Can anyone help me with these questions? : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

I need to know a number of things about the Masque of the Red Death: 1) Where and what year was it written? 2) What was Poe's inspiration for writing this piece? 3) How much was he paid for this story? 4) When and what magazine, book, or newpaper was it first published? 5) What appeals to you about this selection?

If you know any of these questions please e-mail me ASAP

-- Anonymous, November 06, 2000



Presumably, Poe's tale "The Masque of the Red Death" was written while Poe was living in Philadelphia and working for Graham's Magazine as editor. George Rex Graham owned both the Saturday Evening Post and Graham's Magazine. Probably written throughout the latter part of 1841 and early 1842, it was first printed in Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine in May of 1842 with the title "The Mask of the Red Death." Coincidentally, Poe resigned from Graham's Magazine that same month. The story was reprinted in the Literary Souvenir in June of 1842 with the same title and it wasn't until July of 1845 that the story first appeared in the Broadway Journal with the title, "The Masque of the Red Death."

According to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Poe was paid $12.00 for this short story. I have serious doubts that Poe ever received any other royalties or any further recompense for reprints.

It has been said that Poe's inspiration for this tale was a single incident that occurred while he and his wife, Virginia, were attending a social gathering with friends at the Coate's Street house in Philadelphia in January of 1842. While singing at the piano, Virginia had ruptured a blood vessel and, apparently, coughed blood. In the more dramatic versions of this incident, it is said that her pale white frock had been widely spattered with the crimson color of blood and that Poe's reaction was that he became instantly horror- stricken.

That this incident occurred is certainly factual. There is significant evidence including a letter from Poe to George Eveleth in 1848 in which he mentions the episode. That events transpired precisely as given here, possible, but improbable. In the Eveleth letter, there is no mention of the ghastly vision that allegedly horrified Poe.

That Edgar was filled with terror and despair over the health of his wife, there is no doubt at all and he details this in the letter to Eveleth. But it was more a despair born of the fear of losing Virginia than the vision of blood on her dress. That this incident was the driving inspiration for his short story. "The Masque of the Red Death", personally, I have serious doubts. I will concede that this occurrence may have suggested specific textual illustrations, perhaps, but I would point out that it would be limited to the visual context of the tale. Secondly, the theme of the story lacks the personal touch, the sentimentality and the passions that Poe so clearly demonstrates in "Ligeia" and "The Oval Portrait."

During Poe's stay in Baltimore in September of 1831, he had witnessed but had escaped the effects of a cholera epidemic that eventually spread nationwide. Brought to the states by English emigrants, it was of the Asiatic variety but finally ended in 1832. Later that same year another cholera epidemic spread to New York and Philadelphia had its own typhus epidemic in 1837. While Poe may not have been exposed to the dreadfulness of the plagues in New York and Philadelphia, he was most assuredly aware of them through newspaper stories. The theme of this tale, in my view, better aligns itself with Poe's experiences in this respect. The story deals predominately with Prince Prospero's frantic desire and his lavish efforts to escape a pestilence that is sweeping his kingdom where half the population is already dead. He gathers a thousand of his "hale and light-hearted friends" and secludes them away from the epidemic within the high sealed walls of his "castellated abbeys." Secure in the knowledge that he has taken every possible step, he fills the confines with sufficient stores and "all the appliances of pleasure" to survive the plague. As the privileged thousand and one ate and slept and danced and sang, the "... external world could take care of itself. In the meantime, it was folly to grieve, or to think." In the end, we learn that ultimately, although devoid of substance, invisible and intangible, "... Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."

What appeals to me in this story is the continued popularity and applicability of a tale that is more than 150 years old. Its rich and lavish illustration and its depth, all told in astounding brevity makes it one of Poe's finest stories. Now, surely, this merely represents my opinion and I do not mean to say that it is any more correct than anyone else's thoughts. However, I do hope you find this useful. Best of luck on your assignment.


-- Anonymous, November 07, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ