Tag Archives: gothic september

Perilous Updates, Week 1

Peril of the Short Story

This week’s short story is part of Gothic September: “Berenice – A Tale” by Edgar Allan Poe. (According to a note “Berenice” rhymes with “very spicy.”)

I believe this is the first time I’ve read this story or, if I have previously, it was a long time in the past. Egæus, our narrator, tells of his cousin Berenice. As they grew up together, she was always the vital, adventurous one while he was more than content to remain in the library. Indeed, Egæus’ obsessive interests in various subjects often drive him to distraction. Alas, a sickness strikes Berenice and afterward she isn’t the same. Her behavior changes as well as her appearance. Egæus assures us that he was never in love with his cousin, though he knew she was beautiful. After her illness, he finds her repulsive…especially her teeth.

In many ways, this is a quintessential Poe story. Narrator suffering from monomania? Check. Doomed female cousin? Check. Illness with death-like symptoms? Check. Zinger ending? Check. What sets “Berenice” apart is the narrator’s self-awareness (before concluding events) of his obsessions. This is one of Poe’s earlier tales, written in 1835, but I can see how Egæus might lead one day to Dupin.

I had chalked Berenice’s change to general, ill-defined, sudden sickness while reading the story. The rest of my perilous week lead me to wonder about…vampirism!

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Hosted by Michelle @ Castle Macabre

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Review ~ Psycho

Psycho by Robert Bloch

Cover via Goodreads

Norman Bates loves his Mother. She has been dead for the past twenty years, or so people think. Norman knows better though. He has lived with Mother ever since leaving the hospital in the old house up on the hill above the Bates motel. One night Norman spies on a beautiful woman that checks into the hotel as she undresses. Norman can’t help but spy on her. Mother is there though. She is there to protect Norman from his filthy thoughts. She is there to protect him with her butcher knife. (via Goodreads)

Norman is 40-something years old. He’s overweight, has bad eyesight, and an interest in the works of Aleister Crowley and P. D. Ouspensky. He’s a bachelor who lives with his mother and owns the Bates Motel. Mary Crane, on the run after stealing $40,000 from her employer, finds Norman to be odd. He fixes sandwiches for her, but becomes loudly angry when she suggests that maybe his mother would be better off in a hospital. To calm down after his meal with Mary, Norman has a few drinks. Unfortunately, Mother has other plans.

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Anthony Perkins as a clean-cut, dishy 28 year-old Norman Bates.

If you know the movie, you know there are a few differences between the above and the more popular version of the story. The skeleton of the story is the same, but I have to say, the screenplay is a much tighter, more effective way of telling the story.

This is a reread for me and this time I was looking at whether Robert Bloch’s Psycho had the marks of Gothic fiction. It has some of the elements of Gothic: the house (which is less prominent in the book), the family secrets, the insane relative kept away from the public, but it really only sidles up to Gothic. It instead takes a bit of a detour into  the post-modern pursuit of psychology. Still, maybe that’s what Gothic is in the 20th century…

Publishing info, my copy: Tor, mass market paperback, 1989
Acquired: Probably at a Waldenbooks in the 90s.
Genre: horror

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Gothic September ~ “The Fall of the House of Usher”

gothic septemberGothic September is hosted by Michelle at Castle Macabre. Visit for all the details!

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is firmly Gothic. It starts with the House, crumbling into the tarn and clearly doomed by the zig-zagging fault that extends from roof to foundation. Roderick Usher even believes that the house has sentience. The “House” of Usher also refers to the family line, which Gothic novels are often very preoccupied with. Secret lineages are the order of the day, but in the case of the Ushers, it looks like their line will end with Roderick and his twin sister, Madeline.

The narrator is an old friend of Usher’s, called upon to journey to the family’s manse to provide cheer to the ailing Roderick. In comparison to the narrators of “Ligeia” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” this one is quite sane and offers commentary about his own mental state as well as Usher’s.

Usually, it’s the women who get the detailed description, but this time it’s Roderick Usher who gets the full Poe treatment:

…an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy…

In fact, Madeline is strangely absent. She too is ill, given to fits of catalepsy, but our narrator doesn’t seem too concerned about providing her with cheer. He thinks he sees her pass through Roderick’s room, but he doesn’t follow her. She does die and Roderick decides to inter her in a copper-lined room of the house to avoid possibility of premature burial (although being left in a copper-lined donjon doesn’t seem to be much better). Days pass and both Roderick and our narrator start feeling a little jumpy. One night, during a strange electrical storm, we see Madeline again and the House of Usher finally falls…

ripnineperilshortThis story also counts for RIP X!

Gothic September ~ “The Cask of Amontillado”

gothic septemberGothic September is hosted by Michelle at Castle Macabre. Visit for all the details!

I only meant to queue up the story on my Kindle to read later, but the voice of Montresor caught me and pulled me in. This is a quick little story. Fortunato has insulted Montresor many times in the past, but Montresor has finally had it. We don’t learn what the straw was that broke the camel’s back, but Montresor feels justified in taking his revenge. This isn’t going to be some bland duel either. Fortunato is going to die, he’s going to know who his killer is, and Montresor is going get away with it. Montresor is a determined man and a smart man. He plays to Fortunato’s vanity to lead him to his doom.

What makes this story stand out for me is that Poe makes the reader complicit in Montresor’s scheme. At the beginning of his narration, Montresor addresses the reader: “You, who know so well the nature of my soul…” And we are led to laugh a bit, especially on a second reading, when Montresor toasts to Fortunato’s long life and later makes a Mason’s pun. What Montresor is doing is probably completely unreasonable—what insult could have possibly been made?—but we’re going along with it.

Random bell ring (no pun intended): The huge golden foot on Montresor’s coat of arms reminded me of the statue in The Castle of Otranto.

I also find it funny that the “The Cask of Amontillado” was published in Godey’s Lady’s Book, a pre-Civil War fashion magazine.

ripnineperilshortThis story also counts for RIP X!

Gothic September ~ “Ligeia” by Edgar Allan Poe

gothic septemberGothic September is hosted by Michelle at Castle Macabre. Visit for all the details!

The first short story for the Gothic September Poe Read-a-long is “Ligeia.”

Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.

“Ligeia” begins with this quote from Joseph Glanvill, a 17th century natural philosopher and atheist and also a proponent of the supernatural and witchcraft. Sometimes, epigraphs are only tentatively connected to the text, but this quote is repeated three times within the story!

Right off the bat, we learn that there is some mystery to Lady Ligeia.  Our narrator doesn’t quite remember how he came to know her and realizes that he never even knew her last name! She is attractive, but her classical beauty is queered by her very large eyes and her unfathomable expressions.  Not only is Lady Ligeia a looker, but she’s smart too! She surpasses our narrator’s knowledge in the metaphysical investigations of which they are both interested. Alas, as women tend to do in Poe stories, Ligeia dies. On her deathbed, she quotes Mr. Glanvill.

At this point, our narrator needs a change of scenery. He leaves the old city on the Rhine where he and Ligeia lived and purchases an abbey in some remote part of England. He remarries too. Rowena is the photo negative of Ligeia–blonde and blue-eyed where Ligeia was dark. I also kind of get the feeling that our narrator married her more for her title than any other attributes. Poe indulges in an intricate description of the bridal chamber, including the granite sarcophagi in each corner of the octagonal room and the phantasmagorical wall hangings. Right about here is where one could write a whole separate Gothic novel about poor Rowena living, *ahem* briefly, in the shadow of Ligeia.

I’ve been thinking recently about first person narrators and how bland they can be, how normal, and how we as readers have come to see them as merely the clear glass through which we see the story. A first person narrator should never be a clear glass; we should probably be aware of the narrator’s prejudices and state of mind. There are no such worries when you’re reading Poe. Our narrator is noticeably obsessed and haunted, and I wonder a little about what part he might have played in the story’s ending.

ripnineperilshortThis story also counts for RIP X!

Gothic and Imperiled

In Arizona, in the valley, September is *almost* autumn. The average highs don’t fall below 100F until mid-month, but the days become noticeably shorter. There’s football on the television and fall ultimate frisbee league begins. It is the start of my favorite third of the year and my reading tastes turn darker than usual.

Michelle at Castle Macabre is here to help usher in the season (no pun intended) and, in its tenth year, R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril will be hosted by The Estella Society!

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Read/Watched

  1. “Ligeia” by Edgar Allan Poe
  2. Penny Dreadful and Arthur & George
  3. “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe
  4. Motherless Child by Glen Hirshberg
  5. Aliens3 and Event Horizon
  6. “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe
  7. “The Little Maid at the Door” by Mary Wilkins Freeman

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