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Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe. “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Elements of the Gothic. Gothic literature takes its themes of terror, darkness from Gothic architecture. Gothic architecture is a style of building that was popular in the Middle Ages, from about the twelfth to the fifteenth century.

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Edgar Allan Poe

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  1. Edgar Allan Poe “The Fall of the House of Usher”

  2. Elements of the Gothic • Gothic literature takes its themes of terror, darkness from Gothic architecture. • Gothic architecture is a style of building that was popular in the Middle Ages, from about the twelfth to the fifteenth century. • Most gothic buildings are religious buildings: abbeys, cathedrals, monasteries. • Pointed arches, intricate stonework and sculptures (like gargoyles), tall spires, high vaulted ceilings, and stained-glass windows are characteristics of Gothic architecture. • The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France, is a famous example of a Gothic-style building.

  3. Gothic writers often associated medieval buildings with what they saw as a dark and terrifying period, characterized by harsh laws enforced by torture, and with mysterious, fantastic, and superstitious rituals. 

  4. The term was used pejoratively, intended to demean the architecture as crude and barbaric, like the Goths (a Germanic tribe known for attacking Rome). • At the same time, the word Gothwas a stereotype for rude and primitive. • For gothic writers, Gothic architecture symbolized the unknown, forgotten, and disregarded past. • Ruined Gothic buildings, with their intricate architecture, hidden passageways, and unexplored rooms, embodied for both writers and readers a desire to confront the unknown and the unknowable of the individual's psychology.

  5. Gothic novels attempt to create for their readers "pleasing terror" by considering elements of human psychology and social acts that were often suppressed in the polite culture of the eighteenth century. • These elements are the supernatural, the past, and the exotic. • Most gothic novels contain elements of the supernatural—ghosts, dreams, mysterious storms, bumps in the night, hauntings, premonitions—and other unexplainable events. • Gothic literature's desire to explore the unknown is also a response to the eighteenth century's emphasis on scientific rationalism. 

  6. The Enlightenment emphasized polite culture, rational conversation and literature, and scientific investigation into everything from the laws of nature to human relationships and emotions. • Gothic writers' interest in the unexplained, the unknown, and the terrifying can be seen then as a reaction to the Enlightenment's emphasis on the rational and knowable. • Rejection of the clarity and rationalism of the neoclassical style of the EnlightenedEstablishment.

  7. What makes a work Gothic is a combination of at least some of these elements: • a castle, ruined or intact, haunted or not, • ruined buildings which are sinister or which arouse a pleasing melancholy, • dungeons, underground passages, crypts, and catacombs which, in modern houses, become spooky basements or attics, • labyrinths, dark corridors, and winding stairs, • shadows, a beam of moonlight in the blackness, a flickering candle, or the only source of light failing (a candle blown out or an electric failure), • extreme landscapes, like rugged mountains, thick forests, or icy wastes, and extreme weather, • omens and ancestral curses,

  8. magic, supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural, • a passion-driven, wilful villain-hero or villain, • a curious heroine with a tendency to faint and a need to be rescued–frequently, • a hero whose true identity is revealed by the end of the novel, • horrifying (or terrifying) events or the threat of such happenings. • Death, Decay, Madness, Secrets, Hereditary curses • The Gothic creates feelings of gloom, mystery, and suspense and tends to the dramatic and the sensational, like incest, diabolism, and nameless terrors.

  9. “Usher” • On a dark and gloomy autumn day narrator approaches the House of Usher. • The first five paragraphs of the story are devoted to creating a gothic mood. • The ancient decaying castle is eerie and moldy and the surrounding moat seems stagnant. • Sight of the house renders the day even gloomier than before. • He looks at the House of Usher, and "a sense of insufferable gloom" pervades his spirit. • He notes the house’s “eye-like windows” and feels a “depression of soul”. • The narrator approaches the tarn (lake) that lies near the house, and gazes down into it so as to examine the inverted reflection of the house. • It’s still creepy-looking. • He again notes the “eye-like windows”.

  10. He’s planning on spending a few weeks here. • The owner of the house, Roderick Usher, is a boyhood friend of his. • Recently, the narrator received a letter from Usher revealing Usher’s illness, “a mental disorder that oppressed him.” • Usher begged his friend to come to the house and try to figure out what was wrong with him. • Although they were friends in childhood, the narrator actually knows very little about Usher, as he was always excessively and habitually reserved. • Very ancient family.

  11. Usher family has no branches. • The name of the estate, “The House of Usher,” has come to refer both to the house itself and the family who owns it. • There also seem to be similarities between the character of the house and the supposed characters of the Ushers. • House is very old, but it seems to be in great shape – except for a very tiny crack that runs from the roof down the front of the house.

  12. The narrator rides his horse to the house and is greeted by a servant. • He is taken by a valet to see Usher, and on the way determines that all the objects inside the house – carvings, tapestries, trophies – give him much the same feeling that the outside of the house did. • All traditional elements in all gothic horror stories.  • When the narrator enters his room, Usher stands and greets his friend. • The narrator is shocked at how much Usher has changed since they last saw each other. • His skin is very pale, his eyes seem to glow, and his hair seems to float above his head.

  13. Usher discusses his illness. • This, he says, is a family illness. • Light hurts his eyes, he can only eat bland foods and only wear certain clothes, and most sounds make him miserable. • He feels he will die from it, and quite soon. • He is also very superstitious. • Usher hasn’t left his house in several years. • He’s under the impression that his family’s mansion has obtained an influence over his spirit, that it’s the house’s fault he feels so gloomy.

  14. He also feels gloomy because his sister, Madeline, his last living relative and his only companion for the last several years, has been ill for a long time and will soon be dead. • As Usher is speaking, Madeline walks slowly in a distant part of the house and the narrator catches sight of her, though she does not notice him. • No one has been able to figure out why Madeline is so sick. • The doctors think that she is just gradually wasting away and that she is partially cataleptic.

  15. For the next several days the narrator tries to help Usher out of his melancholy. • They paint, or read, or he listens to Usher play the guitar. • He painted intense, abstract, mood-driven pieces.  • Along corridor below the earth, bathed in eerie light though there was no light source to be found. • “The Haunted Palace,” and tells the story of a glorious, beautiful palace destroyed by “evil things”. • The two men spend a lot of time reading the books in Usher’s library.

  16. One night, Usher informs the narrator that Madeline is dead. • He’s afraid that her doctors will want to autopsy or otherwise experiment on her, since her illness was so bizarre. • Usher wishes to entomb her underneath the mansion, in one of its many vaults, for two weeks, until her proper burial. • The narrator agrees to help Usher move the body. • The two men together carry Madeline to the vault. • The narrator notes that the underground chamber lies directly underneath his own room in the mansion.

  17. As they place Madeline into the coffin, the narrator notes, for the first time, how similar she looks to Usher. • Usher responds that they were in fact twins, and that they shared a connection which could hardly be understood by an outsider. • The narrator also notes that Madeline’s cheeks are flushed and her lips pink. Then they screw the coffin closed. • The narrator also finds that he himself is subject to Usher’s superstitions. • The narrator feels nervous and scared and can’t get to sleep. • There is a storm raging, he can hear eerie sounds coming from the mansion.

  18. Narrator sees Usher in the hallway. The man looks crazy. • Usher throws open the windows to the raging storm outside, and huge, powerful gusts of wind begin raging through the room. • Outside, the narrator can see an eerie, glowing, gaseous cloud surrounding the mansion. • He tries to assure Usher that it is simply an electrical phenomenon, perfectly explainable through science. • He then sits his friend down and begins to read aloud to him in order to pass the night away.

  19. The narrator and Usher can hear the sounds of a door being smashed through. • Usher reveals to the narrator that they buried Madeline alive. • These sounds they have heard are the sounds of Madeline breaking out of her coffin and making her way out of the underground vault. • Agust of wind blows the doors to the bedchamber open, and indeed there stands Madeline, bloodied and bruised. • She rushes forward and falls upon her brother, who collapses to the ground, dead.

  20. The narrator runs terrified from the mansion. • He sees a bright light on the path before him and turns around to the house to see where it is coming from. • The moon, it seems, is shining through that tiny crack in the house that he noticed at his first arrival. • As he looks back at the house, the fissure widens. • The entire house splits in two and then falls, sinking into the tarn (lake) below.

  21. Story has all the expected Gothic elements of haunted house, family curse, the death of a beautiful woman, mystery, terror, the supernatural, and unnatural types of death.  • Many commentators point out the implication of incest between brother and sister indicated by the family history and the unusual closeness and empathy the two siblings experience. • Roderick and Madeleine are the last of the Usher family, a man and woman, and if the family is to continue without outside help, they perhaps were tempted to mate, following a family curse. 

  22. Another mystery is why Roderick buries his sister alive. • Is he afraid she will reveal their family secret? • Roderick’s own thesis that the house itself is a sinister intelligence bringing them all to ruin.  • Part of the terror of this story is its vagueness. • Usher and his house mirror each other. • The physical similarities are the clearest; they suggest that both man and house are living corpses.

  23.  Each appears on the verge of collapse. • Usher seems to feel imprisoned in his body and in his house; as his body has come to resemble his house, so he fears a peculiar advance of mortality as his failing spirit comes to resemble his decaying body. • The root of Usher's problem, as he states it, is the fear that he will be transformed, that he will go mad. His body has come to mirror his cadaverous house and he believes his soul is being forced into a similar shape. 

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