Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothicism in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’

Wenfang Pane

Wenfang Pane

Gothic stories are romantic tales of terror and the supernatural, which rely a great deal on scene and setting to convey a sense of horror to the reader.

The American author Edgar Allan Poe is just one master of the literary genre known as the Gothic story, and he makes a great contribution to Gothic fiction. He inherits and develops the traditional Gothic fiction and American literature which form the background of his horror fictions and to give them a unique power and charm. To a certain degree, Edgar Allan Poe’s horror fiction prepares the origin of Southern fiction.

In his works, he reveals people’s horror towards human nature, nothingness, death, evil and disintegration of personality. He tries to make it clear that horror comes from our soul. He tries his best to state how evil and horror function in bringing sublimation and purification to man’s inner world.

‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1839 is regarded as an early and supreme example of the Gothic horror story, and it has the usual Gothic elements found in most works by Edgar Allan Poe.

Every aspect expected from a Edgar Allan Poe’s piece can be found within this story. What’s more, just as his other excellent works, Edgar Allan Poe not only tells a story but also clarifies his spirit in this creations: Horror is a kind of instinct and one of the strongest feelings of humankind. At the same time, according to the theory of sublime by Longinus, Immanuel Kant and Burke, readers still can find beauty from horror in Gothic fiction and experience the aesthetic pleasure.

Gothic literature’s development is very colourful, and the influence is great because the Gothic has devoted itself to many popular genres and influenced many important writers such as Edgar Allan Poe. He who, as one of the most important writers in Southern American literature, makes a very important contribution to the development of Gothic literature.

First, if we were going to focus on Gothic literature, we should understand the definition of the term “Gothic:” It comes from the word “Goth,” which indicates one of several Germanic tribes that was instrumental in the fall of the Roman Empire in medieval times.

Confirmed by archaeologists, their early settlement was in the Baltic, and gradually they migrated down to the Black Sea. During the third-century, the Goths made their incursion into the Roman Empire, and in 410 AD, they took Rome under King Alaric I and established kingdoms in France and Italy. Therefore, the Goths have long left people with the indelible image of truculence, barbaric behaviour and gracefulness. What is more, sometimes the word is even used to frighten children.

The Myths about the tribe are much more important than any history of the actual Goths, who are remembered only as invaders and destroyers of the great Roman civilization since no literature or art of their own has been left.

Following the fall of Rome, very little has been known about the medieval world during the Renaissance, when the idea of the “Dark Ages” expanded to include the period, and “Gothic” became a term applied to all things medieval.

In some dictionary, “Goth” is defined as one not civilized, deficient, a barbarian and the medieval or “Gothic” age as a cultural wasteland, primitive and superstitious. The term was first used in an aesthetic sense, as a style of architecture of the Germanic tribe, for instance.

Its typical characteristics are long and narrow corridors and sombre castles always with a basement for corpses and so on. As a result, the style has been erroneously identified as barbaric, chaotic and an irrational opposite to the classic one. In a literary sense, it is clearly possible to speak of the Gothic as a historical phenomenon, originating in the late eighteenth-century.

From the “Goth” tribe to the special genre “Gothic novel” and with the development of the “Gothic novel,” it proves that this kind of literature merits lots of authors to devote themselves to it, and it has made and impact and will continue to do so. Indeed, Gothic literature has great development in the United States of America. What is more, the American Gothic, the exploration of dark psychology and the flourishing of Gothic tales tell us that American Gothic is more than an offshoot of the European Gothic. However, at the beginning, American gothic works just tended to transform European Architecture into the American landscape.

With the development of the Gothic works in the United States of America, three authors define a black thread in American literature that while not entirely original (borrowing from European Gothicism and certain American precursors) is perfected in their works and continues to show its form in subsequent literature both American and European. These authors are Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe.

At that moment, American Gothic had new features. It has the exploration and expression of the different human psychology, and another contribution to the Gothic literature is to extend it from the dominant form of a novel to the short story.

We can get this point clearly in the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and this point is inherited successfully and enriched by William Cuthbert Faulkner and Mary Flannery O’Connor who have given a new power of the Gothic.

In the literature history of America, Edgar Allan Poe is one of the unique writers. His creative technique and literary theories are totally different from the mainstream in the field of literature in his times. However, Edgar Allan Poe had been misunderstood by readers and his contemporaries for quite a long time.

It was not until the twentieth-century that the importance of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary creations was accepted by the academic world.

Nowadays, Edgar Allan Poe has been recognized by the whole world as the precursor of modernist writings, originator of the short stories, a forerunner of psychoanalytic criticism and father of modern detective stories. What is more, he enjoys a very important status in American literary history and achieves great achievement in both pure and popular literature.

Edgar Allan Poe stands between them to keep the balance and exert some sound influences in both directions.

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