illustrated portrait of American author of gothic fiction Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

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What is a gothic story as illustrated in the works of Edgar Allan Poe?

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Edgar Allen Poe is famed for his short fiction which characterises the word Gothic so excellently. Gothic is a term used to describe literary works that contain supernatural, wild or/and mysterious and natural elements. The majority of Gothic fiction is characterised by gloomy, depressing and scary settings and an overwhelming atmosphere of terror and mystery. The shorter fiction of Poe is Gothic because it combines the gloomy setting with action that creates terror and fear in our hearts as we read it. Consider how "The Fall of the House of Usher" opens, for example:

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.

Note how the setting, the "dull, dark and soundless day" combined with the clouds and the season of autumn combine to create a gloomy atmosphere, perfectly preparing us for the horrors that follow in this tale. Of course, the mysterious connection between Roderick and his twin sister, Madeline, and the terror of her "resurrection" and her final union with her brother, combined with the destruction of the House of Usher, presents themes of mystery, evil and the supernatural that remain unexplained and ambiguous. This, in a sense, is another aspect of Gothic literature: it always leaves us with questions, unsettled and wondering. Gothic literature as in the short stories of Poe leave us doubting our perception of the world. They rob us of easy answers that can explain away the marvels that we have read and profoundly unsettle us.

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