In The Fall of the House of Usher, what kinds of books do the narrator and Roderick read?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Greatly disturbed by his sister's having "succumbed to the prostrating power of the destroyer" in her deathly illness, Usher is attended by the narrator, who busies himself in attempts to alleviate the severe melancholy of his old school friend. Together they paint and read, and Usher plays the guitar in haunting tunes, one of which is a waltz by the Romantic composer, Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826). As he plays his instrument, Roderick Usher also composes verses, "rhymed verbal improvisations" of the "tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne," as the narrator describes them. This poem is about a haunted place where the monarch of the palace is reason and thought. Usher mourns the breakdown of this "high estate."

Usher's books to which he has so long turned in his isolated existence are in "keeping with this character of phatasm" which characterizes his poem. For, they are all works that are concerned with magic, myticism, and horror. The last one that the narrator mentions is a "curious book in quarto Gothic," the Vigiliae Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae--a macabre account of the vigil of the dead. This work is significant because Usher himself keeps a "vigil of the dead" over his sister Madeline. In fact, the narrator himself suggests that the "wild ritual" of this work affected Roderick in his intention of not burying her immediately, but instead preserving her corpse in one of the vaults below.


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