‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ by Edgar Allan Poe

For a short while in my teens everything was rich and swirling and sinister in my reading and writing. We had to write Gothic fiction for A Level, and I wrote a story called ‘The Bride’, about a newly married couple who find a house full of strange paintings and cello music. The husband gets entranced by a figure in a painting and walks about the house look for him, forgetting his wife. By the end, she has disappeared and is now in one of the paintings, on a bed of nails. My teacher wrote, ‘I love the ambiguity of the man’s sexuality and his ultimate ambivalence for his wife.’ It was pretty much a copy of this story, when I think of it, but I was proud of myself as though it was all my own doing.

ANYWAY, I blame this Poe story (and The Picture of Dorian Gray) which I still dream about now, for all that. It’s so visual, and full of the strange spyglass of sulphuric detail that Poe’s fiction is full of, somehow exterior and interior. It’s the kind of story you read in the dark, even if you’re reading it on a park bench in the sunshine. I could say lots about it, about Poe, about writing that thrills, or disturbs, or about short stories that do that. But I won’t. We’ve all been there.

It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression.
First published in 1839. My copy from The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings, Penguin Classics; Rev Ed edition 2003

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