This is one of Edgar Allan Poe's acclaimed short stories, made unforgettable when it was adapted to film by Roger Corman in 1960, starring Vincent Price.
The Fall of the House of Usher was published in September 1839 and helped build Poe's credibility as a serious writer. It embodied the elements which were fast becoming Poe's macabre signature: "gloomy landscape, crumbling mansion, somber interior, sorrowful atmosphere, terrified narrator, neurasthenic hero, supernatural elements, oppressive secrets, premature burial, tempestuous weather, return from the grave, apocalyptic conclusion."
The Fall of the House of Usher tells the story of a brother and sister, the last members of a dynastic family living out their diseased days in a dilapidated mansion. The unnamed narrator has been urgently summoned to the house by his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher, to cheer him up a little from his constant suffering.
The tone of the opening sentence sets the mood of the story and foretells of the doom of the Usher family:
"During the whole of the dull, dark and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher."
The narrator finds the mansion in disrepair surrounded by trees reeking of decay and the silent tarn -a pestilent and mystic vapor. He's filled with dread when he meets Usher after so long, taken aback by his "cadaverous" appearance. The eccentric Usher dabbles in music dirges and writes an allegorical poem The Haunted Palace in which a "hideous throng" of "evil things" prophesy his doom .
Poe explained that "by 'the haunted palace' I mean to imply a mind haunted by phantoms– a disordered brain."
Usher is fearful and doubly disconsolate when he admits that his dear sister suffers an illness that baffles her physicians. ' "Her decease", he said, with a bitterness... will leave him the last of the ancient race of the Ushers.'
When 'death' finally comes it only marks the beginning of the horrors that befall the House of Usher.
DH Lawrence remarked with this heavily allegorical work that "Poe was an adventurer into the vaults and cellars and horrible underground passages of the human soul."
This tale is one of my favorites. It's told in a tormenting and rhythmic pace building up to the chilling climax, giving the fan of Victorian ghost stories the thrill they so seek. As a more mature reader, one can analyze this work to head-aching length. A great one to revisit for the 'creepy' season.