Biographical Contexts For The Fall of the House of Usher
In the summer of 1838, Edgar Allan Poe left the city of New York, where he faced criticism and minimal recognition, and moved to Philadelphia, where he would soon gain profound success (Quinn 268). Just a year prior to this move, Poe married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, who accompanied him to Philadelphia (Wagenknecht 18). Little is known of Poe's time in New York other than the fact that he faced severe poverty with total earnings amounting to under one hundred fifty dollars (Peeples 31). Therefore, since Philadelphia shared the prestige with New York as a publishing center, it offered Poe new publishing opportunities and opened the doors to success (Quinn 268). He found this success editing Burton's Gentleman's Magazine from 1839-1840 and then Graham's Magazine from 1841-1842 (Peeples 74). During this time, Poe delivered lectures on American poetry, published thirty-six tales including "William Wilson," "The Masque of the Red Death," and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," and also released a collection of stories in 1840 entitled Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (Peoples 74). It was during this peak of Poe's publishing career that he published "The Fall of the House of Usher." This tale relates to various aspects of Poe's life including his occupation as an editor, his battle with alcohol and drugs, his psychological and emotional well-being, and the impact of death on his life and work.
Although Poe found success while working for Burton and Graham, he did not find contentment, for neither Burton's magazine nor Graham's met Poe's expectations of his ideal publication. Poe was frustrated with his career and aspired to edit a magazine of his own, a magazine of a higher class than that of Burton's or Graham's (Peeples 75). He strove towards the publication of his own magazine, which he would call the Penn and later change to Stylus, but Poe soon discovered his endeavors would be in vain. He blamed his failure on George Rex Graham, Poe's employer, who agreed to financially support the Penn, but then withdrew his backing. Although it was during this time that Poe was most successful in terms of publishing his work, he was not financially prosperous. According to Scott Peeples, author of Edgar Allan Poe Revisited, "[i]n 1841, his best earning year, he probably made about $1,100, just above poverty-level wages by the standard of the time" (75).
One aspect of Poe's life that may have been very influential in "The Fall of the House of Usher" was his drinking habits (Wagenknecht 30). Like many dimensions of Poe's lifestyle, the severity of his drinking problem is often debated (30). It has been said that a single glass of wine would get Poe drunk and although this may not be exactly accurate, it can be said that one drink would affect him visibly (30). Poe was raised in a drinking society and an inclination for alcohol also seems to have been prevalent in his family (31)....