The Cask Of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe, 1846
The magic trick:
Making a gleeful accomplice of the reader
As October draws to a creepy close it’s time we bring out the Halloween heavy hitter on the SSMT website. Yes, indeed, The one, the only. Edgar Allan Poe. Brace yourself for six straight days of Poe. Some of it is dated. Some of it is ridiculous. All of it is awesome.
In “Cask Of Amontillado” the narrator immediately launches into his defense just as the narrator in Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart.” The difference (and what makes this the superior story, in my opinion) lies in the evidence. The “Tell-Tale” narrator makes some crazy stuff about an evil eye. It’s nonsense. He’s insane. Our “Amontillado” narrator, on the other hand, is vague about his reason for revenge but he is crystal clear about his victim’s flaws. He tells us that Fortunato is intolerably egotistical, particularly prideful about his knowledge of wine.
From here on, the reader is implicated in the murder. Of course, Fortunato readily demonstrates the obnoxious behavior the narrator warned of. And of course, the reader can’t stand him and begins to thrill with joy as the plot thickens. By the end, we’re just as guilty as the narrator. And that’s quite a trick on Poe’s part.
“As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchresi. If any one has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me –”
“Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.”
“And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own.
“Come, let us go.”
“To your vaults.”
“My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have an engagement. Luchresi–”
“I have no engagement; –come.”
“My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which I perceive you are afflicted. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with nitre.”
“Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchresi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.”
This story has always been a favorite!. Looking forward to your week of Poe!
This is a savvy story choice. Too bad people only think of Poe around Halloween, though. Check out some of his humorous stories like “Some Words with a Mummy” which is his satire on the Egyptology craze of his day. Nor was he only a gothic story writer. He even wrote a remarkable essay on the spiritual nature of the universe — what today would be called “panentheism” (as opposed to “Pantheism”). In it he comes awfully close to Einstein and to Buddhism, though with a heavy dose of his own Romantic Era’s dreaminess (in fact, he calls the essay a “poem”). It’s called “Eureka”. So you see, when he wasn’t drinking, or exploring Freudian mind-states of fear-and-guilt, he was an intellectual force to be reckoned with.
I’ll have to investigate his other styles and forms. Thanks! Sad to say but my only real Poe poetry experience is the old “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven” junior high days.