- Abstracts for ALA Poe Panels
Lyrical Eruptions in Poe’s Prose: “The Haunted Palace” 175 Years Later
1. “The Forcible Impression of ‘The Haunted Palace’”
Bonnie Shannon McMullen, Independent Scholar
Thomas Ollive Mabbott is certainly correct when he states that the previously published “Haunted Palace” “had something to do with the genesis” of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” but his vague formulation leaves much space for speculation. Unlike the interpolation of “The Conqueror Worm” in “Ligeia,” which appears to have been an afterthought, “The Haunted Palace” would seem to have postulated, in verse form, the action and ideas later fleshed out in the story. The importance of poetry to Poe is well-known. The poverty that drove Poe to write stories for popular magazines is also a recognized feature of Poe’s career. By the late 1830s, however, Poe seemed to be looking for ways of unifying his literary production, raising the stories to a level of respectability usually reserved for good poetry, while finding an outlet for his poems that could make them accessible to a wider audience.
The intertextual experiment that Poe presented in “The Fall of the House of Usher” raises many difficult questions. In the story, the poem is presented as a “rhymed verbal improvisation” by Roderick Usher, although close followers of Poe’s writing would have recognized it as his own previously published, carefully crafted work. The narrator describes how he was “forcibly impressed . . . with the under or mystic current of its meaning” but fails to explain what that meaning might be. However, the performance, accompanied by Roderick’s guitar, gives the narrator a deeper and darker insight into his friend’s mind. Questions are raised for the reader about the powers of poetic language, particularly when juxtaposed with a prose narrative. Twinning is an important and much commented-on theme in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The poem also, in being reprinted, or reimpressed, has undergone a kind of twinning. The process by which the poem is brought back to life in the prose tale has a parallel in the burial and subsequent “resurrection” of Madeline Usher, and counteracts, in its way, the dark ending of the tale.
2. “‘A hideous throng rush out forever’: ‘The Haunted Palace’ and the Tomb of Mass Culture”
Les Harrison, Virginia Commonwealth University
Shortly before the apparent death of Madeline in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” her brother Roderick composes and performs a memorable poem, “The [End Page 127] Haunted Palace.” This poem, we are informed by the narrator, gives voice to Roderick’s awareness of the “tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne.” As such, “The Haunted Palace” has traditionally been read as a verse representation of the descent of an individual into madness. However, “The Haunted Palace” is not the only literary eruption present in the tale. Shortly after Madeline’s entombment, the narrator reads to Roderick an antique volume known as the “Mad Trist” of Sir Launcelot Canning, with the action of the story being mirrored by the noises created by Madeline Usher’s escape from her burial chamber. The pairing of Madeline’s escape with the action in the “Mad Trist” creates the impression that the recitation of the text serves as the agent of Madeline’s disentombment. In fact, shortly after narrator ceases his recitation, Roderick reveals that he has known for several days that his sister was entombed alive. Roderick, the product of a family of artists and musicians, here becomes the author of Madeline’s gruesome death at the end of the tale. Read against the “Mad Trist,” “The Haunted Palace” comments not only on Roderick’s loss of sanity but also on the power of narrative and cultural scripts to dictate the actions of fictional and real authors alike. Terrified of his sister’s imminent death, Roderick brings the death of this woman to pass. This paper will offer a reading of “The Haunted Palace” as a commentary on the relationship of authors to an emerging antebellum mass culture. In this context, the ruins of “The Haunted Palace,” where “vast forms . . . move fantastically / to...