Fiction > Harvard Classics > Edgar Allan Poe > Criticisms and Interpretations > II
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Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849).  Eleonora, The Fall of the House of Usher & The Purloined Letter.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
  
Criticisms and Interpretations
II. By George E. Woodberry
  
AS in “Ligeia” the idea of change is elaborated, so in “The Fall of the House of Usher” the intellectual theme is fear. For the purposes of this story Poe used again the plot of “Berenice,” but so purified and developed in its accidents as to be hardly recognizable. Not a few would rank this tale more high than “Ligeia;” for, if that be more distinguished by ideality, this is more excellent in the second virtue in Poe’s scale, unity of design. In artistic construction it does not come short of absolute perfection. The adaptation of the related parts and their union in the total effect are a triumph of literary craft; the intricate details, as it were mellowing and reflecting one ground tone, have the definiteness and precision of inlaid mosaic, or, like premonitions and echoes of the theme in music, they are so exactly calculated as to secure their end with the certainty of harmonic law itself. The sombre landscape whose hues Poe alone knew the secret of; the subtle yet not overwrought sympathy between the mansion and the race that had reared it; the looks, traits, and pursuits of Usher, its representative; and the at first scarce-felt presence of Madeline, his worn sister,—all is like a narrowing and ever-intensifying force drawing in to some unknown point; and when this is reached, in the bright copper-sheeted vault in which Madeline is entombed, and the mind, after that midnight scene, expands and breathes freer air, a hundred obscure intimations, each slight in itself, startle and enchain it, until, slowly as obscurity takes shape in a glimmer of light, Usher’s dread discloses itself in its concrete and fearful fulfillment, and at once, by the brief and sudden stroke of death, house, race. and all sink into the black tarn where its glassy image had so long built a shadowy reality.—From “The Life of Edgar Allan Poe” (1909).   1

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