The Fall of the House of Usher by Poe
About the author … Edgar Allan Poe (1809 -1849) was born in Boston. His childhood was not a happy one. His father David Poe Jr. abandoned his mother, the British Actress Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe. She too died soon after this separation, leaving the young Poe an orphan. Later, he was reared (not formally adopted) by John Allan, a wealthy trader. But, when Poe grew up, the relationship with the foster family worsened over debts created by John Allan. Poe’s education was affected, and he had to drop out of University of Virginia due to lack of funds. Poe enlisted in West Point for a career in army, but failed to qualify.
Around this time, he wrote Tamerlane and Other Stories under a pseudo name. This book proved to be very popular. The success inspired Poe to adopt the career in literature for the rest of his life. Poe was very successful as a critic, known for his pungent views on the works of fellow writers. He wrote short stories and poems in good number, and became acclaimed as a talented author. His short stories like The Black Cat, The Descent into Maelstrom, The Oval Portrait, The Tell-tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum had the hall marks of fantasy and detective novels.
Poe didn’t live long, but his fame has contribution to American literature as the pioneer of Romanticism is recognized even today. The story, “The Fall of the House of Usher’ belongs to the genre of detective novella which keeps the reader riveted till the end.
The Story …
A mansion under the pall of an ominous funk….
Roderick Usher was a wealthy man, but he lived a cursed life. The sprawling mansion that he lived in was gripped by fear, loneliness, disease and anxiety. Usher didn’t keep good health. In the large mansion, he lived with his sister Madeline, who, too, was gripped by similar affliction and angst. The brother and sister were born as twins. That explained why the two looked so much alike, and, sadly, suffered similar curse of nervous disorder and a mind that constantly battled the fear of an outworldish unknown. The author had been a friend of Usher years back, but the contact had faded later due to no interaction between the two friends in between.
The author was summoned by Usher to his mansion. It was not a very pleasant invitation, so the author was not the least elated to go there to meet his friend. But, it was hard to decline the invitation, so with great hesitation, he decided to go. He knew Usher was a troubled soul, and there was only grief and anxiety that his friend would unburden on him. As De Beranger had written..
“His/her heart is a poised lute;
as soon as it is touched, it resounds”.
Usher’s heart was heavy with emotions, and he would begin unraveling it as soon as he met a friend. Clearly, the author didn’t relish the idea of being a listener to Usher. Usher’s letter to the author had mentioned about the host’s debilitating illness that brought constant pain to him. Usher had mentioned that the author’s presence could bring him some succor from his suffering.
The author went on a horseback. It was autumn. By dusk, he reached a point from where he could see the Usher mansion from a distance. The author felt nervous, and awed as he neared the mansion that seemed to exude an appalling sense of gloom. Just as an opium addict suffers after his opium effect tapers off, the author too felt irritation and despondency.
The author enters the mansion ….
He tethered his horse to a pivot outside the mansion and began to go in. His eyes fell on some inverted grass bushes, tree-stems and small windows, all combining to give rise to a depressing feeling. He felt awful thinking that he had to stay in this mansion for a few days.
The legacy of the Usher family .. The ancestors of Roderick Usher were wealthy, and people of fine taste. They patronized art inits many forms. In later years, they took to charity with extraordinary generosity. Their benevolence and compassion won them great acclaim. On the whole, the Ushers were not tinged by any devious ways that come with wealth. They remained honorable all along. They cultivated an abiding interest in music too.
Intermarriage leads to a fatal consequence .. The Ushers married within their extended families. As a result, all descendants came more or less from the same genetic pool. Quite expectedly, this accentuated the flaws and frailties of the race, and contributed to aggravation of the peculiar nerve and mind related diseases. The wealth of the family , thus accumulated generation after generation, became formidable. The peasants who did farming in the land owned by the Usher family identified their landlords to the family mansion. Thus, the House of Usher became synonymous with the Usher lineage.
The mystery deepens .. There was a lake abutting the mansion. One could see the reflection of the mansion in the lake’s waters. The author instinctively looked into the water where he saw the mansion’s image. This added to his enigma and intrigue. The grey wall, the tall and silent mansion, and the decaying trees standing nearby added to the unease of the author’s mind. The author shook off the distraction caused by the thought, and began to intently look at the building. The mansion had all the hallmarks of its old existence, neglect, and creeping ruin. the walls had turned green due to moss, There was some ornate woodwork which also appeared weather-beaten. Nonetheless, the mansion stood rather defiantly defying the corrosive claws of time. Some stones seemed to have fallen off,but over all, the structure looked more or less in tact. Minor cracks had developed all the structure, though.
The author enters the mansion … After carefully scanning the exteriors, the author moved into the house through a Gothic archway. A servant came in to take charge of his horse.Through a narrow passage, the author was ushered into the studio of his master. Whatever he saw along the passage evoked feelings similar to what he had experienced a little while earlier. The studio was ornate. It had carvings in the ceiling, tapestries on the walls, and black stoned floor. Some old trophies were on display too. The author had seen these things in his childhood when he was a friend of Roderick .
On the way, the author ran into the doctor who had come to treat Usher. He looked worried. He went off. A valet came and took the author inside for a meeting with his master, Usher. It was a spacious room with large windows that were well above the floor. Light came in through the windows. They had large draperies to cover them. The furniture were royal in nature.
The host and the guest meet… Finally the author met Usher, who received him very warmly. The author had some difficulty in recognizing his boyhood friend, because the latter had changed so much with time. The illness had also taken its toll. The way Usher spoke had changed a lot, too. There were some awkward moments for the host, but, things settled down fast.
The author begins to discover Usher’s woes .. Usher spoke his words falteringly and incoherently. It was soon clear that he was suffering from some nerve-related disease. The author had sensed this after reading Usher’s letter. Usher, in his boyhood, had exhibited faint signs of such abnormal conduct. The author could recollect this. Usher spoke energetically for a while before falling into a very slow and somber tone. Such unusual way of speaking is common to alcoholics and opium-addicts.
Usher explained why he had called the author, and the type of help that he expected from him. Usher explained that the health problem that was bothering him ran in the family. It was a urse that had been passed from the ancestors to their descendants. While narrating his difficulties, Usher said that the problem could soon recede. Usher explained the symptoms of his affliction. He said he couldn’t eat even the most plain food, couldn’t wear anything that was not silken smooth, couldn’t look at even faint light, and smell even the most aromatic flowers. He also told that the sounds of stringed instruments filled him with horror.
Usher cursed his fate and bitterly lamented his inexplicable predicament. In a voice trembling in grief and fear Usher said that he would die a miserable death due to the nervous problem that he was facing.
As Usher began to narrate his story, new facts emerged about the circumstances that had caused him the present misery. It so happened that Usher had lived as a tenant in a house from which he never could step out due to some superstitious fear. The self-imposed incarceration in that rented house ran for a few years. The command to stay inside and never come out was conveyed to Usher through some ghastly figures that appeared as devils before Usher. He suffered a lot due to this long captivity. The fear of the devil and the suffering he had to endure got too entrenched in his mind. The same distortion remained with him in the mansion which along with the outlying lake continued to cast a gloom on him.
Usher brings up the matter of Lady Madeline, his beloved sister… A little later, Usher gathered himself and told that the real reason of his misery was due to a disease that had become worse of late. His dear sister Madeline was ill, and she could die any time. Thinking of the loss of his dearest soul on earth, he had reached a point when his disease had become acutely insufferable. Quite wryly, he said that that would be the end of the Usher legacy in this world. While he was lamenting his fate like this, Lady Madeline happened to pass by. The author could see her fleetingly. The author was stupefied at her sight. Usher was in the meantime weeping covering his face with his hands.
The death of Lady Madeline and its aftermath ..Lady Madeline’s disease had proved to quite intriguing even for the doctors. Her body was slowly wasting away and she suffered frequent bouts of shock and seizure. She had not become bed-ridden until then, but after the author arrived in the mansion, her condition had deteriorated sharply. She perished.
For several evenings after her death, neither Usher, nor the author brought up the name of Madeline during their chats.