DARK ROMANTICISM AND THE GOTHIC

Melville exemplifies the turn in Romanticism that inverts the hero and disavows the quest for unity and understanding, replacing it with a growing recognition of chaos and darkness. The terror implicit inMelville’s dark vision is highlighted in Edgar Allan Poe’s (1809–1849) haunting narratives, in which madness, gothic horror, and violent death take center stage and in which the precarious balance of the human psyche is exposed and explored. While his contemporaries Hawthorne, Thoreau, and even Melville might be considered moralist in their orientation, Poe was a psychologist, concerned less with the questions of the nature of right and wrong and more with the workings of the mind under extreme stress. In “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), widely considered to be one of Poe’s masterpieces, the tale’s narrator tells the terrifying story of his friend Roderick Usher’s premature burial of his twin sister, Madeline.The horror of the burial is compounded by the glimpse Poe gives us of Roderick’s gradual mental decay, as he hears the voice of his sister call him from her coffin. Roderick’s mental suffering seems as acute as Madeline’s, augmented as it is by guilt and by his own fear for his sanity. Roderick’s fear is mirrored in a different way in the narrator, who struggles with his rational mind against the seemingly inescapable fact of supernatural forces at work in the Usher mansion   the family curse. Poe’s gothic tale of premature burial thus becomes a study of the psychology of mental derangement and of the rational mind’s confrontation with events that seem to transcend rational explanation.

In other works, such as “The Cask of Amontillado”(1846), “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843), and “The BlackCat” (1843), Poe employs the device of an insane narrator,whose madness slowly dawns on the reader as thestory’s details unfold. The gradual recognition that one is seeing the world through the eyes of insanity has apowerful impact. Poe relies on a similar experience inwhat is perhaps his best-known work, “The Raven”(1845), a poem in which the narrator gives a hypnoticaccount of his crushing realization of the finality of hislover’s death. He begins as a seemingly rational man,but as the poem develops, he is tortured by grief anddescends into a shrieking hysteria of denial before hecollapses at the poem’s end. It is Poe’s testament to themind’s inability to bear the anguish of loss.

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