Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The story’s style depends primarily on the detached and straightforward voice of the narrator, who accepts the values of the Marchesa, even as he escapes her world’s final end. The story is very similar to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” for there, too, in a much more ornate style, a world sustained by artifice is destroyed. Even the rooms in the artificial home of the Marchesa are representative of historical stages, not the stages of one’s life, as in Poe’s story, but rather the stages of architecture and design. As the guests listen to the sonata, the guests move from the Silver Room, which is baroque, to the Golden Room, which is early rococo.
Furthermore, the story is characterized, as other Poe stories are, by the invention of an elaborate world of seemingly real historical figures, with which, as the narrator reminds the reader, one should be very familiar, but which are pure fabrications of the writer himself. In this respect, as well as in the collapse of the foundations of the house, the story reminds one of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” in which Roderick Usher, who also attempts to detach himself from external reality and live in a world of art, collapses within the house that is identified with him. The basic difference between Hildesheimer’s story and Poe’s stories is that Hildesheimer seems to be, even as he imitates Poe, slightly mocking the aestheticism typical of Poe. Thus, the story is a burlesque of Poe’s stories and therefore the aesthetic movement that Poe helped to initiate. The style is a combination of the haughty aloofness of the aesthetes undercut by an authorial tone of gentle mocking. Thus, “A World Ends” has the style and tone of a playful story, for it is an artwork that self-consciously makes use of the ambiguous status and nature of the artwork both to make itself and to mock itself.