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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 David Poe.
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 themselves.
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 England.
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 ingenious analyst.

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 quit.
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 duties.
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.

Graham's

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 unravelling?"
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".

Last modified: February 07 2006 19:08:56.