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)

Synopsis
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.

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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).

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

4 comments:

naida said...

Poe! *yay*
I adore him and his dramatic, gothic writing. The atmosphere he creates gives me chills.
Like you mention, the language he uses, there's nothing quite like it.

patteran said...

I haven't read this in many years. For all the current literary obsession with the Other Side, nobody has ever matched Poe's visions.

John Hayes said...

I echo patteran's comment--haven't read in a long time, but have immense admiration for Poe. Reading your review reminds me I can remember exactly the room I was in & many details about the setting in which I first read this story--& that was well over 40 years ago!

Relyn said...

This is one of my favorite Poe stories. It's so deliciously creepy. When I was in ninth grade there was a boy in our class who memorized all of The Raven and gave a dramatic recitation in class. I had a little crush on him for a long time after that.