“Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality” – Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is renowned for introducing the world to detective fiction as we know it and his unmatched gothic tales which are chock-full of morbidity and macabre elements. He saw strangeness and horror in things that were common place, through his words he weaved horror that not only rattled the soul but also captured the imagination of his audience.
The 19th century America was plagued with high mortality rate where children died in infancy, women rarely survived childbirth and the general atmosphere was filled with despondency. This proved a solid ground for Poe’s morbid tales to take root and thrive. His words brought the elements of violence, cruelty, madness, horror and existential dread alive in the heart of his readers and they could relate it with their surrounding which was at that time pervaded with feeling of grief and loss.
He derived inspiration heavily from his life which saw tragedies early on, with death of his mother during childbirth, death of his foster mother and death of his young wife Virginia. His work derived from this despair of his childhood and combined shock seamlessly with horror pulling the reader into his world of melancholy.
The Gothic tales of that time were becoming cliched with their repetitive content which involved dark castles and haunting secrets and in that environment Poe’s macabre tales emphasized on the strangeness of human psyche. He made his horror realistic by using the very whimsical and complex nature of psychology and tried to rationalize it through the medium of science.
In Premature Burial, Poe pens down the very real fear amongst the public about being buried alive which was a common occurrence at that time. He takes his dark romantic vision to another level with works like Berenice which has a level of psychological depravity that can give you goosebumps. In my personal favorite, The Masque Of The Red death, Poe personifies the plague like death itself which comes down on Prince Prospero and his horde of nobles with a vengeance. With the splendor of abbey, general sense of foreboding and the inevitability of death he draws a compelling horrific narrative.
Poe would construct the beginning in such a manner that it brought the feeling of apprehension upon the readers, cue this beginning from The Tell-tale Heart, “True! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad?”
While his literary career was full of ups and down and death brought his turbulent life to an end, his stories paved way for rational horror stories and now he is immortalized in his works, forevermore!
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