Brander Matthews (1852–1929). The Short-Story. 1907.By Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849)
Notes to The Fall of the House of Usher
|POE is the earliest master of the short-story who was conscious of its possibilities and of its limitations. Whatever perfection may have been achieved before him was almost accidental; but he knew what he was doing and how he meant to do it. His short-stories vary greatly in theme and in manner, ranging from the ingenious but somewhat mechanical detective tale to the imaginative altitude of “Ligeia” and the “Masque of the Red Death.” Perhaps no one of them better reveals his sheer power, his command over form, his mastery of verbal music, his ability to suggest far more than he ventures to put into words, than the “Fall of the House of Usher,” which was written in 1839, and which he included in his “Tales of the Grotesque and of the Arabesque,” published at the end of that year.
|In none of his short-stories has Poe been more successful than in this in centering the interest of the reader upon a single theme and in giving to his narrative the unity of impression that he aimed at. He achieves this partly by his rigid exclusion of any suggestion, of any word even, which does not help to complete his picture,—which does not lend its own vague detail to the vision he wished to evoke. From the first note to the last, all is in keeping; there is a consummate harmony of tone. What he had determined to do that he did; by the aid of a thousand artifices of phrasing he accomplished an implacable directness. Attention may be called to the fact that this is rather a story of atmosphere, of a special destiny, than of character or incident, and that therefore Poe begins by description and continues with description, to which he keeps incident and character subordinate.