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The Wingchair Critic
- Publié sur Amazon.com
'Horror,' as it is broadly understood, is defined by two essential elements: the active presence of decay, some 'abnormal' manifestation of nature, or a combination of both.
One hundred and fifty-seven years after his early death, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), who made horror the dominant theme of his creative work, remains the American master of the weird tale. Poe's work has had enormous worldwide influence: French poet Charles Baudelaire was an early champion and translator, Poe's 'William Wilson' (1839) haunts the pages of Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' (1890), and several stories look presciently ahead to work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
'The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe' (1992), which also includes humorous pieces ('The Devil in the Belfry' is a hilarious tribute to the father of American literature, Washington Irving), detective fiction (Irving's 1838 story-cycle 'The Money-Diggers' stirs fluidly beneath 'The Gold Bug'), and early examples of what would come to be known as science fiction, brings together most of the author's important work.
Two general narrator (or protagonist/character) types emerge. The first is meticulously rational, calm, and 'objective'--like Dupin, the amateur sleuth who coolly solves the mystery of 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue.' The second, best represented by Roderick Usher in 'The Fall of the House of Usher,' is psychically haunted, deeply subjective, acutely sensitive in every pore, and barely able to repress the hysteria--at best--simmering just beneath the surface of his consciousness.
Both general types are isolated and obsessive in their own way--the first perhaps imagines he has found salvation by holding the world at a kind of hard cerebral remove, while the second surrenders his will in increments and sinks obliquely into emotional, spiritual, psychic, and physical fragmentation. The second type (found in 'The Fall of the House of Usher,' 'Berenice,' 'The Black Cat,' 'The Pit and the Pendulum,' and 'William Wilson,' among others) dominates and defines Poe's work.
Poe occasionally offers readers a combination of both types, as in 'The Imp of the Perverse,' in which the narrator, after a lengthy, meditative, and 'objective' discourse on the self-destructive aspects of human nature, briefly tells his own story: compelled to commit a pointless murder, he then finds himself equally compelled to publicly confess it.
Fatalism and perdition are key characteristics of the author's work: death may await everyone, but, in Poe, death impatiently reaches forward into men's lives, sickening, exhausting, and corrupting them, thus hastening fragile humanity's end. Poe's protagonists are once healthy, now dire, everymen surrounded on every side by hostile, malevolent, and destructive forces which dominate every plateau, division, and category of existence that man has methodically--and rather naively--mapped out. Human instinct proves to be 'red in tooth and claw'; the senses betray; the mind collapses; the borders and boundaries of civilization are violently breached; the natural world reveals a harsh, predatory, and incomprehensible face; physical laws prove unreliable; loving relationships sicken and fester; all agents of stability prove false and slip away.
Most of Poe's work suggests that there is no escape for anyone (--"dead to the World, to Heaven, and to Hope!"), and, as several of the tales underscore, including 'The Fall of the House of Usher' and 'Ms. Found in a Bottle,' even the cessation of life may bring no solace for some. However, reprieves are possible: the narrator barbarically tortured by the Spanish Inquisition is freed by the arriving French army at the conclusion of 'The Pit and the Pendulum,' the sailor who experiences 'A Descent Into the Maelstrom' survives to tell of his ordeal, and the vengeful dwarves in 'Hop Frog' apparently escape at that story's conclusion.
Remarkably, because of the skill with which he illustrates his view of man's utter lack of genuine choice or ability for self-determination, Poe manages to make most of his characters likeably human, despite their illnesses, eccentricities, and perversions. Though the tales team with toxic bloodlines, incestuous relationships, premature burials, rioting lunatics, marauding plagues, 'tormenting' doppelgangers, parasitic spirits of the dead, animated corpses, "ghoul-haunted woodlands," and a fair variety of additional supernatural tableaus, Poe remains is a remarkably rational, balanced, and economic storyteller, since the ultimate horror lies not in the external threat, but in the narrator's realization that what he is experiencing is the genuine nature of life itself.
Poe's tales suggest that, if all of mankind lives within a perpetually collapsing, cannibalizing universe, the most one can hope for is that, in the present, it is collapsing on someone else.