with severe hypochondria, Roderick suffers from the grief which stems from his sister’s illness and impending death. Despite our narrator’s efforts he is unable to completely liven his friends spirits, especially when his sister does ultimately die, and the uneasiness in the house grows into a supernatural creepiness as odd occurrences happen within.
“About the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity – an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn – a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hue.”
I love Poe. As a poet, he is my favorite, and as a short story writer, he proved to be a master of the supernatural. If you haven’t read him in awhile, however, it takes a few minutes to get back into his style. His sentences are long and complex, and his language is elegant to the extreme. The voice is quick, despite the length of the sentences, and it feels as if he was writing quickly, or, if the story was being told orally, the narrater was speaking quickly.
I mentioned his long sentences a few times, but as an example, here is the opening sentence of the story:
“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”
Yeah, I’m willing to bet Poe’s teachers never had to tell him to use more commas. But this sentence is more than just lengthy, it is also successfully gives the mission of the narrator, the setting, and the unnerving tone Poe wishes to convey to the reader. It’s truly genius.
This is one of those mystery stories where the ending still leaves you with a sense of unknowing. There are two possibilities that offer an explanation to the end, one is supernatural, and the other is realistic, yet terribly disturbing, and the reader must choose which one they want to believe…personally I choose the supernatural, but I have an inkling Poe meant for it to be the disturbing realistic explanation.
The story only being 15 pages or so, you can easily read it in under an hour. I read it through once, and then knowing I missed a few things, I read it again while listening to an old BBC recording of it, and got a lot more out of it. It may have been due to it being my second time through, but I think it was more because of the cadence of the narrator, as it amplified the eeriness and suspense.
I will always recommend Poe, and this story is no exception, especially if you want a quick suspenseful story, without the commitment of a novel.
*I read this book as apart of my Classics Club challenge, but then I realized it wasn’t actually on my list…oops…regardless, it’s a great classic! To see the rest of my list, click here. To learn more about the Classics Club challenge, click here.
You can find this short story, along with other Poe short stories, discounted here on Book Depository!