Friday, April 29, 2011

Good Short Fiction: The Cask of Amontillado (E.A. Poe)

Title: The Cask of Amontillado
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Where I read it: Great American Short Stories: from Hawthorne to Hemingway (edited by Corinne Demas)

Cruelty, catacombs, and revenge for unspecified slights. No amontillado in sight.

Some reasons to read it
  • Poe is terrific at writing psychotic narrators. The one in this story is basically going to trap and kill a man while in effect inviting the reader to watch. The question isn't whether or not he'll do it; the story reads like an elaborate revenge fantasy where the outcome is assured. The question is how he'll do it. The narrator is dramatic and depraved, with a mix of elegant manners and some moments of howling insanity.
    It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.

  • The story is all the more disturbing for the fact that the narrator seems to have a few stirrings of unease at what he's doing. He carries on regardless...

  • Poe's use of details. Everything from the victim's name (Fortunato) to the description of the catacombs with the damp air and the niches in the stone walls. Such a crisp, cold and chilling atmosphere. The jingling of the bells in the last paragraph is a shivery moment. There's some dark humor as well.

  • The delicious language: palazzo, roquelaire, flambeaux.
    We had passed through walls of piled bones, with casks and puncheons intermingling, into the inmost recesses of the catacombs.


Other stories in this volume include The Birthmark (by Nathaniel Hawthorne), The Flight of Betsey Lane (by Sarah Orne Jewett), and Paul's Case (by Willa Cather).


"The Cask of Amontillado" also appears in this anthology.