"The Fall of the House of Usher" - More than fiction

Seminar Paper, 2007

14 Pages, Grade: 1,7




“The Fall of the House of Usher” : A short summary

“The Fall of the House of Usher”: Parallels between fact and fiction
I. Edgar Allan Poe and Roderick Usher
II. Virginia Clemm and Madeline Usher


Select Bibliography and Quotation Index


The short story The Fall of the House of Usher ”, written by Edgar Allen Poe, was published the first time in the year 1839 in the September issue of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine; it was and still is considered one of Poe’s most popular stories. Many critics and interpreters have brought to attention, that this story, more than any other of Poe’s works, contain information and hints about the life of Edgar Allen Poe himself.

While the character of Roderick Usher seems to be an image of Poe himself, the character of Roderick’s twin sister Madeline Usher can be seen as an image of Virginia Clemm, who was actually Poe’s first cousin as well as his child bride. Virginia died on January 30, 1847, on behalf of tuberculosis. “Certainly, the wasting away of Madeline Usher strongly calls to mind the suffering of […] Virginia Clemm.” 1

In this term paper I am going to point out the parallels and similarities between Edgar Allen Poe and Roderick Usher, as well as those between Virginia Clemm and Madeline Usher. I too, like many others, believe that Poe was inspired to write “The Fall of the House of Usher” by his own life as well as the life of his child-bride Virginia, especially the events of Virginia’s death, which had sent Poe into deep depression and inspired many of his tales and poems.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” : A short summary

The tale begins with the narrator, who remains without a name throughout the arriving at the house of his boyhood companion, Roderick Usher, having received a letter from him in a distant part of the country complaining of an illness and asking for his comfort. Usher's symptoms include hyperesthesia (an extreme hypersensitivity to light, sounds, smells, and tastes), hypochondria, and acute anxiety. It is revealed that Usher's twin sister, Madeline, is also ill, suffering from catalepsy.

Ushers paintings impress the narrator, and he attempts to cheer Usher up by reading with him and listening to his improvised musical compositions on the guitar. After Usher sings "The Haunted Palace" (a poem written by Poe himself), he then tells the narrator that he believes the house he lives in to be somehow alive; that some kind of soul has been developed inside the stones of the mansion and that this soul arises from the arrangement of the masonry and vegetation surrounding it.

The narrator is later informed by Usher that his sister Madeline has died and insists that she be entombed for two weeks in a vault in the house before being permanently put to the grave. They entomb her, but over the next week both the narrator and Usher find themselves becoming increasingly restless, apparently for no reason. During a storm Usher comes to the narrator's bedroom, which is situated directly above the vault, and throws open his window to the storm, finding the swamp surrounding the house seems to be glowing in the darkness, the way it has glowed in Roderick Usher's paintings, although there is no lightning whatsoever.

In an attempt to calm Usher, the narrator begins to read The Mad Trist, a novel involving a knight named Ethelred who is eager to escape an approaching storm, as he finds a palace of gold guarded by a dragon. He also finds hanging on the wall a shield with a legend written on it: that he who kills the dragon wins the shield. Ethelred slays the dragon, which dies with a piercing shriek, and goes on to take the shield, which falls to the floor with a loud clatter.

As the narrator reads of the knight's forcible entry into the dwelling of a hermit, sounds of ripping and cracking are heard somewhere in the house. As he reads about the dragon, which is shrieking as it dies, a shriek also can be heard within the mansion. As he relates to the shield falling from off the wall, a metallic sound is heard, again somewhere inside the house. Usher loses his nerve and becomes hysterical, while he explains, that these sounds are produced by his sister Madeline, and that she was still alive when they entombed her. The bedroom door is then blown open, revealing Madeline standing in front of the room with her hands and dress covered in blood.

Madeline approaches Roderick, and in her own death, she throws herself at her brother. Falling to the ground, Roderick also dies, due to the immense shock. The narrator flees the house, and, as he does so, notices a flash of light causing him to look back upon the House of Usher, and witnesses the house to fall apart and sink into the swamp.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


"The Fall of the House of Usher" - More than fiction
University of Duisburg-Essen
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ISBN (eBook)
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Fall, House, Usher, More
Quote paper
André Düser (Author), 2007, "The Fall of the House of Usher" - More than fiction, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/89409


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