Study Guide

The Cask of Amontillado

by Edgar Allan Poe

The Cask of Amontillado Essay - Critical Overview

Critical Overview

When it appeared in the monthly magazine Godey's Lady's Book in 1846, "The Cask of Amontillado,'' like most short stories published in locally distributed magazines, attracted no special critical attention. A year earlier, Poe had published a collection of Tales, which had been widely reviewed. Most of these reviews were favorable, praising Poe's powers of imagination and control of language. George Colton's review in the American Whig Review was typical in heralding the volume's "most undisputable marks of intellectual power and keenness; and an individuality of mind and disposition, of peculiar intensity.'' A few were not only negative but scathing, including Charles Dana's review in the Brook Farm Harbinger in which he describes Poe's stories as "clumsily contrived, unnatural, and every way in bad taste.'' Significantly, the collection of tales was read and reviewed in all parts of the country, and helped bring Poe to a much larger audience than he had previously enjoyed.

After Poe's death in 1849, his literary executor Rufus W. Griswold wrote an obituary in the New York Tribune, in which he slanderously exaggerated Poe's weaknesses. He described Poe as a ‘‘shrewd and naturally unamiable character'' who "walked the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses.’’ The following year, Griswold published an edition of Poe's Works. In response to the two Griswold projects came a flurry of writing about Poe, much of it praising the writing but condemning the writer. Typical was an unsigned 1858 review in the Edinburgh Review: "Edgar Allan Poe was incontestably one of the most worthless persons of whom we have any record in the world of letters.’’ Over the next fifty years, negative writing about Poe focused on his moral character, as presented by Griswold, more than it focused...

(The entire section is 767 words.)