Thirty-Two Stories

By Edgar Allan Poe; Stuart Levine et al. | Go to book overview

METZENGERSTEIN

In his first published story, Poe shows us both his interest in gothic material and his detachment from it. "Metzengerstein" was going to be part of a collection of satirical tales, each allegedly the work of a different member of the Folio Club, an imaginary group of "Dunderheads" who assembled periodically to hear and criticize one another's fiction. "Metzengerstein" was probably told by "Mr. Horribile Dictu" (Thompson2, 4). We do not know all of Poe's plan for the Folio Club--he neverfound a publisher for his project-- but we do know that Poe was not serious about the gothicism in "Metzengerstein "; indeed, A. H. Quinn, Thompson, and others see it as a satire on the gothic mode. Certainly the story spends a good deal of its space telling us of its own absurdity, and Thompson (2, 4) catalogues ironic and contradictory elements within it: everything is so complicated and cockeyed that Poe must be joking. Incongruities abound, too, as when Poe tells us that "near neighbors are seldom friends," and places castle and palace so close together that the families can look into one another's windows, a modern urban phenomenon comically cozy for such rural and aristocratic protagonists. Readers who are unfamiliar with gothic literature or who have trouble understanding Poe's joke are urged to read Thompson's good essay, which spells out p's hoax in detail. The essay and an expanded discussion of its ideas appear in Thompson (4).

We suggest comparing this tale first with "Mystification" (see Levine 4), to see how Poe handles "meaninglessness," and second with some of his more serious gothic efforts, such as "The Fall of the House of Usher" or "The Pit and the Pendulum." Poe never ceases to "put us on," of course; there are hoaxes and little jokes hidden in all types of stories. But "Usher" and "The Pit" lack the peculiar itchy quality of this tale; it seems clear that here Poe primary intention is humor.

A note of explanation : The gothic wonders which Poe introduces into "Metzengerstein" were all readily available in literature which Poe knew. In a poem of 1827 by Richard Henry Dana, for instance, there is a horse which an evil pirate is compelled to ride to his destruction; in Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto ( 1764) are both a prophecy parallel to Poe's and an "ancestral picture" which comes to life; in Benjamin Disraeli's Vivian Grey ( 1826) are a comparable picture of a horse and bitter rivalry between neighboring aristocrats (Mabbott9, II).

In Poe's favorite book of comparative mythology, Jacob Bryant's Ancient Mythology ( 1774-76), red horses were connected through etymology to palm trees, death in fire, and phoenixlike rebirth (Levine 6). The connections between "Metzengerstein" and Bryant are too intimate to be coincidental. So Poe's spoof also has mythological resonance.

-1-

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Thirty-Two Stories
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Metzengerstein 1
  • The Duc de L'Omelette 9
  • Ms. Found in a Bottle 16
  • The Assignation 26
  • Shadow 42
  • Silence 48
  • Ligeia 54
  • How to Write a Blackwood Article 68
  • The Fall of the House of Usher 87
  • William Wilson 104
  • The Man of the Crowd 120
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue 130
  • A Descent into the Maelström 159
  • Eleonora 174
  • The Masque of the Red Death 181
  • The Pit and the Pendulum 188
  • The Domain of Arnheim 200
  • The Tell-Tale Heart 216
  • The Gold-Bug 221
  • The Black Cat 248
  • The Purloined Letter 256
  • The Balloon-Hoax 272
  • The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq. 284
  • Some Words with a Mummy 303
  • The Power of Words 318
  • The Imp of the Perverse 323
  • The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar 329
  • The Cask of Amontillado 339
  • Mellonta Tauta 346
  • Hop-Frog 361
  • Von Kempelen and His Discovery 370
  • Bibliography 379
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