Queer Theory: Edgar Allan Poe – The Fall of the House of Usher (1839)

First published in September, 1839, “The Fall of the House of Usher” is among the most critically scrutinized works in Edgar Allan Poe’s bibliography. The short story, ripe with metaphorical descriptions and intentionally mysterious language, is an open invitation to varied interpretations. At the high school level, most students are taught that it is a tale about extreme isolation. In academia, scholars are typically more interested in the bizarre brother-sister relationship and its incestuous possibilities.

Until recently, the idea that Poe could be in conversation with queer anxieties might have sounded absurd. Increasingly, however, critics have identified queer themes throughout his stories and poetry. In some cases, such as “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” it is nearly impossible to deny that Dupin and his male companion are in a romantic relationship (Novosat). So too does “The Fall of the House of Usher” benefit from a queer reading. Suddenly the curious language and enigmatic events make sense. Not vaguely or subconsciously or inadvertently, but in its entirety. It is my argument that “Usher” is, from beginning to end, about queer anxieties. Notably, the angst of sexual repression and an inability to reproduce.

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Max Hallan Danne – Premature Burial (1962)

Review by Justin Tate

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Premature Burial” was adapted for film in 1962. Usually this would result in a reprint of the original book with new cover art to promote the movie. In this case, however, another writer—the mysterious “Max Hallan Danne”—was hired to pen a novelization of the screenplay, written by Twilight Zone alumni, Charles Berumont. So this book is actually an adaptation of an adaptation. And it’s way better than it should be. Dare I say, it may be even superior to the original source material.

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Edgar Allan Poe – The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym & Related Tales (1838)

Review by Justin Tate

Poe is known for short stories and poetry, but fans who haven’t read his only novel are missing out. These two-hundred pages encapsulate all there is to love about Poe. That includes chapters with alive burials, unforgettable gore, relentless anxiety and all manner of physical torture. The body count is high and the deaths are brutal. Yes, please!

The premise is that Arthur Pym and his companion are young daydreamers with fantasies of going on adventures in the open ocean. Unfortunately, Pym’s family forbids such folly. So the friend helps him stow away on a voyage. Once sufficiently out at sea, and thus too far to turn back, Pym expects to reveal his presence and enjoy the ride. This plan soon goes awry, however, with one ghastly event leading to the next until it seems unimaginable anything worse can happen. That’s exactly when things get doubly and triply worse.

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Joseph Taylor – The Danger of Premature Interment (1816)

Review by Justin Tate

First published in 1816, when Edgar Allan Poe was an impressionable seven years old, this “science” volume chronicles reported incidents of premature burials, re-animated corpses, and bizarre embalming methods. It even finds time to get into politics, advocating for new laws that would make burial illegal within church yards and city limits.

Poe scholars point to this text as a possible reason for the author’s obsession with alive burials. Even if Poe never read it, its existence shows there was a general unease about premature interment at this point in history. Such evidence can further be found in early nineteenth century coffin technology which might include literal bells and whistles to alert a passing sexton.

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