Ranking The 10 Best Edgar Allan Poe Stories
Grace Lapointe’s fiction has been published in Kaleidoscope, Deaf Poets Society, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, and is forthcoming in Corporeal Lit Mag. Her essays and poetry have been published in Wordgathering. Her stories and essays—including ones that she wrote as a college student—have been taught in college courses and cited in books and dissertations. More of her work is at https://gracelapointe.wordpress.com, Medium, and Ao3.
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Edgar Allan Poe was one of the all-time most inventive and versatile authors in American literature. He was also one of the first U.S. writers to support himself through his writing. Born Edgar Poe in Boston in 1809, after his father left his family and his mother died, he was raised mainly in Richmond, Virginia, by the Allan family. He died in Baltimore in 1849 at age 40 from causes that are still unclear.
Poe’s stories convey in a few pages what some writers take hundreds of pages to tell. They contain wordplay and symbolism but also anticipate more realistic writers like Fyodor Dostoevsky. Before the formal field of psychology existed, Poe’s stories explored guilt, paranoia, delusions, and obsessions. Poe helped create the overlapping moods and genres of horror, mystery, historical fiction, slipstream, and science fiction and fantasy as we know them today.
Known mainly as a literary critic in his lifetime, Poe worked for several literary journals. Unlike many other 19 th century writers, Poe thought that fiction should never be didactic or moralizing. His theory and fiction helped define the short story as a form.
You can buy Poe’s Short Stories at bookstores, and most are available to read for free online at Project Gutenberg and other sites.
Sources disagree on how many works of fiction Poe wrote, although most estimate it was at least 70 or 80. For January 19, 2022, the 213 th anniversary of his birth, here is a ranking of ten of his best stories.
The Top 10 Poe Stories, Ranked
1. “The Tell-Tale Heart”
One of his shortest stories, this is the quintessential Poe story in many ways. It concisely showcases his recurring elements of guilt, paranoia, murder, and unnamed narrators rationalizing their actions. The murdered man’s heart beating through the floorboards is one of Poe’s creepiest, most iconic images, blurring the line between psychological and supernatural horror.
2. “The Cask of Amontillado”
The protagonist, Montressor, lures his acquaintance, Fortunato, into a wine cellar that’s actually a crypt. He then walls him up and leaves him inside to die. Montressor is one of Poe’s most terrifying and unreliable narrators. We never even learn “the thousand injuries” or final “insult” that Fortunato committed against Montressor in the first place. Poe’s grim sense of humor is underrated, but his characters often have ironic names. Fortunato means fortunate in Italian.
3. “The Fall of the House of Usher”
Dr. Oliver Tearle described this story as a gothic novel condensed into a short story. It contains many hallmarks of gothic literature from before and after Poe: decay, aristocracy, and an old house with family secrets, including incest. Guillermo del Toro’s horror film Crimson Peak and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel Mexican Gothic are excellent recent takes on gothic fiction that share some key elements with this story.
4. “The Pit and the Pendulum”
This story makes its suspense and danger seem immediate to both the narrator and readers. During the Inquisition in Europe centuries earlier, the unnamed narrator is trapped in a cell between two equally perilous forms of torture: the pit and the scythe-like, swinging pendulum blade. Its nightmarish imagery takes old cliches like being stuck in a crucible, or between a rock and a hard place, and realizes them, both literally and metaphorically.
5. The Masque of the Red Death
During a highly contagious epidemic, the Red Death, callous, creative Prince Prospero and his friends throw a lavish masquerade ball. They seem oblivious to the danger and their own privilege — and then the Red Death personified shows up. Today, people either return to this story or find it too on-the-nose during the COVID-19 pandemic.
6. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
There’s debate as to whether Poe’s character Auguste Dupin was the first fictional detective . While Poe may not have coined the word “detective,” he influenced the entire mystery genre, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes . Dupin later appeared in two more Poe stories: “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” and “The Purloined Letter.” With Dupin, Poe established many conventions of detective stories. These include a private investigator, independent from the police department, who uses logical reasoning to solve crimes.
7. The Oval Portrait
A painter draws his wife’s life force into a portrait of her, killing her. This eerie story plays on ancient myths of mirrors and paintings capturing the subjects’ souls. Some critics consider this story a possible influence on Oscar Wilde’s Victorian novel The Picture of Dorian Gray .
8. “The Premature Burial”
The narrator has a phobia of being buried alive, and he describes supposedly true examples of this phenomenon. In the early 1800s, this would have been a reasonable fear, as it was theoretically possible and occasionally happened. Poe used different takes on live burial in other stories, including “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”
9. “The Man of the Crowd”
An anonymous observer in a crowd becomes fascinated with a stranger and follows him. This short story is often taught alongside poet Charles Baudelaire’s description of a flâneur or idler. As always, Poe’s ability to create suspense and his knowledge of history, Greek, and French make the story memorable. Both Poe and Baudelaire described writers as avid observers of life.
10. “The Black Cat”
Often paired with “The Tell-Tale Heart,” this story features another unnamed, unreliable, and violent narrator. He escalates from animal abuse to murder and is literally and figuratively haunted by his actions. As usual with Poe, the ambiguity makes it even creepier. We’re unsure whether anything supernatural occurs or if we can believe anything the narrator says.
Edgar Allan Poe began writing poetry as a teenager , and his poems are just as fascinating and enduring as his stories. His most famous poems include The Raven , Annabel Lee , and “Lenore.” His critical theory includes “The Poetic Principle,” published posthumously and compiles several of his literary theory lectures.
Poe’s influence is everywhere in 20th and 21st century fiction, from Modernism to the twist endings of The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror . Horror movies with victims trapped in torture chambers are influenced by “The Pit and the Pendulum.” The modern thriller, particularly ones with confessions or narration by murderers, are also influenced by Poe’s stories. In 2019, Book Riot published a list of some examples of Poe references in pop culture, including The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror. In House of Salt and Sorrows , a 2019 YA gothic horror novel and fairytale retelling by Erin A. Craig, several character names reference Poe and his characters.
Can’t get enough of Poe’s stories and poems? Check out these songs inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and His Hideous Heart , a YA anthology of Poe retellings edited by Dahlia Adler.
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Edgar Allan Poe’s 10 Best Stories
Edgar Allan Poe endures as an artist who made his life's work a deeper than healthy dive into the messy engine of human foibles, obsessions, and misdeeds.
If Edgar Allan Poe — and his writing — has not aged well and seems more than a little passé for 21st century sensibilities, it’s not entirely his fault. Like others who have done things first, and best, it’s likely we grow more impatient with their imitations than the original.
In any event, Poe was a pioneer in almost too many ways to count. If his work and his life (and most especially his death) seem clichéd, dying young, debauched and with too little money was not yet the career move it would eventually become for other artists. With vices and an intensity that would give even a young Charles Bukowski pause, and would have buried the punk rock poseur Sid Vicious, Poe managed to be for literature what Miles Davis was for jazz: he didn’t merely set new standards, he changed the course of subsequent art, perfecting entirely new paradigms in the process.
Some might claim Poe gets too much credit for perfecting (if not inventing) the American short horror story and detective story. The fact is, he doesn’t get enough.
Perhaps the best way to gain historical perspective on the proper scope of Poe’s achievements and influence is to consider an abbreviated list of legends who stood on his doleful shoulders: French poet Charles Baudelaire (who both championed and translated Poe), H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Herman Melville, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and a trio of tolerably impressive non-Americans: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Oscar Wilde and Sigmund Freud. Suffice it to say, if your work has any part in shaping or inspiring authors who make significant contributions to the canon, your status is more than secure.
Arguably, no American figure has influenced as many brilliant — and imitated — writers as Poe. The entire genres of horror, science fiction and detective story might be quite different, and not for the better, without Poe’s example. More, his insights into psychology, both as narrative device and metaphysical exercise, are considerable; he was describing behavior and phenomena that would become the stuff of textbooks several decades after his death.
He also happened to be a first rate critic, and his insights are as astute and insightful as anything being offered in the mid-19th Century (his essay “The Poetic Principle” comes as close to a “how to” manual for aspiring writers as Orwell’s justly celebrated “Politics and the English Language”). Oh, and he was a pretty good poet, too.
When assessing Poe, 150-plus years after he died, it’s imperative to interrogate and untangle that fact that not all clichés are created equally. Or, put another way, we must remember that before certain things became clichés, they were unarticulated concerns and compulsions.
When we talk about old school we typically call to mind an era that was pre-TV and even pre-movie. Well, Poe was writing in an era that was pre- radio and practically pre-daguerreotype. With no Snopes or MythBusters, encyclopedias not readily available and religion the common if inconsistent arbiter of moral guidance, Poe was not after cheap frights so much as uncovering the collective unconscious. Put more plainly, this was a time when being accidentally buried alive was something that could conceivably occur.
The reason Poe remains so convincing and unsettling is because he doesn’t rely on goblins or scenarios that oblige the suspension of belief; he is himself the madman, the stalker, the outcast, the detective and, above all, the artist who made his life’s work a deeper than healthy dive into the messy engine of human foibles, obsessions and misdeeds. He stands alone, still, at the top of a darkened lighthouse, unable to promise a happy ending and half-insane from what he’s seen.
Here we celebrate Poe’s ten greatest tales, but first, a brief sample of tales that don’t quite make the cut, but warrant attention and approbation.
First and foremost, the almost unclassifiable (and Poe’s only novel-length work) “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”. Jorge Luis Borges loved it, Jules Verne was undoubtedly influenced and without this model, we may not have gotten our great (white) American novel. If it’s good enough for Melville, it’s good enough for everyone.
“Berenice” and “Eleonora”, two character studies of doomed women, both epitomizing some of Poe’s most persistent fixations (teeth, premature burial). There’s also the whole “cousin thing”.
The type of story O. Henry would make a career of, “The Oval Portrait” is an early “shocker” even though contemporary audiences will see the conclusion coming a mile away. Like “Pym”, this one makes the cut if only for the eventual masterpiece it influenced, in this case Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray .
It might be a stretch to say that “Hop-Frog” presaged all the slasher dramas of the ’70s and ’80s, but it’s definitely a quite satisfying prototype of the abused outcast getting his revenge, equal parts Michael Myers and (Black Sabbath’s) Iron Man –with grating teeth.
Finally, “A Descent into the Maelström” is rightly credited as being an early attempt at a proper science fiction study, and the technique of an older, wiser sailor recounting his tale as narrative is an obvious antecedent to Conrad.
10. “The Gold Bug”
You almost have to transport yourself back to a time without electricity to fully appreciate Poe’s achievement here. In terms of influence, Robert Louis Stevenson merrily declared he “broke into the gallery of Mr. Poe” (for the creation of Treasure Island ), and the bug bite instigating heightened awareness anticipates both “Spiderman” and “The Fly”. The extensive use of ciphers — cryptography being a big fad of the time — also may have inspired Zodiac (the killer and the subsequent movie). Even the appallingly dated dialect of Jupiter is a prelude for the cruder moments of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn .
The sheer effort of imagination alone in seeing this one through requires that it be regarded as an important work.
9. “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”
Another one that must be properly appraised as a product of its time, the fact is that, upon publication, this tale caused a public uproar because it was sufficiently believable. This tale employs the ostensibly scientific case study of a hypnotized patient who, in his mesmerized state, is able to exist in a surreal, inexplicable condition where he’s dead but… still alive. Once again, as preposterous as this sounds, today, and as outlandish as it clearly was, even in 1845, it’s a credit to Poe’s masterful description, pacing and use of suspense that he actually pulled it off.
8. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
Celebrated as the first modern detective story, Poe’s hero C. Auguste Dupin is featured in two subsequent tales, “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter”, but “Rue Morgue” is the most famous, and best of the three. One of the many Poe efforts made into an inferior, and terribly dated, film, it works best on the page. Using his powers of deliberation, Dupin is an undeniable model for Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Poe is in full command of his considerable powers here, employing the process of investigation and discovery, cleverly employed humor and terror, and a character who proves he’s smarter than everyone else.
7. “William Wilson”
It seems impossible to prove that Dostoyevsky was directly influenced by Poe, but it’s difficult to believe early novel The Double was not in some way informed by this compact tale that manages to invoke class, the concept of the doppelgänger, split-personality and the self-corrective of one’s conscience (all themes Dostoyevsky would make his calling card, culminating in his masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov ).
In only a handful of other stories was Poe so deftly able to balance shock and humor, albeit of a very dark variety. Cognizant that the narrator is a scoundrel, it’s difficult to pity his plight even as we shudder at the humiliation he suffers. Although not often described as such, “William Wilson” is a tour de force psychological case study of an unreliable narrator tortured by a deservedly conflicted sense of self.
6. “The Pit and the Pendulum”
Darkness. Torture. Rats. Any questions? How about a slowly descending, foot-long razor ever-so-slowly descending from the ceiling, giving you plenty of time to think about how it will eventually (and ever-so-slowly) slice open down the middle? And that’s just a basic summary.
Here is a one of Poe’s most fully realized attempts at “totality”. Poe creates a complete atmosphere of terror, where the narrator and reader understands it’s not random, his captors are very aware of the conditions they’ve created, making the tension difficult to endure. Where other stories describe, in often excruciating detail, the anguish inflicted on an overly sensitive individual, in this one Poe makes the reader acutely aware of their own senses: unable to see inside the pit, smelling the rats as they gnaw at the ropes, hearing the deliberate hiss of the pendulum, feeling the sweat frozen by the fear of death.
5. “The Tell-Tale Heart”
Another one that’s easy to imagine Dostoyevsky studying, this time in the construction of his underground man ( Notes from Underground ): an unreliable narrator, or a narrator so reliable – -and truthful — that he indicts himself in the attempt to be understood, and pitied. As a study of horror, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, perhaps Poe’s most (in)famous story, seems tame to contemporary audiences. But as an examination of obsession and psychosis?
An amazingly compressed rendering of a pathology pushed to irrational extremes, Poe laid the groundwork for everyone from Fantômas to Norman Bates. The real fear an adult can derive from this story is not the narrator’s brutality or even innocence, but his insistence that he’s sane.
With understated irony, Poe decodes the self-deceived stratagem of our most dangerous sociopaths.
4. “The Masque of the Red Death”
Although if only considered an unrivaled allegory of death (and its inevitability), that somewhat superficial analysis still sells this one short as a blistering critique of social stratification. Here Poe uses a rampant disease to illustrate not only the behaviors but attitudes of the haves toward the have-nots: actively walling themselves inside a fortified castle while misery wipes out the countryside, the superbly named Prince Prospero and his court can’t be bothered with empathy for the afflicted, they have lavish masquerade balls to attend.
A masterful clinic of the Gothic aesthetic ensues as different-colored rooms are described, the air of revelry undercut with hourly reminders of mortality, courtesy of the ebony clock. Finally, there’s the spectacle of a silent intruder who mockingly moves from room to room, until finally confronted by the unfortunate prince.
And then, comeuppance courtesy of one of the great closing lines in literary history: “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”
3. “The Black Cat”
Self-loathing? Poe, at times, makes the Grunge and Goth movements look like an ecstasy-addled rave. His irredeemable spiritual desolation was rooted not in anything like the info-overload pressure of too many choices we confront today, or finding the perfect partner or job, but fear of poverty, hunger and the unremarkable ailments that preyed upon humanity for so many centuries before sufficient medical advancements were made. He lived in a time when even libraries might not have the information you needed, so you wrote it down or took to sea or went insane as a matter of principle.
In “The Black Cat”, when the narrator’s abuse of the bottle becomes unmanageable, it seems not autobiographical so much as an expression of the author’s greatest fear: that his appetite for alcohol would poison his personality and override his ability to create. It’s also Poe’s first extended interrogation of PERVERSENESS (all caps here, just like the story), which is described as an “unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself — to offer violence to its own nature.” The image of the corrupted narrator, hanging his beloved cat with tears streaming down his cheeks, remains among the most pitiful, and genuinely haunting images in the Poe catalog.
Once more, it’s tantalizing to contemplate the ways Dostoyevsky may well have been developing the possibilities of an irresistible perversity driving one to self-defeat (which Poe himself expanded upon in “The Imp of the Perverse”) in both The Double and Crime and Punishment . “The Black Cat”, while quite successful as a spooky tale with an outrageous ending, presents Poe the psychologist at his most incisive — and unsettling.
2. “The Fall of the House of Usher”
If “The Masque of the Red Death” features one of the all-time great closing lines, “The Fall of the House of Usher” contains one of the most sublime opening passages: in one extended paragraph containing 417 words, Poe provides an enduring showcase for his “unity of effect” theory. Practically every image, every action, every word is dedicated toward the invocation of dread, and the suspense careens toward a conclusion that is literally shattering (in several senses of the word).
The tale concerns itself with the narrator and his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, as well as his twin sister Madeline. And yet the main character is the house itself. The narrator feels a palpable sense of dreariness and decay as he approaches the family mansion, a foreboding that comes full circle as the house collapses into itself in the final scene.
It’s the effect the house has on its tenants, however, where Poe couples supernatural suspense with a human frailty to devastating effect. Sensitive to the point of intolerance to sound, Roderick has become an imploding specter of nervous energy and despair. As he confesses to his friend, “I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.”
With astonishing economy (this story could — and likely would, by a lesser writer — have easily been stretched into a novel, albeit with lesser impact and effect), Poe manages to invoke his enduring preoccupation of live burial, split personalities, ruminate on the sentience of inanimate objects, and complicate the notions of art imitating life and vice versa, all while steadily orchestrating the ultimate confrontation (twin vs. twin, brother vs. sister, human vs. house, life vs. death). Tragic and absurd as the events become, the narrator is content to leave it as a family matter, hastily escaping as the history of the house and its occupants sink into nothingness.
1. “The Cask of Amontillado”
We’ve discussed a perfect opening section and a perfect closing sentence; “The Cask of Amontillado” is just perfection, period. It represents the consummation of so many of Poe’s aesthetic innovations, crafted so each sentence builds upon the next (like an expertly tiered stone wall…), amping up the humor, irony and, finally, horror. Not a word wasted, an image unnecessary, a line of dialogue inessential and yet, despite the formal symmetry at its heart, a mystery.
What is the insult that drives Montresor’s homicidal rage? It’s never clear, and that only adds an element of menace. Is Montresor, like many of Poe’s most inscrutable murderers, more or less insane? Put another way, it’s difficult to fathom, since he and Fortunato are still at least superficially cordial, any offense that would warrant live entombment.
As with “The Masque of the Red Death”, Poe nimbly operates on multiple levels: there’s an element of class disparity and resentment seething within the dialogue. When Montresor insists that he is, in fact, a mason (one of the delightful ironies, as he pulls out his trowel), it’s easy to overlook Fortunato’s offensive disbelief (“You? Impossible! A mason?”).
There’s also the not inconsiderable matter of Montresor’s family crest, wherein “the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.” It’s simple to imagine Montresor is the foot smiting the serpent, but it’s possibly more appropriate to consider Montresor as the snake, refusing to die or, if he’s to be defeated, fighting to the death. The motto “Nemo Me Impune Lacessit” (You will not harm me with impunity”) is at once appropriate for his character, yet repugnant.
A writer has succeeded if, in creating a story, a single unforgettable image is imprinted within the reader’s mind. How many such scenes exist in this one short tale? The image of a drunken Fortunato (that name!), in motley — playing the clown, being played for a clown — insistent on proving his expertise, as he’s drawn deeper into the catacombs; the aforementioned passage concerning whether Montresor is, in fact, a mason (producing the trowel, one of the great incidents of foreshadowing in fiction); Montresor, the mason, hurriedly piling brick upon brick; Fortunato, finally comprehending his plight, screaming inside the depths of his crypt, only to have Montresor, full of malevolent confidence, screaming back at him (no one will hear us down here, my friend).
And finally, the most cold-blooded line in Poe’s collected works: “My heart grew sick — on account of the dampness of the catacombs.” Is it, finally, the pang of human remorse? Or is it one last twist of the trowel, one final act of impunity to repay the insult made more than 50 years before? Like the insult itself, we’ll never know.
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Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe
10 best edgar allan poe short stories.
The master of the macabre, Edgar Allen Poe was responsible for writing some of the most spine-tingling mysteries and chilling horror stories ever published. The complete collection of Edgar Allen Poe short stories delves into themes of madness, death and betrayal, all wrapped up in brilliant literary prose. For those unfamiliar with his work, the following is a list of some of Poe’s best short stories.
The Fall of the House of Usher (1839)
This Edgar Allen Poe short story opens with a vivid description of the house of Usher, and how the narrator, upon sighting the house, feels that “a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit”. This premonition proves to be accurate, as the narrator reacquaints himself with the residents of the house of Usher, the boyhood friend who is now totally reclusive and the friend’s sister who is slowly wasting away from a terrible illness. This short story gives a vivid depiction of psychological anxieties and is an example of totality, where every element and detail within the story is relevant to the overall story.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)
Almost universally recognized as the first modern detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” introduces C. Auguste Dupin, a Parisian who uses physical evidence and masterful deductions to solve the horrific murders of two women. By investigating the crime scene and studying witness testimony, Dupin is able to deduce the shocking truth behind the murders. As one of the best Edgar Allen Poe short stories, this one set the bar for fictional detectives and established the formula of a masterful detective, the narrator friend and the truth being revealed prior to the explanation of how the mystery was solved.
The Pit And The Pendulum (1842)
Set in the hell that was the torture chambers of the Spanish Inquisition, “The Pit and The Pendulum” is the first person account of a poor soul who is being subjected to unfathomable terrors. The interesting thing about this short story is that the writer seldom gives actual visual descriptions, but rather, the victim is confined in almost pitch darkness so that all of his awareness of the horrors that he faces are restricted to “sound, and motion, and touch”. This unusual approach to a horror story is particularly effective at evoking fear in the reader, as often what a person’s consciousness envisions is far more terrifying than anything else.
William Wilson (1842)
One of the original short stories to feature a look-alike, this personal account of William Wilson’s doppelgänger was, to some extent, inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s experiences growing up as a boy in a "misty-looking village of England". The experiences of William Wilson and how he was continually thwarted by his counterpart, who liked like him, walked like him and who shared a birthday and a name with him, explore the themes of a man’s conscience and the recognition of insanity. The twist at the end of this Edgar Allen Poe short story is subtle and extremely clever and has inspired many adaptations.
The Tell-Tale Heart (1843)
One of the most famous Edgar Allen Poe short stories, “The Tell-Tale Heart” is narrated by a man who describes in detail why he was driven to commit murder and seeks to justify the cause, insisting it was not for hatred or greed. Eventually though, the guilt he feels begins to manifest itself in the form of a hallucination…he can hear the old man’s heart beating from where he buried - under the floorboards. An interesting feature of this story is that the narrator is not trying to prove his innocence (for he openly confesses to murder), but rather, he is determined to prove his sanity.
The Black Cat (1843)
“The Black Cat” is the story of a man and his pet, a giant black cat named Pluto. Although declaring that he loves animals, the man becomes an alcoholic and eventually in a fit of rage, he kills the cat. But the very same night, his house burns down. Whilst initially remorseful, the man eventually shrugs off his guilt, gets another cat (the exact replica of Pluto) and returns to his drunken and violent ways. But when he commits a brutal crime, the reminder of the cat drives him mad with guilt. Similar to “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Black Cat” is a study of guilt and the effect it can have on the human mind.
The Purloined Letter (1845)
Once again featuring amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin, “The Purloined Letter” is a careful study in deduction and duplicity. Approached by the Prefect of the Police, Dupin is asked to find a stolen letter which is being used to blackmail a wealthy lady. The appearance of the letter is described in detail, along with the suspected culprit and the elaborate methods the police used to search his hotel room, such as probing pillows with needles and using a magnifying glass to examine the furniture. Dupin’s investigation into the matter follows the theory of hiding something of value in plain sight, and he arrives at this conclusion by attempting to identify with the mind of the criminal.
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar (1845)
In the mid 1800’s, “mesmerism” was a raging topic of conversation amongst the wealthy members of American society. Playing off this fascination, Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story about a man with tuberculosis, who on his deathbed agrees to be put in a suspended hypnotic state. The events that follow are filled with horror and gripping suspense as the dead man’s body begins to decay whilst his mind remains in the trance. At the time of publication, this short story was believed by many to be a factual account of “mesmerism”, making “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” an epic hoax as well as a gripping short story.
A story of extreme revenge, “Hop-Frog” tells of a court jester who, along with his dear friend, is humiliated by the King. When asked for suggestions regarding an upcoming masquerade, Hop-Frog suggests that the King and his councilors dress up as orangutans in order to terrify their guests. Thinking that this will be a wonderful joke, the men don suits covered in tar and flax, and then enter the banquet hall chained together, giving Hop-Frog an opportunity to take his revenge. It has been suggested that this story was written by Poe as a form of revenge against a society madam who had spread vicious rumors about him.
The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether (1856)
In the mid 1800’s the treatment of the insane was a prominent political issue in the United States. It was against this backdrop of political dispute that Edgar Allen Poe wrote this short story, which describes a man’s visit to a mental institution where the “system of soothing” has just been abandoned, following an uprising by the patients. Invited to dinner, the man is alarmed and suspicious by the manic behavior of the doctors and nurses in attendance, who delight in telling him of how they have just instituted a new form of treatment under the recommendations of “Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether”.
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The Poe Museum
Poe’s Complete Works
Below is a list of the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe. Click on a title to read the full text.
- The Angel of the Odd
- The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
- The Assignation (The Visionary)
- The Balloon Hoax
- The Black Cat
- Bon-Bon (The Bargain Lost)
- The Cask of Amontillado
- The Colloquy of Monos and Una
- The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion (The Destruction of the World)
- A Decided Loss (Loss of Breath)
- A Descent into the Maelström
- The Devil in the Belfry
- Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences
- The Domain of Arnheim (The Landscape Garden )
- The Duc de L’Omelette
- Epimanes (Four Beasts in One) (The Homocameleopard)
- The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
- The Fall of the House of Usher
- The Gold-Bug
- Hans Phaall — A Tale (The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall)
- How to Write a Blackwood Article (The Psyche Zenobia)
- The Imp of the Perverse
- The Island of the Fay
- Landor’s Cottage
- The Light-House
- The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq
- The Man of the Crowd
- The Man that was Used Up
- The Masque of the Red Death
- Mellonta Tauta
- Mesmeric Revelation
- Morning on the Wissahiccon (The Elk)
- MS. found in a Bottle (Manuscript found in a Bottle)
- The Murders in the Rue Morgue
- The Mystery of Marie Roget
- Mystification (Von Jung)
- Never Bet the Devil Your Head
- The Oblong Box
- The Oval Portrait (Life in Death)
- Peter Pendulum, the Business Man
- The Pit and the Pendulum
- The Power of Words
- The Premature Burial
- The Purloined Letter
- The Scythe of Time
- Shadow — A Fable
- Silence — A Fable (Siope — A Fable)
- Some Words with a Mummy
- The Spectacles
- The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
- A Tale of Jerusalem
- A Tale of the Ragged Mountains
- The Tell-Tale Heart
- Thou Art the Man
- The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade
- A Succession of Sundays (Three Sundays in a Week)
- Von Kempelen and His Discovery
- Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling
- William Wilson
- X-ing a Paragrab
- An Acrostic (From an Album)
- Alone (From an Album Alone) (“From childhood’s hour I have not been… “)
- Annabel Lee
- Bridal Ballad (Song of the Newly-Wedded)
- Beloved Physician
- Catholic Hymn
- The Coliseum
- The Conqueror Worm
- The Divine Right of Kings
- The Doomed City (The City in the Sea)
- A Dream Within a Dream
- Evening Star
- The Happiest Day
- The Haunted Palace
- Impromptu [To Kate Carol]
- Irene (The Sleeper)
- [Lines on Joe Locke]
- Lines Written in an Album (To Elizabeth) (To F——s S. O——d)
- O, Tempora! O, Mores!
- Preface (Romance)
- Song of Triumph
- Sonnet (An Enigma)
- Sonnet — Silence
- Sonnet — To Science
- Sonnet — To Zante
- Spiritual Song
- Stanzas (“In youth I have known one…”)
- Stanzas [To F. S. O.]
- To — (“The bowers whereat …”)
- To —— (“Sleep on, sleep on, another hour …”)
- To — (Song)
- To Helen (“Helen, thy beauty is to me…”)
- To Helen (“I saw thee once — once only…”)
- To Her Whose Name is Written Below (A Valentine)
- To M— (Alone) (“O! I care not that my earthly lot…”)
- To Margaret
- To Mary (To One Departed )
- To Marie Louise
- To My Mother
- To One in Paradise (To One Beloved), (To Ianthe in Heaven)
- To ——[Violet Vane]
- Spirits of the Dead
- The Valley of Unrest (The Valley Nis)
Help us continue illuminating Poe for everyone, evermore.
- Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe
- Great Movies Based on Short Stories
- History's Greatest Short Story Writers
- Short Stories by Anton Chekhov
- Short Stories by Flannery O'Connor
- Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway
- Short Stories by William Faulkner
- Short Stories by O. Henry
- Great Collections of Short Stories
- Short Stories by Raymond Carver
- The Best Russian Short Stories
- Short Stories by J.D. Salinger
- Short Stories by Franz Kafka
- Short Stories by John Cheever
- Short Stories by Hans Christian Andersen
The Best Edgar Allan Poe Stories
The Tell-Tale Heart
The Masque of the Red Death
The Cask of Amontillado
The Fall of the House of Usher
The Black Cat
The Murders in the Rue Morgue
The Oval Portrait
The Oblong Box
The Pit and the Pendulum
Ms. Found in a Bottle
A Descent into the Maelström
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
The Imp of the Perverse
The Premature Burial
The Man of the Crowd
The Purloined Letter
The Island of the Fay
The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
The Man That Was Used Up
- Edgar Allan Poe
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10 Essential Edgar Allan Poe Short Stories
Mark Dawidziak's fresh new biography of Edgar Allan Poe, A Mystery of Mysteries , is cleverly framed as an investigation into the writer’s puzzling demise: Poe died in Baltimore in 1849 at age 40 under murky circumstances that have sparked enduring fascination among fans and scholars. Dawidziak surveys the most commonly proposed causes of death, including “binge drinking, rabies, murder, a brain tumor, encephalitis brought on by exposure, syphilis, suicide, [and] heart disease. Though he resists offering a definitive culprit (even as he identifies tuberculosis as the prime suspect), Dawidziak's sharp analysis of Poe’s life and how his more macabre pieces came to overshadow the rest of his work will give readers a fuller understanding of Poe’s artistry and character.
If Edgar Allan Poe could be guided back to this earthly realm and shown the grand extent of his fame, he probably would be both absolutely delighted and more than a little appalled. Certainly, the writer so thoroughly convinced of his own genius would be positively giddy to see that, yes, he is remembered, and continues to be universally read and celebrated. But Poe also would be a bit perturbed to know that this enduring reputation primarily rests on such a small group of wonderfully crafted short stories, so much so that we overwhelmingly identify him as our grand master of the macabre and the mysterious.
Poe prided himself on being a versatile writer, and only a small fraction of his impressive literary output could be classified as horror or mystery. Yet even his best-known poems, starting with “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee,” tend to fall on the shadowy and spooky side of the street. It speaks to why this aspect of Poe’s writing, more than anything else, has kept him alive: he was simply flat-out better at it than anyone else. Poe created both the modern horror story and the model for such super sleuths as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Writing short stories for the magazines of his day, Poe took the horror and mystery forms and, in Ray Bradbury’s estimation, “made literature of them.”
Selecting the 10 best Poe short stories, therefore, would inevitably leave out something of greatness. Rather, then, let’s classify these 10 terrific tales as the essentials.
1. “The Tell-Tale Heart” Is it a crime story? A horror tale? It’s both, of course, and it’s also a chilling masterpiece that finds Poe brilliantly prowling the murky boundary between obsession and madness. As the author’s “dreadfully nervous” narrator tells us how an old man’s filmy “pale blue eye” drives him to murder, Poe gives us a master class in establishing mood, building suspense, and maintaining pace, all while expertly employing wonderfully specific gradations of light and sound. Not just a remarkably constructed model for the short story form, “The Tell-Tale Heart” is a near-perfect monologue, with Poe, the son of actors, displaying his ever-keen sense of the dramatic. He tells us just what we need to know, leaving enough unexplained that we continue to speculate about the characters long after the histrionic “tear up the planks” climax. Small wonder this chilling 1843 tale has remained a classroom favorite and a popular performance piece.
2. “The Masque of the Red Death” Poe, who made spectacular use of obsessed and sometimes unreliable narrators, shifted to third-person narrative for this magnificently baroque 1842 story of the “happy and dauntless and sagacious” Prince Prospero, who, at the height of a plague known as the Red Death, seals himself off from the world (and supposedly the pestilence) with 1,000 “hale and light-hearted friends.” Poe is at the height of his fantastic descriptive powers as the dreamlike quality of Prince Prospero’s masked ball turns into a grotesque and ghastly nightmare. Symbolism awaits in each of the masquerade’s seven glaringly illuminated chambers packed with “much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.” It’s a tale that never loses its resonance because, even when infectious disease isn’t raging, there is never a shortage of human vanity, pride, and folly.
3. “The Cask of Amontillado” It has been said that the best of Poe’s macabre stories and poems should be read out loud. And, indeed, this 1846 story is another stirring example of his ability to construct a gripping soliloquy that artfully draws the reader/listener through the calculated steps leading to murder. A tale of revenge, “The Cask of Amontillado” is narrated by Montressor, who tells us that he bore the thousand injuries of the noble Fortunato as best he could. But when the vain and pompous Fortunato crosses the line and insults Montressor, his fate is sealed. Written when Poe’s feud with former friend Thomas Dunn English had escalated to open warfare , this journey into the catacomb vaults of the Montressors is not just terribly grim, but also grimly humorous. Poe lets us in on the dark and ironic joke as the insulted Montressor toys with the oblivious and inebriated Fortunato, slyly playing on his frailties during their descent into the darkness.
4. “The Fall of the House of Usher” Widely admired by Washington Irving and others when first published in 1839, this fascinating tale has inspired endless discussion and debate about its haunting imagery. Poe probably drew on aspects of his personality for both the doomed Roderick Usher and the unnamed narrator, but neither should be taken as a self-portrait. As both Roderick’s disturbed mind and his decaying ancestral mansion collapse, Poe weaves several of his favorite themes into the richly textured fabric of this tale: premature burial, a beautiful and mysterious young woman stalked by death, a descent into madness, and a cataclysmic storm. “It was a mystery all insoluble,” we are told of this story about Roderick and his twin sister, Madeline. Perhaps, but the “Usher” mysteries continue to invite all manner of allegorical interpretation. Are the Ushers and their house victims of the supernatural? Poe provides no answers, leaving the terror in the eye of the beholder.
5. “The Purloined Letter” Poe’s 1843 buried-treasure mystery tale, “The Gold-Bug,” was one of his most popular compositions, and his 1841 story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” had the distinction of introducing his master detective C. Auguste Dupin. But his most perfectly wrought mystery story by far was his third and final Dupin puzzler, “The Purloined Letter,” first published in 1844. Poe certainly realized what he had accomplished with this ingenious story, rightly considering it his finest tale of ratiocination. The third time was the definite charm for Dupin, for here we find a challenge and a solution worthy of his reputation as a dazzlingly shrewd amateur detective. “Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?” famously asked Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. On another occasion, Doyle said, “Dupin is unrivaled. It was Poe who taught the possibility of making a detective story a work of literature.” And “The Purloined Letter” is the full realization of that claim.
6. “The Pit and the Pendulum” The unnamed narrator of this 1842 story is a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition in Toledo. He is sentenced by his accusers to “the most hideous of fates.” He will be subjected to a series of insidiously designed tortures until he breathes his last. First he is placed in a completely dark room, and, upon tripping, discovers he is at the rim of a pit. Having escaped a fatal plunge, he is bound to a wooden frame. Overhead, a large pendulum scythe begins to swing, slowly descending toward him. One of Poe’s most suspenseful terror tales, “The Pit and the Pendulum” traps you in that dungeon cell, making you face each vividly described fear and experience the mounting nightmare horror of it all. And yet, as the narrator reminds us, “In death—no! Even in the grave all is not lost!”
7. “Ligeia” This 1838 story was singled out by Poe as one of his favorites, and you can easily see why. Like the earlier (and more lurid) “Berenice” and “Morella,” “Ligeia” tells of a doomed attempt at marriage and the death of a beautiful woman. But “Ligeia” is not merely a far more intriguing and adroitly crafted story. In many ways, the story signals Poe’s arrival as a mature storyteller, beginning an eight-year golden period that saw most of his greatest horror and mystery tales. The slender, raven-haired, dark-eyed Lady Ligeia creepily demonstrates her belief that human will can be stronger than death. She does this by rejuvenating herself in the body of the unnamed narrator’s second wife, the fair-haired, blue-eyed Lady Rowena. George Bernard Shaw was so impressed by the story that he deemed it “not merely one of the wonders of literature: it is unparalleled and unapproached.”
8. “William Wilson” Poe gave the title character his birthday, January 19, and drew on his boyhood experiences at Scottish and English schools for this 1839 doppelgänger story that some too easily and obviously claim as autobiographical. Poe is, however, probing the nature of duality with his narrator, William Wilson, “prey to the most ungovernable passions,” and his double, also named William Wilson, who increasingly takes on the role of his conscience. If Poe understood this ongoing battle within himself, he also recognized the universality of his theme. Echoes of this inner conflict between the perverse and nobler inclinations are noticeable in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, just one of many writers to acknowledge Poe’s influence.
9. “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” Exploiting the era’s widespread fascination with mesmerism, Poe put readers under his spell with this 1845 terror tale of a hypnotist’s attempt to use the trance state to prolong the “life” of his dying friend, M. Ernest Valdemar. Forestalling death and delaying decomposition is not likely to end well, and, after creating some deeply unsettling horror effects, Poe gives us his grisliest gross-out payoff. Yet the tone of the narration is so realistic, many believed this fantastic flight of fiction to be a true account. Stephen King has said that horror stories can hit you on three levels: haunting the brain, racing the heart, and turning the stomach. This works its gruesome magic on all three levels.
10. “Hop-Frog” Like “The Cask of Amontillado,” this is a revenge tale, but it’s markedly different in tone and effect. It’s also the only one of these 10 essential Poe stories that didn’t appear during his 1838–1846 creative stretch. Published in 1849, less than seven months before his death, “Hop-Frog” features a title character who has our total sympathy, despite his horrific plan for retribution. A court jester callously abused by the king and his courtiers, Hop-Frog is a dwarf forced to play the fool while enduring endless humiliation. The cruel monarch laughs with his jester but also at Hop-Frog’s diminutive size and the deformity that gives him a walk that’s part leap, part wiggle. When the king lashes out at the beautiful and kindly Trippetta, an exquisitely proportioned little woman, Hop-Frog plans a hellish form of payback.
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Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was a writer and critic famous for his dark, mysterious poems and stories, including ‘The Raven,’ ‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’
Who Was Edgar Allan Poe?
Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, poet, critic and editor best known for evocative short stories and poems that captured the imagination and interest of readers around the world. His imaginative storytelling and tales of mystery and horror gave birth to the modern detective story.
Many of Poe’s works, including “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” became literary classics. Some aspects of Poe’s life, like his literature, is shrouded in mystery, and the lines between fact and fiction have been blurred substantially since his death.
Early Life and Family
Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Poe never really knew his parents — Elizabeth Arnold Poe, a British actress, and David Poe, Jr., an actor who was born in Baltimore. His father left the family early in Poe's life, and his mother passed away from tuberculosis when he was only three.
Separated from his brother William and sister Rosalie, Poe went to live with John and Frances Allan, a successful tobacco merchant and his wife, in Richmond, Virginia. Edgar and Frances seemed to form a bond, but he had a more difficult relationship with John Allan.
By the age of 13, Poe was a prolific poet, but his literary talents were discouraged by his headmaster and John Allan, who preferred that Poe follow him in the family business. Preferring poetry over profits, Poe reportedly wrote poems on the back of some of Allan's business papers.
He returned home only to face another personal setback — his neighbor and fiancée Sarah Elmira Royster had become engaged to someone else. Heartbroken and frustrated, Poe moved to Boston.
Army and West Point
In 1827, around the time he published his first book, Poe joined the U.S. Army. Two years later, he learned that Frances Allan was dying of tuberculosis, but by the time he returned to Richmond she had already passed away.
While in Virginia, Poe and Allan briefly made peace with each other, and Allan helped Poe get an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point . Poe excelled at his studies at West Point, but he was kicked out after a year for his poor handling of his duties.
During his time at West Point, Poe had fought with his foster father, who had remarried without telling him. Some have speculated that Poe intentionally sought to be expelled to spite Allan, who eventually cut ties with Poe.
Editor, Critic, Poet and Writer
After leaving West Point, Poe published his third book and focused on writing full-time. He traveled around in search of opportunity, living in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Richmond. In 1834, John Allan died, leaving Poe out of his will, but providing for an illegitimate child Allan had never met.
Poe, who continued to struggle living in poverty, got a break when one of his short stories won a contest in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter . He began to publish more short stories and in 1835 landed an editorial position with the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond.
Poe developed a reputation as a cut-throat critic, writing vicious reviews of his contemporaries. His scathing critiques earned him the nickname the "Tomahawk Man."
His tenure at the magazine proved short. Poe's aggressive-reviewing style and sometimes combative personality strained his relationship with the publication, and he left the magazine in 1837. His problems with alcohol also played a role in his departure, according to some reports.
Poe went on to brief stints at Burton's Gentleman's Magazine , Graham's Magazine , The Broadway Journal , and he also sold his work to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger , among other journals.
In 1844, Poe moved to New York City. There, he published a news story in The New York Sun about a balloon trip across the Atlantic Ocean that he later revealed to be a hoax. His stunt grabbed attention, but it was his publication of "The Raven," in 1845, which made Poe a literary sensation.
That same year, Poe found himself under attack for his stinging criticisms of fellow poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow . Poe claimed that Longfellow, a widely popular literary figure, was a plagiarist, which resulted in a backlash against Poe.
Despite his success and popularity as a writer, Poe continued to struggle financially and he advocated for higher wages for writers and an international copyright law.
From 1831 to 1835, Poe lived in Baltimore, where his father was born, with his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter, his cousin Virginia. He began to devote his attention to Virginia, who became his literary inspiration as well as his love interest.
The couple married in 1836 when she was only 13 years old. In 1847, at the age of 24 — the same age when Poe’s mother and brother also died — Virginia passed away from tuberculosis.
Poe was overcome by grief following her death, and although he continued to work, he suffered from poor health and struggled financially until his death in 1849.
Poe self-published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems , in 1827. His second poetry collection, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems , was published in 1829.
As a critic at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond from 1835 to 1837, Poe published some of his own works in the magazine, including two parts of his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym .
In late 1830s, Poe published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque , a collection of short stories. It contained several of his most spine-tingling tales, including "The Fall of the House of Usher," "Ligeia" and "William Wilson."
In 1841, Poe launched the new genre of detective fiction with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." His literary innovations earned him the nickname "Father of the Detective Story." A writer on the rise, he won a literary prize in 1843 for "The Gold Bug," a suspenseful tale of secret codes and hunting treasure.
'The Black Cat'
Poe’s short story “The Black Cat” was published in 1843 in The Saturday Evening Post . In it, the narrator, a one-time animal lover, becomes an alcoholic who begins abusing his wife and black cat. By the macabre story’s end, the narrator observes his own descent into madness as he kills his wife, a crime his black cat reports to the police. The story was later included in the 1845 short story collection, Tales by Edgar Allan Poe .
Poe’s poem "The Raven," published in 1845 in the New York Evening Mirror , is considered among the best-known poems in American literature and one of the best of Poe's career. An unknown narrator laments the demise of his great love Lenore and is visited by a raven, who insistently repeats one word: “Nevermore.” In the work, which consists of 18 six-line stanzas, Poe explored some of his common themes — death and loss.
This lyric poem again explores Poe’s themes of death and loss and may have been written in memory of his beloved wife Virginia, who died two years prior. The poem was published on October 9, 1849, two days after Poe’s death, in the New York Tribune .
Later in his career, Poe continued to work in different forms, examining his own methodology and writing in general in several essays, including "The Philosophy of Composition," "The Poetic Principle" and "The Rationale of Verse." He also produced the thrilling tale, "The Cask of Amontillado," and poems such as "Ulalume" and "The Bells."
Poe died on October 7, 1849. His final days remain somewhat of a mystery. Poe left Richmond on September 27, 1849, and was supposedly on his way to Philadelphia.
On October 3, he was found in Baltimore in great distress. Poe was taken to Washington College Hospital, where he died four days later. His last words were "Lord, help my poor soul."
At the time, it was said that Poe died of "congestion of the brain." But his actual cause of death has been the subject of endless speculation.
Some experts believe that alcoholism led to his demise while others offer up alternative theories. Rabies, epilepsy and carbon monoxide poisoning are just some of the conditions thought to have led to the great writer's death.
Shortly after his passing, Poe's reputation was badly damaged by his literary adversary Rufus Griswold. Griswold, who had been sharply criticized by Poe, took his revenge in his obituary of Poe, portraying the gifted yet troubled writer as a mentally deranged drunkard and womanizer.
He also penned the first biography of Poe, which helped cement some of these misconceptions in the public's minds.
While he never had financial success in his lifetime, Poe has become one of America's most enduring writers. His works are as compelling today as they were more than a century ago.
An innovative and imaginative thinker, Poe crafted stories and poems that still shock, surprise and move modern readers. His dark work influenced writers including Charles Baudelaire , Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Stephane Mallarme.
House and Museum
The Baltimore home where Poe stayed from 1831 to 1835 with his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter, Poe’s cousin and future wife Virginia, is now a museum.
The Edgar Allan Poe House offers a self-guided tour featuring exhibits on Poe’s foster parents, his life and death in Baltimore and the poems and short stories he wrote while living there, as well as memorabilia including his chair and desk.
Watch "The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe" on HISTORY Vault
- Name: Edgar Allan Poe
- Birth Year: 1809
- Birth date: January 19, 1809
- Birth State: Massachusetts
- Birth City: Boston
- Birth Country: United States
- Gender: Male
- Best Known For: Edgar Allan Poe was a writer and critic famous for his dark, mysterious poems and stories, including ‘The Raven,’ ‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’
- Fiction and Poetry
- Astrological Sign: Capricorn
- U.S. Military Academy at West Point
- University of Virginia
- Interesting Facts
- Edgar Allan Poe's imaginative storytelling and tales of mystery and horror gave birth to the modern detective story.
- Poe married his cousin Virginia when she was 13 and he was 24.
- Despite his awards and recognition, Poe had financial problems throughout his writing career.
- Poe died in a Baltimore hospital in 1849, his last words being: "Lord, help my poor soul."
- Death Year: 1849
- Death date: October 7, 1849
- Death State: Maryland
- Death City: Baltimore
- Death Country: United States
We strive for accuracy and fairness.If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us !
- Article Title: Edgar Allan Poe Biography
- Author: Biography.com Editors
- Website Name: The Biography.com website
- Url: https://www.biography.com/authors-writers/edgar-allan-poe
- Access Date:
- Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
- Last Updated: October 8, 2021
- Original Published Date: April 3, 2014
- The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.
- Lord, help my poor soul.
- Sound loves to revel near a summer night.
- But as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been.
- They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.
- The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?
- With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence; they must not — they cannot at will be excited, with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind.
- And now — have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses? — now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart.
- All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.
- I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active — not more happy — nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago.
- [I]f you wish to forget anything upon the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.
- Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Federico García Lorca
Ralph Waldo Emerson
20 Shakespeare Quotes
Are you watching Wednesday on Netflix ?? I love the Edgar Allan Poe references in the show. Poe actually DID put hidden messages in his poems and stories. His poem A Valentine is an example. Poe even teaches the reader how to solve secret messages in The Gold Bug . Enjoy!
I've been converting the site to a PWA (Progressive Web App) so you can install the site on your mobile device home screen. I just tested it on iPhone and Android. Try it and let me know if you have any issues.
I just updated the World Map with pins for every person who has signed the guestbook . There are 443 new pins for a total of 5,651. New pins were added for Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Portugal, Ghana, India, Australia, China, Philippines, Dominican Republic, and of course many cities in the U.S.
Don't worry, I didn't forget you! I'm working on updating the Guestbook signatures.
I just wanted to make a post here about COVID-19 in case a future generation finds this site. Around 1842, Poe wrote the cautionary tale, Masque of the Red Death , about a group of wealthy people hiding out in a castle to escape the plague. You'll have to read the story to see how that worked out. Now, in 2020, we have been confined to our homes for months because of the COVID virus. Many cannot work, while the rest of us try to work from home. At least I am happy to see people using this site for both education and enjoyment. Hang in there!
I just updated the World Map showing pins for all Guestbook signatures. Happy Halloween!!
Welcome to PoeStories.com
Poe wrote many stories on many different topics. If you don't know where to start, you can browse short summaries of Edgar Allan Poe stories , so you can find something that interests you. Don't worry, I don't give away the endings!!
This site makes it easy for you read Poe's stories. Poe knew several languages and had quite a large vocabulary. Poe's works are not hard to read but sometimes he uses obscure words or references that the average user may not know. Because of this, I've created an ever growing wordlist containing many of these words and their definitions. When a word in the wordlist appears in any story, it becomes hyperlinked to its definition.
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Top Five Short Stories from Edgar Allan Poe
Posted on Dec 30, 2013
The end is near. Okay, so the apocalypse might not be right around the corner, but I’m thinking closer to home with the end of 2013. Year-end lists. Lots of them. Everywhere. This is less a year-end and more a review of the Gothic masters. Firbolg Publishing’s anthologies are always a mix of the authors of yesteryear and modern writers. I read a lot of literature from the 1800s. A lot. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the macabre. For those not familiar with these incredible authors, we’re offering a quick “best of” as an introduction. The stories are not necessary in any order, but they represent an overview of each author’s writing.
Edgar Allan Poe
1) “The Masque of the Red Death”
Drawing on the history of the plague, Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” was first published in 1842. A prince and his wealthy guests hide behind high walls, but not even the aristocracy can avoid the terrible fiend stalking the halls. Poe’s tale is a multi-layered analysis of death, disease, and inevitability.
2) “The Cask of Amontillado”
Originally published in the winter of 1846, this story features an unreliable narrator recounting his vengeful act against a supposed enemy. The tale is classic Poe with elements of insanity, murder, and paranoia wrapped up in a strange, almost giddy atmosphere. The story was only reprinted once during Poe’s lifetime.
3) “The Fall of the House of Usher”
First published in 1839, this story was revised just slightly and reprinted in 1840. The theme of the crumbling, haunted castle is a staple of Gothic literature, often symbolic for bodily or mental decay in the protagonist (or those surrounding him or her). Poe skillfully presents the house itself as a critical character to the narrative of the crumbling Usher family.
4) “The Black Cat”
Often paired with “The Tell-Tale Heart,” this story is a frightening examination of the psychology of guilt. Violent, dark, and malevolent, our protagonist falls victim to his own mental decay and perverseness. This particular story, along with its companion piece, have been among the most popular for radio, television, and film adaptations. It was first published in 1843.
For an intriguing look at the original and new perspectives on this famous tale, check out Enter at Your Own Risk: Dark Muses, Spoken Silences by Firbolg Publishing.
5) “The Tell-Tale Heart”
Published the same year as “The Black Cat,” this story shares many thematic elements with “The Black Cat.” The two stories are often examined together as an exploration of madness, guilt, and mental decay. It is, without a doubt, one of Poe’s most famous short stories. Poe received $10 for its publication in the short-lived Boston magazine called The Pioneer .
For less than a cup of coffee, you can enjoy all Poe’s classics on your Kindle.
The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Complete Collection of Poems and Tales
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- My Preferences
- My Reading List
- Poe's Short Stories
Edgar Allan Poe
- Literature Notes
- About Poe's Short Stories
- Edgar Allan Poe Biography
- Summary and Analysis
- "The Fall of the House of Usher"
- "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"
- "The Purloined Letter"
- "The Tell-Tale Heart"
- "The Black Cat"
- "The Cask of Amontillado"
- "William Wilson"
- "The Pit and the Pendulum"
- "The Masque of the Red Death"
- Critical Essays
- Edgar Allan Poe and Romanticism
- Poe's Critical Theories
- Cite this Literature Note
The Gothic Story: Introduction to "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "Ligeia"
These stories represent the highest achievements in the literary genre of the gothic horror story. By gothic, one means that the author emphasizes the grotesque, the mysterious, the desolate, the horrible, the ghostly, and, ultimately, the abject fear that can be aroused in either the reader or in the viewer. Almost everyone is familiar with such characters as Dr. Frankenstein's monster and Count Dracula, two of today's pop culture horror characters who evolve from the gothic tradition, and it is probably not an exaggeration to say that most adults in the Western world have been exposed to some type of gothic tale or ghost story. We all know that a gothic story or a ghost story will often have a setting that will be in an old, decaying mansion far out in a desolate countryside; the castle will be filled with cobwebs, strange noises, bats, and an abundance of secret panels and corridors, down which persecuted virgins might be running and screaming in terror. This is standard fare; we have either read about such places or seen them in the movies or on TV. The haunted castle is a classic setting of the gothic story. The author uses every literary trick possible to give us eerie sensations or to make us jump if we hear an unexpected noise. The shadows seem menacing in these stories, there are trap doors to swallow us up, and the underground passages are smelly, slimy, and foul — all these effects are created for one reason: to give us a sense of the ghostly and the supernatural.
Both "Ligeia" and "The Fall of the House of Usher" utilize many of these aspects of the gothic and are considered by critics to be not just among Poe's best short stories, but also among the finest examples of the gothic genre in all of literature.
Not surprisingly, both stories have many qualities in common: (1) In addition to the gothic elements, there is also a sense of remoteness and a sense of indefiniteness — that is, we are never told where "The Fall of the House of Usher" takes place in terms of setting; it could be in Ireland, Virginia, Scotland, Germany, or even Transylvania. The story could, in fact, take place anywhere as long as the area is remote to the reader, removed from his everyday environment. Likewise, "Ligeia"is set in an old castle on the Rhine or else in an abbey in the "most remote part of England." In both stories also, the time (the century) is set somewhere in the indefinite past. Clearly, it is not in an old castle in the present era.
(2) One of the primary aims of both stories is to create the single effect of an eerie and ghostly atmosphere and to do so, both stories emphasize the physical aspects of the various structures — the deep caverns or vaults where the Lady Madeline is buried and the weird room where the Lady Rowena died among various types of black sarcophagi. (3) In both stories, a super-sensitive hero is presented, a man who could not function well in the "normal" world. Roderick Usher and the narrator of "Ligeia" share a super-sensitivity to the point of maladjustment — due to the narrator's opium addiction in "Ligeia," and due to an undefined illness in Roderick Usher. (4) Often in the gothic story, the characters seem to possess some sort of psychic communication; this usually occurs between a member of the living world and a "living" corpse. In both stories, we see this kind of communication between, first, Roderick Usher and his twin sister and, again, between the narrator and his beloved, Ligeia. (5) One of the stock elements of the gothic story concerns the possibility of returning to life after one is dead and, moreover, inhabiting one's own corpse. Poe uses this effect to its very best effect in these two stories; both of them climax with just such an incident: To this purpose Poe created the return of the entombed and living corpse of the Lady Madeleine, as well as the slow re-emergence into life by the enshrouded Lady Ligeia. (6) In addition to the above features of the gothic story, Poe also stressed another similar element; he placed a strong emphasis on the life of the mind after the death of the body. This is also true of the stories associated with the Dracula legends, where the focus is upon the continuation of the life of the mind after the body has become a living corpse. The central concern of the Lady Ligeia is the continuation of the mind after physical death; Poe's emphasis here additionally stresses that one does not yield oneself to death except through a weakness of the will. Both in the Lady Madeline and in the Lady Ligeia, there is a superhuman strength to live — even after death. Both women overcome the most impossible barriers of the mortal world in order to live.
Tales of Ratiocination, or Detective Fiction: Introduction to "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter"
Part of the genius of Edgar Allan Poe is that he exceeded in a number of different types of endeavors. In addition to his reputation as a poet, his originality in his literary criticisms, and the perfection he achieved in creating gothic tales of terror and science fiction, he is also acknowledged as the originator of detective fiction. Poe invented the term "Tale of Ratiocination." The ratiocination, however, is not just for the detective; Poe does not allow the reader to sit back and merely observe; the process of ratiocination which he sets up is also intended for the reader, as well as for the detective. In fact, the story becomes one in which the reader must also accompany the detective toward the solution and apply his own powers of logic and deduction alongside those of the detective. This idea becomes very important in all subsequent works of detective fiction. That is, in all such fiction, all of the clues are available for the reader, as well as the detective, to solve the crime (usually murder), and at the end of the story, the reader should be able to look back on the clues and realize that he could have solved the mystery. A detective story in which the solution is suddenly revealed to the reader is considered bad form. Poe, then, introduces one of the basic elements of the detective story — the presentation of clues for his readers, and in addition to the above, Poe is also credited with introducing and developing many other of the standard features of modern detective fiction.
For example, M. Auguste Dupin is the forerunner of a long line of fictional detectives who are eccentric and brilliant. His unnamed friend, who is a devoted admirer of the detective's methods, is less brilliant but, at times, he is perhaps more rational and analytical than Dupin is. He never, however, has the flashes of genius that the detective exhibits; instead, he begins the tradition of the chronicler of the famous detective's exploits — that is, he mediates between reader and detective, presenting what information he has to the reader, while allowing the detective to keep certain information and interpretations to himself. This technique has since been employed by numerous writers of detective fiction, the most famous being the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson combination. Almost as popular are the well-known novels of Rex Stout, dealing with the eccentric Nero Wolfe and his sidekick, Archie Goodwin, further examples of Poe's methodology. In all the cases that these detectives attempt to solve, the eccentric detective has a certain disdain, or contempt, for the police and their methods, and this has also become a standard feature of many detective stories, along with the fact that the head of the police force feels, as he does in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," that this amateur detective, while solving the murder, is a meddler.
Poe is clearly responsible for and should be given credit for giving literature these basics of the detective story as a foundation for an entirely new genre of fiction: (1) the eccentric but brilliant amateur sleuth; (2) the sidekick, or listener, or worker for the clever detective; (3) the simple clues; (4) the stupidity or ineptitude of the police; (5) the resentment of the police for the amateur's interference; and (6) the simple but careful solution of the problem through logic and intuition.
Stories of the Psychotic Personality: Introduction to "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat"
Many of Poe's short stories treat the same type of phenomena, yet in fact, part of Poe's greatness lies in the diversity of his creativity, and everything he wrote carries with it the distinctive trademark that would identify it as being a work by Edgar Allan Poe. The stories in this section, likewise, are Poe's best examples of another type of story; these are tales of the psychotic personality, one who tries to give a rational explanation for his irrational and compulsive acts. In both stories treated here, the criminal is so completely occupied with his own mental state and in justifying his horrifying actions that the reader is not nearly as aghast at the horrors that the criminal perpetrates, as he is at the bizarre mental state of the criminal. The cruel acts performed by the criminal in both stories are de-emphasized in order to examine the mind of the criminal. In other stories, Poe creates a feeling of horror in the reader's mind by certain acts of cruelty: Here, the reverse is true; for example, the narrator's murder of his wife in "The Black Cat" occurs so suddenly that we hardly notice the horrible cruelty of the act. Instead, we note the mental state of the psychotic killer.
Poe made one assumption throughout his writings that is very important in understanding both of these stories. Poe assumed that any man, at any given moment, is capable of performing the most irrational and horrible act imaginable; every mind, he believed, is capable of falling into madness at any given moment. Thus, these stories deal with those subconscious mental activities which cause a person who leads a so-called normal existence to suddenly change and perform drastic, horrible deeds. Unlike some commentators who thought that Poe was trying to determine exactly what constitutes madness, Poe was more accurately concerned with the conditions and the various stages which lead a person to commit acts of madness, particularly when that madness manifests itself in an otherwise normal person. Both narrators in these stories are — just prior to their atrocities — considered to be normal, average, commonplace men. Yet without warning, each of them loses his sanity momentarily. Poe's emphasis in these stories, particularly in "The Black Cat," is on the fact that the narrator is sometimes aware that he is going mad. Yet even with this self-knowledge, he can do nothing about his terrifying, changing mental state.
Aside from the general patterns and concerns that are present in both stories, there are even more basic similarities: Both stories, for example, begin with (1) a first-person narrator who (2) begins his story by asserting that he is not mad ("Why will you say I am mad" and "Yet, mad am I not"); (3) in addition, both narrators are seemingly average people at the beginning of their chronological narratives; and (4) both perform crimes that are both irrational and intensely personal; (5) both love their victims deeply (the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" loves the old man he murders, and the narrator of "The Black Cat" loves and adores his wife, and, therefore, ironically (6) the murderers' love for their victims makes their crimes even more irrational; (7) both narrators consider dismembering the corpses of the victims; this is actually done in "The Tell-Tale Heart," and in "The Black Cat" it is considered before the narrator finally decides to entomb the corpse in the chimney; (8) in both cases, the narrator's over-confidence in the superiority of his concealment of the body leads directly to the discovery of the body. There are other similarities in the two stories, but these basic correlatives suffice to show how Poe uses similar techniques to achieve the desired effects in each story.
In conclusion, in both of these stories, the narrator attempts a rational examination and explanation for his impulsive and irrational actions. He attempts to bring reason into the picture to explain a completely irrational act. Both stories attempt to present an exterior view of the interior disintegration of the narrator. Both narrators begin their stories at a moment when they are sane and rational, and throughout the story, we observe their changing mental states. These tales are perhaps Poe's most thorough investigations of the capacity of the human mind to deceive itself and then to speculate on the nature of its own destruction.
Tales of the Evil (Or Double) Personality: Introduction to "The Cask of Amontillado" and "William Wilson"
These are two of Poe's greatest short stories; in fact, for some critics, "The Cask of Amontillado"is often used as an example of the perfect short story (see, for example, the critics Alternbrand and Lewis: Introduction to Literature : The Short Story ). In these two stories of Poe's, which are in fact so great that they almost escape classification, there is a strong kinship to the psychotic criminal as seen in "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat." Yet there are significant differences: (1) These stories are among the very few stories that Poe wrote where the narrator of the story is given a name. In "The Cask of Amontillado," however, the other character (Fortunato) addresses the narrator as Montresor, thus allowing the reader to know the narrator's name. In "William Wilson," the narrator announces that he is assuming this name since his real name would shock us — why we don't know. But in the latter story, which in fact deals with a double, the name is not the important issue; consequently, an assumed name is as good as any. (2) In both stories, the main character's motive in telling about his horrible and heinous crime is never revealed. In each case, the reader must wonder why the narrator chose to reveal such a horrible deed about himself. In the stories of the psychotic criminal, each narrator of those stories is trying to convince his readers through his logical method of narration that he is not mad, and yet each succeeds only in convincing the reader that he is indeed mad. In contrast, Montresor and William Wilson seem to have other reasons for telling about their heinous deeds. (3) And in each case, we must note that the story is narrated some time after the horrible deed was performed. For example, in "The Cask of Amontillado, "the entombed body of Fortunato has gone for fifty years without being detected; thus we know that the entombment occurred at least fifty years ago. Also in both cases, the narrator comes from a highly respected family, in contrast to the highly disreputable deed he commits. (4) In both stories, the setting is some time in the past, in some foreign country (or countries), in order to make the evil seem both more alien and more horrible. In both stories, also, there is an emphasis upon the labyrinthine cellars of the school and the long underground vaults of the Montresor mansion. (5) Finally, in both stories, there is a perverse, well-wrought plan conceived in order to wreak vengeance upon an unsuspecting victim. In "William Wilson," the plan against the gambling opponent, Glendinning, is not the main aspect of the story, but it conforms in principle to Montresor's vengeance against Fortunato.
Thus, these two masterpieces, while quite different in their ultimate aim, do share many qualities in common and do, like so many of Poe's stories, show the perverse mind of the narrator operating in a seemingly rational manner.
The Horror Story: Introduction to "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Masque of the Red Death"
Some critics have described such tales as "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Masque of the Red Death" as unrelieved "horror" stories. The success of this type of story (and it is one of Poe's most successful approaches to the short story) relies upon the completeness with which he is able to communicate a terrible sense of horror and torture and fear. That is, the success of the story depends not only on the fact that the narrator undergoes suspense, horror, and mental torture, but that we, the readers, are also forced to undergo the same feelings. Poe designated such effects and responses as the "ideal," or as being in the "realm of ideality." By this, he intended the reader to understand that when an author used certain calculated effects, he could make the reader's reading experience (and emotions) identical to those of the protagonist (or narrator), thus achieving a perfect empathy between reader and main character. In "The Pit and the Pendulum," we are exposed to a series of suspenses, terrors, and horrors and, ultimately, we feel in the actual presence of those horrors. Likewise, in "The Masque of the Red Death," Poe carefully chooses every word and every description to make us feel the utter fear and horror of the presence of the dreaded "Red Death."
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Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe, born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1809, lived a life filled with tragedy. Poe was an American writer, considered part of the Romantic Movement, in the sub-genre of Dark Romanticism . He became an accomplished poet, short story writer, editor, and literary critic, and gained worldwide fame for his dark, macabre tales of horror, practically inventing the genre of Gothic Literature . Visit our study guides for The Pit and the Pendulum and The Raven .
Less well known was his role as a prolific literary critic. In response to one of his reviews, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “I care for nothing but the truth; and shall always much more readily accept a harsh truth, in regard to my writings, than a sugared falsehood. I confess, however, that I admire you rather as a writer of tales than as a critic upon them.”
Poe had many imitators, and after his death clairvoyants often claimed to "receive" Poe's spirit and "channel" his poems and stories in attempts to cash-in on his fame and talent. The attempt to cash in on his fame was rather ironic considering that Poe died penniless. His work also influenced science fiction, namely Jules Verne , who wrote a sequel to Poe's novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket called An Antarctic Mystery .
All that we see or seem Is but a dream within a dream.
Students and teachers may benefit from our Gothic Literature Study Guide and D.H. Lawrence 's chapter about Poe in his book, Studies in Classic American Literature .
Enjoy many of Poe's stories in our collections, Gothic, Ghost, Horror & Weird Library , Halloween Stories , and Mystery Stories .
Short Story Guide
Edgar Allan Poe Short Stories List
Here are some Edgar Allan Poe short stories to explore. Edgar Allan Poe short stories are usually dark and often fall into the gothic or horror genres.
There are many collections available, including the complete works, if you want to go through them at your leisure. A few are linked to below. Edgar Allan Poe short stories are definitely worth coming back to again and again.
For younger readers, a few of the best known Edgar Allan Poe short stories get the graphic novel treatment in Poe: Stories and Poems .
E d gar Allan Poe Short Sto ries List
Here are some Edgar Allan Poe short stories, both popular and lesser known, for you to check out. I hope you find some great Edgar Allan Poe short stories here.
The Tell-Tale Heart
An unnamed narrator describes how he killed a man; he tries to convince his listener of his sanity and wisdom. He believed his boarder, an old man, watched him with an “Evil Eye.”
This is the second story in the preview of Great American Short Stories .
“Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire.” —The Tell-Tale Heart
The Black Cat
The narrator, a condemned man, relates the series of events that led to his predicament. He was always docile and tender, with a fondness for animals. When he married, his wife procured several pets for him. Among them was a cat, Pluto, that became his favorite. Over the years his mood deteriorates. Eventually, his ill-temper reaches Pluto.
This is the third story in the preview of Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.
“I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.” —The Black Cat
The Masque of the Red Death
Prince Prospero invites a thousand nobles to his castle where they seek refuge from a plague, The Red Death, which is devastating the population. They plan to wait it out, having welded the doors shut. The prince holds a masquerade party as a diversion.
Read “The Masque of the Red Death”
The narrator is in Venice, returning home by gondola. It’s a gloomy night. A shriek pierces the calm. A child has fallen from an upper window into the canal. Several people begin searching. The mother, the Marchesa Aphrodite, is very worried. The father, Mentoni, seems less concerned.
This is the seventh story in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems .
Egaeus and Berenice, cousins, grew up together in the family mansion. Egaeus is gloomy and obsessive; Berenice is energetic and lively. They are going to be married. Berenice gets a degenerative sickness. Egaeus begins to focus on her teeth.
This is the eighth story in the preview of Complete Tales & Poems , above.
William Legrand moves to an island with his servant, Jupiter, after losing a lot of money. When the narrator goes to visit, Legrand excitedly tells him about a gold-bug, but the narrator has to leave before seeing it. A month later, Jupiter goes to the narrator and asks him to come—he fears for his master’s sanity, thinking the bug may have bitten him.
This story can be read in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems , above.
There is an age-old rivalry between the Metzengersteins and the Berlifitzings. Shortly after Frederick, the last Metzengerstein, inherits the family estate, the Berlifitzing stable burns down. A horse turns up at Frederick’s place, presumably from the Berlifitzings, even though the grooms claim no knowledge of it. He keeps it.
This is the second story in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems , above.
MS. Found in a Bottle
The narrator, a seasoned traveler, boards a ship for the Sunda Islands. He notices signs in the sky and sea of an impending storm. The Captain disagrees. The ship is hit badly. Amid the chaos, he finds another survivor.
This is the sixth story in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems , above.
Loss of Breath
While berating his new wife, the narrator loses his breath—literally. He hides his problem, spends time meditating on the situation, and conducts a thorough search. He can’t find it.
This is the fifth story in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems , above.
“Imagine—that is if you have a fanciful turn—imagine, I say, my wonder—my consternation—my despair!” —Loss of Breath
Robert Jones was a great man. His first act was to take hold of his nose. His mother declared him a genius; his father gave him a treatise on Nosology. When he came of age, his father sent him away to pursue his own path. He wrote a pamphlet on Nosology that was widely praised.
This is the ninth story in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems , above.
The Fall of the House of Usher
The narrator visits his friend Roderick who, along with his sister, is suffering from an unusual illness. They were close friends as boys but he knows little of Roderick. He recently received a letter from his old friend, referencing his illness and asking him to visit right away. On approaching the house, he finds it dilapidated. His friend has also deteriorated.
Read “The Fall of the House of Usher”
“We sat down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher!” —The Fall of the House of Usher
The Murders in the Rue Morgue
The narrator shares a residence with Dupin, a man with superior analytical skills. They like spending their time in seclusion reading, writing, and talking to each other. One day, they read a newspaper report of the violent murder of two women.
This is the first story in the preview of Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe .
The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion
Charmion welcomes Eiros to the afterlife. The world has ended. Eiros tells the story of Earth’s demise. It started with the discovery of a comet. Scientists believed them to be harmless to Earth, so no steps were taken.
Read “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion”
A Descent into the Maelström
While resting after a mountain climb, an older man tells his companion a story. Years ago, he and his two brothers were caught in a hurricane while on a boat.
Read “A Descent into the Maelström”
The narrator, who some consider mad, tells the story of his young love. He lived in an isolated and unspoiled valley with his cousin Eleonora and her mother. He and Eleonora grew up together. One day their passions bloomed.
The Cask of Amontillado
The narrator, Montresor, tells the story of how he sought revenge against a man, Fortunato, who insulted him. He was careful to hide his feeling of ill-will toward the man. They meet one evening at a carnival, after Fortunato has been drinking. Using Fortunato’s knowledge of wine as bait, Montresor says he has paid full price for a shipment of Amontillado that might not be genuine. His target insists on lending his expertise immediately.
Read “The Cask of Amontillado”
The king loves jokes, especially practical jokes. His court jester, or “fool”, is a dwarf and a cripple named Hop-Frog. The king treats him badly, but Hop-Frog does his best to get by. A great state party is approaching, so the king turns to his “fool” for some costume advice.
The Imp of the Perverse
The narrator expounds on his theory of reckless human behavior. He believes the we’re impelled to do the wrong thing by a force he calls The Imp of the Perverse. Being a condemned man, he was led astray by it himself.
Read “The Imp of the Perverse”
After midnight, two sailors find themselves in a pub. The older one, “Legs”, is very tall while the younger man, Hugh, is very short. They had already made many stops and are now out of money. Many areas are under ban due to a plague. Legs and Hugh are drawn to such a spot while walking in a back alley.
Read “King Pest”
The narrator describes Legeia—a woman of rare knowledge, singular beauty and gifted with languages. She had unusually large and full eyes. She fell ill.
The narrator begins a diary his first day at his new post at a light-house. He looks forward to all the alone time he’s going to have. He’s going to use it write his book. The only company he has is his dog, Neptune.
This story was untitled and is most likely unfinished. However, I think it’s fairly satisfying as it is.
Read “The Light-House”
The Man of the Crowd
The narrator recounts an evening when he was sitting at a coffee house watching the people walk by. He divided the passersby into groups. He saw an old man who was difficult to categorize.
Read “The Man of the Crowd”
The Man That Was Used Up
The narrator remembers his meeting with General Smith. He was the hero of some notable battles, physically impressive and a great speaker. He noticed something different about the man that he couldn’t put his finger on. There was something about his movement—measured and precise—that stood out.
Read “The Man That Was Used Up”
“. . . I left General Smith with a heightened interest in the man, with an exalted opinion of his conversational powers, and a deep sense of the valuable privileges we enjoy in living in this age of mechanical invention. My curiosity, however, had not been altogether satisfied . . .” —The Man That Was Used Up
The Oblong Box
The narrator recounts a sea voyage from a few years ago. On board was his old friend Cornelius Wyatt and his wife. He had heard much about Mrs. Wyatt; she isn’t what he expected. Cornelius has also reserved an extra room for the trip. Additionally, he brings a large box with him.
Read “The Oblong Box”
The Oval Portrait
The injured narrator seeks shelter in an abandoned mansion. There are many paintings with an accompanying book that describes them. The narrator focuses on a painting of a young woman and looks up the story of when she modeled for the portrait.
Read “The Oval Portrait”
The Pit and the Pendulum
A man is put on trial and condemned to death. He finds himself in a cell with a deep pit in the center and, above, a blade swinging back and forth on a pendulum.
Read “The Pit and the Pendulum”
“The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. I struggled for breath. The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me.” —The Pit and the Pendulum
The Premature Burial
The narrator suffers from catalepsy and is afraid of being buried alive. He relates some of the many known cases where this has happened to people. He takes all the precautions he can so this doesn’t happen to him.
Read “The Premature Burial”
The Purloined Letter
The narrator is sitting with his friend Dupin, an amateur detective. They are joined by the Prefect of the Police, who lays out a case he can’t crack. A letter containing some compromising information has been stolen from a young woman by a government official. The suspect and his home have been searched to no avail.
Read “The Purloined Letter”
Some Words With a Mummy
The narrator goes to Doctor Ponnonner’s to unwrap a mummy. There’s a sizable group present and the mummy’s laid out on the table. They see the mummy’s name written on the outer layer: Allamistakeo. There are three layers to get through.
Read “Some Words With a Mummy”
The narrator has a story he claims will support the idea of love at first sight. He has weak eyes, but being young and good-looking, doesn’t want to wear glasses. Last winter, he and a friend went to the opera. The narrator amused himself by looking at the audience. In one of the private boxes was the most exquisite woman he had ever seen. His companion, Talbot, knows the woman and is able to arrange a meeting.
Read “The Spectacles”
The narrator stays with a relative in a country cottage during an outbreak of cholera in New York. They receive daily reports of the death of acquaintances. The narrator becomes preoccupied with death and also believes in omens. His relative is even-tempered with a philosophical intellect. They disagree about omens.
Read “The Sphinx”
The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
While in France the narrator visits an asylum. He had heard they used a “system of soothing” with the patients wherein punishments and confinement were avoided. To his surprise, his host informs him they have abandoned that system. The narrator is invited to stay for dinner.
Read “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”
Thou Art the Man
Barnaby Shuttleworthy, a wealthy and respected man, goes missing for several days. He had left home on Saturday morning on horseback with the intention of coming home that night. His horse, wounded, muddy, riderless, and missing its cargo, returned home two hours later. His friend, Charles Goodfellow, is overcome with grief but suggests they wait to see if Shuttleworthy turns up. His nephew, Pennifeather, wants to start an immediate search for his missing uncle.
Read “Thou Art the Man”
William Wilson relates how he suddenly turned evil. He describes the large house where he went to school, and its strict principal, a pastor. There is another student just like William—he has the same name, build and style of clothing.
Read “William Wilson”
I’ll keep adding to this list of Edgar Allan Poe short stories as I read more. I hope you found some new Edgar Allan Poe short stories to enjoy.
The best movies based on Edgar Allan Poe works
A great author deserves equally great adaptations.
Edgar Allan Poe sits atop the list of the most famous American writers of all time. He not only innovated in the development of detective fiction, but he developed a style that was so recognizable that it’s still being emulated by mystery and horror authors nearly two centuries later. Anybody doubting Poe’s lasting influence need only glimpse the list of films that have adapted his stories.
Poe has been a source of Hollywood inspiration since the 1930s, when Universal Studios began turning his macabre yarns into starring vehicles for Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. The gambit worked on Depression era audiences, and it’s looking as though it will work on modern audiences when the Netflix adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher premieres in October.
To commemorate the miniseries, and to get ready for the Halloween season, we decided to sift through the cobwebs and corpses and pick out the best films based on the works of the Tomahawk Man. “Inspired by” doesn’t qualify here; we’re only talking about films that are faithful adaptations.
House of Usher (1960)
Roger Corman is a crucial figure in the history of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. The independent director stumbled upon a winning formula when he turned the short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” into the low-budget film House of Usher (1960), and proceeded to roll out seven more Poe adaptations over the next several years. The quality of Corman’s adaptations vary, but House of Usher remains a horror classic due to the lush visuals and the chilling lead performance by Vincent Price.
Price plays Roderick Usher, a man who believes his family to be cursed by incurable madness, and is so committed to stopping it that he concocts a devious scheme involving his sister (Myrna Fahey) and her fiance (Mark Damon). Whatever cheesiness House of Usher possesses today is utterly charming, and the film was even placed in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Corman and Price reteamed the following year for The Pit and the Pendulum , and managed to recapture lighting in a bottle. The film is based on the short story of the same name, which culminates with Price’s character strapping his brother-in-law to a ghastly torture device. Corman leans into the ornate dialogue and the oftentimes dreamlike logic of Poe’s storytelling, and once more, the cinematography nearly steals the show from the actors.
The combination of neon lighting and Corman’s theatrical flourishes proved highly influential on the giallo films that came out of Italy in the subsequent decade. The Pit and the Pendulum would be followed by Corman’s adaptations of The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1965). They are worth checking out, but for the sake of time (and variety), we suggest starting with the first two.
Spirits of the Dead (1968)
Poe wrote many short stories, so it was only a matter of time before an anthology film was made to capitalize on their brief, punchy impact. Spirits of the Dead (1968) was a very worthy first attempt, especially when you consider the pedigree of the directors involved: Roger Vadim, Louis Malle and Federico Fellini. All three were titans of international cinema, and all three bring panache to adaptations of “Metzengerstein”, “William Wilson” and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head”, respectively.
It’s fascinating to see the different approaches that are taken in quick succession, but the undisputed highlight is Fellini’s section, retitled “Toby Dammit.” He turns the story of an alcoholic actor (Terence Stamp) who encounters the Devil as a little girl with a white ball into a psychedelic nightmare, and the result is one of the director’s boldest swings. Check it out soon if you haven’t already.
Two Evil Eyes (1990)
Another killer anthology. Two Evil Eyes (1990) provided an opportunity for two of the best horror directors of their generation , George A. Romero and Dario Argento, to tribute the writer who influenced their iconic styles. Romero turned “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” into a mesmerizing showcase for Adrienne Barbeau. He dropped the irony and the satire that informs his original works, but there’s still plenty to be enjoyed.
Argento, meanwhile, combines “The Black Cat” with elements of Poe’s other short stories for a disorienting cinematic cocktail starring Harvey Keitel. The director’s visual flourishes are on full display, and Keitel, a master when it comes to enacting male torment, brings the house down with an unhinged performance.
Extraordinary Tales (2013)
Horror fans will find plenty to love about Extraordinary Tales (2013). The animated film adapts five Poe stories, including the aforementioned “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Masque of the Red Death”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The animation style, overseen by director Raul Garcia, is absolutely stunning, but the real treat is getting to hear genre icons narrate each segment.
Bela Lugosi, Roger Corman, Julian Sands and Guillermo del Toro apply their instantly recognizable voices to the film, and lend a sense of credibility and history, given that the latter two were among the first to act in/adapt Poe stories. Extraordinary Tales is a little over an hour in runtime, so do yourself a favor and knock it out as soon as you can.
A film that flew under the radar, but is well worth checking out. Terroir (2014) is an adaptation of the short story “The Cask of Amontillado”, in which a man decides to take revenge against a friend he believes has insulted him. It’s one of the most psychologically unsettling Poe stories ever written, and writer/director John Charles Jopson does a remarkably good job of bringing these internalized feelings to the screen.
The presentation of Terroir , whether it be the idyllic Italian setting or the emphasis on wine culture, serves as a wonderful counterpoint to the dementedness that eventually manifests thanks to Keith Carradine’s cunning central performance. The veteran character actor has rarely been better.
About the author
Danilo Castro is an entertainment writer based in San Diego. He's contributed to publications like Screen Rant, PopMatters and FanSided. When he's not covering the latest film news, he's the managing editor for Noir City Magazine.