Usher and Rue Morgue
George Rex Graham
The Fall of the House of Usher
Poe's time with Burton's was
one of the busiest periods
of his life. He wrote, among other things, 89 book reviews but
also a huge amount of articles on various topics. One of his
most famous contributions was, however,
"The Fall of the House of Usher".
"Usher" was a classic horror story
with conventional Gothic
features such as stealthy servants,
sounds of heavy iron doors, and collapsing buildings. The
greatness in the tale is not in its novelty on the subject but
how Edgar treated it. The language he uses is technically
advanced and sets the mood in a very efficient way. The Ushers
are named after Noble Luke Usher and Harriet L'Estrange Usher,
who had performed with Eliza and
While "Usher" uses older Gothic conventions, "William
Wilson" shows of more social realism, the two tales has a
lot in common though. Wilson treats a man that kills
himself and yet lives, which shows of Poe's denial of death. In
both "Usher" and "Wilson" we can see this
tendency that nothing stays buried, and in both stories it is
the lead character that is clinging on to his past. Roderick Usher
keeps Madeleine's body in the house, and William Wilson cannot
hate his rival, the other Wilson. Wilson realizes that when he
kills the other Wilson he has in fact killed himself.
So Wilson can't escape his image and Roderick can't escape his
twin, because in both cases their "doubles" are parts of
This "doubling" is common in Poe's work and in Gothic
literature in general. The doubling can be connected, not only
between the characters in his stories, but to his own past.
Wilson's birthday is for example on the 19th of January, like
Edgar's own, and in some versions of the story the year of
birth (1809) is also correct. Wilson also went to the school of
"Doctor Bransby" which was the name of Edgar's schoolmaster in
Even though Poe produced work of high quality during his time
at "Burton's" the pay was not very good and Poe was
forced to loan money and freelance. In Alexander's Weekly
Messenger he invited people to submit their own ciphers.
The ciphers were all of the same kind where the alphabet had
simply been substituted, and they were relatively simple to
decipher. The naive readers of Alexander's failed to
realize this, and he gained a reputation of being an
Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque
Poe had for years tried to publish a book as "Tales of the
Folio Club" but abandoned that idea and published a collection
entitled "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque" in December
1839. It was published in two volumes making a total of about
500 pages and 25 tales.
Even though neither these volumes nor his work for
Burton's paid much, it enriched Poe's reputation.
he got praised for his magazine writings in dozens of
periodicals, mostly in New York and Philadelphia but also in
Richmond, Baltimore, Boston, and some other cities. "The
Tales" received about 20 reviews ranging from "gloomy
German mysticism" to "he has placed himself in the foremost
rank of American writers."
Poe had a great desire to get this admiration and even praised
himself for his work. He often wrote flattering about "Mr. Poe"
by publishing anonymously in other magazines.
After a year with Burton's he left the magazine in June
1840. Despite his success he found the job non-profitable and
uncomfortable. Together with a hard time trying to make ends
meet Poe did not respect the magazine he worked for and when
Burton announced a contest with high amounts of money involved
- which he never intended to pay - it gave Poe a reason to
Trying to paint a good picture of himself he told this to J.E.
Snodgrass, a Baltimore editor and physician, as the reason why
he quit. But he never mentioned a letter from Burton that he
received in May, where he might even have been fired. Poe's and
Burton's partnership ended with hard feelings on both sides and
Burton accused Poe for neglecting his duties because of alcohol
abuse. Poe denied this and said that he hadn't touched a drop.
Whether he was drinking or not is uncertain but even if it did
it doesn't seem to have had any devastating effect on his
As soon as Poe parted with Burton, plans of making his own
magazine came up. He wanted the independence a magazine of his
own would provide and planned to publish around New Year,
giving him six months to collect the necessary capital. The
Penn Magazine as he would call it did not come out when Poe had
promised it would since Poe found the work more difficult than
he had imagined, and because he got sick in December and
had to spend the whole month in bed.
George Rex Graham (see image on top of page),
owner of the magazine Casket, bought
Burton's magazine for $3500 per subscriber and started the
publishing of Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine (the
Casket and Gentleman's United) in 1841. In one year, circulation
went from 5000 issues to about 25000.
Poe did not like what Graham published even though it was a
huge success. But after eight months without work Poe accepted
Graham's offer of $800 a year. Poe liked Graham personally and
Graham also praised Poe's work, and had tried to help pushing
for the Penn.
Poe was hired as editor but did not perform much editorial
work, he left this mostly to Graham himself. Edgar mostly read proof
and wrote reviews, and for an additional $4 a page he also
supplied tales. He was better known as a critic than as a poet
but he did publish revisions of "The Coliseum" and
"To Helen" as well as a reworked version of
"Israfel". Poe's fiction, however, became more recognized than his
poems. He published, sometimes, nearly one tale a month.
Among others, "Never bet your head", "The Island of
the Fay" where Poe once again deals with life after death,
and "A Descent into the Maelström".
The Murders in the Rue Morgue
In the April 1841 issue of Graham's, Poe published "The
Murders in the Rue Morgue", it is said to be the first
modern detective story since nothing like it had ever been
published before. The nearest to a detective story to be found
would be Voltaire's 1748 "Zadig". Poe referred to this
new literary style as "tales of ratiocination", the word
detective did not exist at the time.
Problems with crime was spreading out in the US and the police
forces were increased in American cities. The periodicals at
the time reported of bloody murders and suicides which
influenced Poe, and then especially articles he found about
razor wielding apes.
Even if the detective story was a new concept it was a natural
continuation of Poe's writings. Especially its Gothic element,
with the gloomy mansion Dupin is kind of a Parisian Roderick
Usher. The logic deductions and the detective work of Dupin is
in no way coincidental, but the whole story is written
backwards. Everything in the narrative is adapted to the given
outcome. This "backward writing" creates a brilliant effect and
as Poe himself said: "where is the ingenuity of unravelling
a web which you yourself... have woven for the sole purpose of
Poe was praised for the novelty of the story and has influenced
stories and movies ever since. Many features has been used, such
as the use of a detective that is not connected to the police,
a narrator who is not the detective (like Dr. Watson) and that
the murders take place in a locked room, which was a concept
never introduced before "The Murders in the Rue Morgue".