Background information on The Cask of Amontillado : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

I would like to know why Edgar Allen Poe wrote the Cask of Amontillado and what was his life like at the time at which he wrote it.

-- Anonymous, November 05, 2000



Having moved to New York in April 1844, by October, Edgar had begun work as literary critic on the staff of the Evening Mirror in the employ of Nathaniel Parker Willis and George P. Morris. A short four months later in February 1845, a month after the publication of "The Raven", he became an editor on staff at The Broadway Journal and by late October was the sole owner of a magazine in deep financial trouble. Poe's literary views as well as his talents troubled literary social circles of New York who found it difficult to accept a Southerner. It did not help that Poe could be excessively critical in his reviews and was jokingly said, at one point, as keeping prussic acid in his ink well.

The January 1845 publication of "The Raven" in New York magazine, the Evening Mirror was wildly successful in terms of recognition if not in monetary gain. Although the amount varies, Poe was paid approximately $15.00 for the poem and was not compensated for the many reprints. Regardless, Poe was very pleased with its public reception and may have viewed the public's excitement as vindication and clear evidence of the validity his poetic principles. Even his enemies could not deny the appeal, the power of the poem, its unique rhythm and the resonant echo of its haunting refrain. But one thing they could deny Poe was continued success. Following the long run and reprints of the poem, events took a downturn.

Throughout 1846 Poe was attacked and accused publicly of a variety of literary thefts as well as criminal mischief including forgery. Poe responded in kind and most often in print. The alleged crime of forgery was made by Thomas Dunn English and Poe filed suit in New York Superior Court on July 23, 1846. The suit, however, was filed against the New York Mirror and its owners, Augustus W. Clason and Hiram Fuller. In February, the jury found the Mirror guilty of libel and awarded Poe $225.00.

In April, Poe then began publishing his expose, "The Literati of New York City: Some Honest Opinions at Random Respecting Their Authorial Merits, with Occasional Words of Personality." Conscious of the public appeal for controversy, the title lets everyone in on his intent and the articles require Godey's Lady's Book to print more copies. With failing health and a dreadful concern for his wife, Poe spent most of his time at her bedside in the cottage at Fordham, New York.

The tale "The Cask of Amontillado" was published in the November issue of Godey's. It is a tale of revenge upon a wealthy, pretentious, pompous buffoon, Fortunato, who fancies himself a connoisseur of fine wines. Fortunato had been the source of a thousand injuries to Montresor which he had tolerated. But Fortunato went too far with insult and Montresor was compelled by family honor to respond. He gleefully leads Fortunato to his death in the catacombs and adds to Fortunato's ultimate suffering by pleading for him to go back. As Fortunato begins to sober in his shackles, he will recall the repeated opportunities to escape and his own determination to continue with a sense of anguish and irony that serves only to sweeten the narrator's revenge.

Clearly, the tone, the theme, the emotions and the haunting illustrations of the story could possibly represent Poe's attempt to assuage his anger and frustrations with the New York Literati and the individuals responsible for his troubles during this period. His wife died in January of 1847 and he may have blamed them for his poverty and inability to help her survive. There is much of John Allan in this tale as well. Who knows, really. One thing is sure... it is a marvelous story and remarkable for its brevity. A perfect example of his economic use of the English language as well as his brilliance.


-- Anonymous, November 09, 2000

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