I listed to the audio book of the Collected Stories & Poems by Edgar Allan Poe. I was drawn to listen to his works for the following reasons:
- Poe is regarded in literary histories and handbooks as the architect of the modern short story and his story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, is considered to be the first modern detective story;
- Poe was the principal forerunner of the “art for art’s sake” movement in 19th-century European literature; and
- Poe wrote tales of mystery and the macabre which is a genre I particularly enjoy.
The stories and poems included in this collection are: “The Raven”, “The Cask of Amontillado”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Black Cat”, “The Bells”, The Fall of the House of Usher”, “Manuscript Found in a Bottle”, “The Sleeper”, “The Man of the Crowd”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “Annabel Lee”, “The Man That Was Used Up”, “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”, “The Oval Portrait”, “Eleonora”, “The Facts in the Case of Monsieur Valdemar”, “Berenice”, and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”.
In this review, I am going to comment on the stories that I had not heard of before listening to this collection.
The Cask of Amontillado is a story of revenge and secret murder featuring two characters, Montresor and Fortunato. Montresor is the narrator of the story and starts by explaining that a man called Fortunato has wronged him numerous times but that his recent insult is the last straw that has driven him to make a vow of revenge.
Fortunato is a wine connoisseur and Montresor comes across him at a carnival. Fortunato is dressed as a jester and is very drunk. He is also pleased to see Montresor and does not suspect that he is plotting to kill him. Montresor entices Fortunato to come home with him and see a barrel of wine he has acquired. Fortunato agrees to accompany him and they enter the catacombs underneath Montresor’s home where his ancestors are buried.
The story is beautifully plotted and told and full of little details that fill the reader with horror as Montresor’s evil plan becomes more obvious. I enjoyed the auditory descriptions of the bells on Fortunato’s jester costume ringing and the clanking of his chains in the darkness of the crypt.
The Tell-Tale Heart was my favourite story in this collection because of the psychology of the murderer. I am fascinated by what goes on in the minds of serial killers and other murderers and how they justify their actions in their own heads.
The story starts with an unnamed narrator stating that he is nervous, but that he believes he is not mad. He says he is going to tell a story in which he will confess to murder but which will prove his sanity. The narrator is terribly afraid on the pale blue eye of an old man he knows. Every night he spies on the old man while he is sleeping. A week later, the narrator decides to kill the old man and rid himself of the watching eye.
When the narrator arrives to commit the murder, the old man hears him and is very afraid. The narrator fancies he can hear the old man’s heart beating. Fearful that the old man’s neighbour’s can also hear the beating sound, he attacks and kills the old man. He then dismembers him and buries him beneath the floorboards.
A short while later the police arrive after being summonsed by a neighbour who hear the old man cry out before he died. The narrator leads the police all over the house but when he shows them into the old man’s bedroom, where his body lies beneath the floor, the sound of a beating heart fills his ears getting louder and louder.
Poe’s ability to demonstrate the disintegration of the narrator’s mind in such a few number of words is quite incredible and he shows himself to be a master story tale. This story was particularly unnerving and creepy for me.
The system of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether is a darkly satirical tale about a young doctor who chances to pass a famous mental asylum and decides to stop and enquire about the famous ‘soothing system’ implemented by the asylum’s director. In terms of this system, patients are not punished for misconduct and are given extensive freedom to wander the premises. They are also allowed to wear customary clothing and not hospital garb.
The young doctor meets the proprietor of the psychiatric hospital, Monsieur Maillard, and his niece. The narrator initially thinks the young woman might be a patient of the hospital but Monsieur Maillard rectifies his thinking and tells him that the soothing system has been abandoned as a failure. Maillard does not tell him what system has replaced the soothing system but rather invites him to dinner at 6pm. During the dinner, Maillard confides to the narrator that they asylum is now using a system of Tarr and Fether, which is much stricter than the old soothing system.
I enjoyed this story and the use of the extended metaphor relating to Tarr and Fether. As a reader, it quickly became apparent that the narrator was being completely conned by Maillard and the other dinner guests, but he just cannot see it. The ending is not unexpected to the reader the the actions of the narrator are mystifying.
This collection also includes some of Poe’s best poems, including my favourite, The Sleeper.
You can listen to my recital of The Sleeper here:
Purchase Collected Stories & Poems by Edgar Allan Poe from Amazon US
Have you read Poe’s works? Which is your favourite?