Poe's Use of Setting (in Cask, Masque, Usher) - Academic citation

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I'm writing a research paper on Poe, and have chosen to focus on his use of setting. I plan to use The Cask of Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death, and The Fall of the House of Usher to illustrate my thesis (as yet undetermined). In addition, I need to cite some academic sources. Know of any respecting these three stories as they relate to Poe's use of setting? What's your take on this topic? Any help'd be appreciated.


-- Anonymous, November 20, 2000


J. Louis,

Forgive me, but I seem to be at a loss for what it is you are in need of, specifically. While I am intimately familiar with these three tales, my personal ideal of setting, scenery, background and/or locale could, and probably would, be significantly different than yours.

This was not at all unusual with Poe's works and was a purposeful element of many of his stories. Many authors of short stories did much the same and there was good reason for this. It was difficult enough to get offered works published and those that were accepted, were sometimes compelled to meet length restrictions. Add to this, the lack of effective copyright laws, poor enforcement of those laws that did exist and poor compensation, it is not difficult to understand an author's reluctance to submit a lengthy manuscript that represents a substantial effort of his art.

For Edgar, the solution was relatively simple... omit long, specific references to locale and use inference to leave it to the imagination of the reader. An obvious example of where he was specific with locale was in "Ligeia" where the tale began in Germany and ended in the English countryside although, even this story demonstrates an economy of words. However, "The Cask of Amontillado" is an excellent example of where locale is initially vague. The names, Montresor, Fortunato and Luchresi, as well as the mention of fine Italian wines and carnival season, merely infer a setting instead of naming a location. The reader, then, is permitted to visualize his own locale and one that fits seamlessly with the story line. For me personally, the locale and setting of this story can be none other than that beautiful, forested region of Western Europe in the Tyrolean Alps between Innsbruck, Austria and Milan in Northern Italy. Presumably, the time is early evening around nightfall during the carnival season of the fall season.

In Poe's tale "The Masque of the Red Death", the time appears to be during the medieval period of central Europe and takes place over a period of months while a pestilence lays waste to the population. The immediate scene is the seclusion of a thousand privileged damsels and knights and one monarch in the grand suite of one of Prospero's "castellated abbeys". In this tale Poe goes to great lengths to verbally illustrate for the reader, the strength and security of the castle walls and welded iron gates; the richness of the provisions stored; the gaiety of the revelers; and the rich, brilliant colors of each of the lavishly furnished rooms.

From the very beginning of "The Fall of the House of Usher", the reader is treated to a vivid illustration of a large, almost lifelike, family manor located in the countryside in a state of utter decay and ruin. The time is the fall of the year and suggests progressive and impending death and decay, in and about the whole of the House of Usher. The fissure mentioned in the story suggests a fault or a defect, not only in the mansion, but also in the highly dependent relationship between the twins, Madeline and Roderick and the ultimate ruin of the family and the mansion. The name Usher was suggested to Poe by the name of a married couple he knew as a child that were friends of his mother, Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe.

I regret any possible misperception of your intent but I hope this is found to be useful, at least in some respect.

-- Anonymous, November 20, 2000

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