“The Fall of the House of Usher” recounts the terrible events that befall the last remaining members of the once-illustrious Usher clan before it is — quite literally — rent asunder. With amazing economy, Poe plunges the reader into a state of deliciously agonizing suspense.
Review by Michael Connery
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” is a short story in the author’s quintessential style: a melodramatic, macabre piece of horror and gothic fiction. Poe’s prose is eloquent and grandiose, and his ability to create a sense of foreboding and disquiet is brilliant.
As in the majority of his work, Poe explores the question of the supernatural and madness throughout this short tale. Often in Poe’s stories, it is impossible to untangle whether madness is genuine insanity or brought about by supernatural forces, and this pondering reflects the mindset of the era: “Usher” was published in 1839, when asylums were the stuff of more horror than Poe’s tales and there was even less understanding of the workings of the brain than there is today. This exploration of physical and mental illness and the toll it takes on both the individual and the family is a subtle underpinning in Poe’s work, detailed here in the eerie, transcendent, possibly incestuous bond between Roderick and Madeline Usher.
The Usher siblings are the last of their line and are joined in their ancestral home by an enigmatic, peripheral narrator who recounts the horror for the reader in cool, detached tones. The pervasive power of fear imbues the tale with a sense of unease and begs the question of whether fear creates the situation that is most dreaded. Reality is relative, it seems, and the Ushers show the mental toll of extreme isolation. Like the siblings and the narrator, the reader begins to feel trapped within the sentient house.
While Poe relies on familiar formulas and themes which are reflected throughout the body of his work, the tale questions reality, explores the power of fear, and is a heart-wrenching testament to the cost of mental illness and isolation. “The Fall of the House of Usher” is a chilling, atmospheric read and a worthy entry into the vault of the American classics.
Highly recommended for fans of short stories and for the horror and gothic fiction genres