Gothic Romanticism in The Fall of the House of Usher and Ligeia
The Gothic style found in the majority of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories is obvious to the average reader. The grotesque, the desolate, the horrible, the mysterious, the ghostly, and, ultimately, the intense fear are all the primary aspects of the stories which are emphasized. But few writers remain uninfluenced from their contemporaries and Poe is no exception. He is clearly a product of his time, which in terms of literature, is called the Romantic era. Poe combines these two threads in almost all of his stories. For this reason critics often call Poe’s style “Gothic Romanticism.”
The two stories “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “Ligeia” are very similar to Poe’s other short stories, in that they to have this thread of Gothic Romanticism. The Gothic and Romantic themes can be analyzed separately in each of these two stories but together these themes drive the plot and the ultimate success of each.
One common characteristic of Romanticism is the importance of the intuitive and emotional and the rejection of the rational and intellectual. Such is the case in “Usher.” Those who are skeptical of Poe’s Romantic influences would use this aspect of Romanticism to claim that he is not a Romantic because throughout the story the narrator attempts to explain the unexplainable with the rational. An example of this is when the narrator attributes an “iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart” merely to the “combination of very natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us” (Poe, “Usher”). This argument is week because the narrator fails miserably to provide solid rational explanations for these “strange” events and feelings. This failure only emphasizes the fact that these strange events and feelings are supernatural.
Likewise the emotional and intuitive are emphasized in “Ligeia”, especially with the narrator’s love for Ligeia. The obsessive love the narrator has for Ligeia is important to the story because this love helps to drive the narrator insane once Ligeia dies. Indeed, the narrator admits to being “hypnotized” by it, and describing his love as “spiritual” (Poe, “Ligeia”). Even if the narrator were to claim that his love stemmed from Ligeia’s beauty, which he does not, his descriptions are not objective in the least. The narrator compares her nose to “the graceful medallions of the Hebrews” and her eyes to “the gazelle eyes of the tribe of the valley of Nourjahad” (Poe, “Ligeia”). The important point here is that the narrator fails to provide an objective description of Ligeia, and instead offers a biased description of the emotions which even the simplest part of her body can evoke.
This part of the Romantic thread is important because it adds to the Gothic thread of the stories. It does so because the emotional and intuitive aspects of Romanticism accent the supernatural quality of the Gothic thread. Such...