Friday Fiction #7

Jade eases us into the new academic year with a bit of Gothic horror…

The Gold Bug & Other Tales
Edgar Allan Poe
Fiction Collection

A huge welcome to those joining us for their first Friday Fiction & of course a warm welcome back to loyal readers. In this our first week back we take you on a tour of terror with the master of gothic horror, Mr Edgar Allan Poe.

Born in 1809, Poe is the renowned author, poet & fearless literary critic whose short stories & poems still strike fear & unease in the hearts & minds of readers. He has the ability to take the mundane & mix it with the supernatural, slowly building a sense of terror to overwhelm his unsuspecting reader…

Besides his writing, Poe is unfortunately well-known for the more unusual aspects of his life & the many difficulties that he experienced. Growing up as a foster child, followed by a short stint in the army (serving not without honour… despite his self-inflicted court martial), Poe often struggled with money & finding the means to support himself during his writing career.

Poe was paid only £9 for the publication of The Raven despite its success at the time, which even for the period was a pretty poor showing. The Raven is his most well-known poem, with friendly parodies appearing in shows like The Simpsons, Tiny Toon Adventures and WWE.

With marriage to his 13 year old cousin when he was 26, tragedy and poverty continued to wrack his life. However, despite the youth of his bride & the age gap it seemed to be a happy marriage.

Poe’s alcoholism began to increase with the diagnosis of tuberculosis in his wife, which, following her death in 1847 resulted in mental instability. Finally, in 1849 Poe died in a Baltimore hospital. Since his medical & death records have disappeared, the cause of death is unknown & has sparked fierce speculation. The speculation ranging from the likely – alcoholism, alcohol withdrawal, heart disease & syphilis – to the wild – political intrigue & rabies… to this day no one can be sure of the cause.

The book in our collection includes some of his best known tales of woe, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher and my favourite The Masque of the Red Death. Each of these stories has been perfectly crafted, using base human emotions including jealousy & vanity to twist & play with the fear of the reader.

Each of his stories has a fascinating hook & writing style; Gold-Bug utilises code breaking & cryptography as an early form of detective story alongside a cursed scarab, whereas The Pit & the Pendulum uses the Spanish Inquisition as a backdrop doing away with any supernatural elements.

For those with an interest in masquerade balls, The Masque of the Red Death features an elegant party which is (unfortunately) stalked by the Red Death himself.

The Tell-Tale Heart is a feast of insanity & paranoia, a tale that is still hugely popular today perhaps due to the relatable emotions the character is tormented with. A similar tale to this is that of The Black Cat, which is an exploration of the psychology of guilt featuring an unreliable narrator & plenty of murder.

If you have an interest in the macabre or even just a love of being scared, Poe’s wonderful collection of tales of terror are worth checking out. They are a masterclass in poetic language & nailing the very essence of fear.

Jade Hunter
Library & Digital Assistant

You can find out more about Poe on The Poetry Foundation Website.
The Whitman Daguerreotype, 1848

Publisher’s blurb:

“…Recognized today as the undisputed master of the American Gothic horror story, Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1949) revealed his genius in tales of death, terror, evil, & perversity. Highly skilled in achieving a calculated psychological effect, Poe created chilling fictional nightmares permeated by mysterious forces, grotesque creatures, & improbable hallucinations.

Poe’s immense powers as a storyteller are at their peak in this anthology containing nine of his best-known short stories. Among them are “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a gripping 19th-century detective story that provided a model for future mystery writers; “The Fall of the House of Usher” & “The Masque of the Red Death,” pervaded with eerie thoughts, impulses, & fears; “The Tell-Tale Heart” & “The Cask of Amontillado,” masterpieces of wickedness and crime; “The Pit & the Pendulum,” with its agonising spectre of imminent & horrifying death; & “The Gold-Bug,” a fascinating detective story that combines romance & adventure in an absorbing tale of buried treasure.

Mystery lovers & horror story enthusiasts will find this inexpensive collection, by one of the great masters of the form, an exciting addition to their personal libraries…”