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How Far Does 'The Fall of The House of Usher' Meet With The Conventions Of Gothic Fiction?

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Introduction

How Far Does 'The Fall of The House of Usher' Meet With The Conventions Of Gothic Fiction? The Gothic novel dominated English literature from 1764 when 'The Castle of Ortranto' by Horace Warpole was published, until the early to mid 19th century. The Gothic novel is characterised by darkness, dense forests, old castles, dreary rooms and melancholy characters. Although Gothicism began to relinquish its dominance around 1815, it influenced many emerging genres and can still be seen in some of today's popular styles. Stephen King, a famous horror writer, draws on suspense, the fear of loneliness and the fear of the unknown whilst Anne Rice, the current 'queen' of gothic fiction draws on much the same themes as 'The Fall of the House of Usher'. Her latest novel 'Blackwood Farm' is set in a huge house in the middle of nowhere and tells the story of a young man trapped in a neither living nor dead world where he is haunted by a spirit which prevents him from belonging anywhere. The Fall of the House of Usher is set on a 'dark, soundless day in the autumn', an ideal setting for a Gothic tale. Autumn, with its cold dreary months following the warmth of summer and nothing to look forward to apart from the hardships of winter, gives an immediately depressing feel to the story. The clouds are said to be "low in the heavens" making the reader aware of a grey oppressive sky, again referring to darkness and shortage of sunlight. ...read more.

Middle

He is free to show off his talents at description of both setting and human emotions whilst creating a powerfully gothic atmosphere. "I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down - but with a shudder even more thrilling than before - upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows" Once settled into the house the narrator appears to develop some sort of routine to his days with Usher. Whilst the narrators life is not exactly normal in the strict sense of the word as Ushers grip on sanity is fragile and some of his behaviour very peculiar, the reader is reassured by the calm and sensible voice of the narrator. Though even within this period of relative calm Poe often inserts accounts of some of Usher's bizarre behaviour such as his improvisations on guitar. The apparent death of lady Madeline signals the start of the build in tension to the climax of the story. The narrator has to help Usher deposit her coffin in a small, damp, copper lined vault which lies "at great depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in which was my own sleeping apartment". The vault is sealed with a massive iron door after the coffin lid has been screwed down. On the final night of the story the narrator is anxious, too anxious to sleep. The reader is not used to this so feels anxious too. ...read more.

Conclusion

The climax line is delivered with the opening word "MADMAN". Usher seems to be addressing everyone, not just the narrator but himself and the reader as well because if we believe she is alive then we are 'mad' too. There was not enough air in the vault to keep her alive for so long. 'The Fall of the House of Usher' meets the conventions of Gothic fiction well. The Gothic novel was characterised by intense images of vast dark forest landscapes, large castles with dreary interiors and forlorn characters. All of these are portrayed to full effect and the use of adjectives which may have seemed a little excessive, tied in with the atmosphere of the story and actually played off the excessive madness of Usher. The house provides a supernatural mystic background, it is very old with many dark and sinister secrets and the "donjon-keep" provides a direct connection to the medieval roots of the Gothic. Poe creates for the reader a feeling of apprehension and unease which leads to fear and then to terror. All are essential elements for the Gothic novel. This novel still has an appeal to readers in 2002 as a classical book but at the time it was originally published its genre was fairly common and that's why when he could, Poe had to use is talent of manipulating the readers mind to full effect. Although his style seems old fashioned to us, I feel that this style of writing has greater impact on the reader than a modern gothic author such as Ann Rice because the language ties in more closely with the roots of the gothic. Max Carter 11RHC ...read more.

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