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The Pit and the Pendulum
by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe's tales of terror, murder, and mystery are among the most celebrated in American literature.

With striking illustrations and extended captions unique to the Whole Story, this collection provides background information for each story that modern readers could otherwise access only through a broad range of supplemental research--from details of the Spanish Inquisition in "The Pit and the Pendulum" to the Parisian detective milieu of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." This distinctive approach places each of Poe's stories--all published in the mid-nineteenth century--within the context of their era, bringing them vividly to life. CLEAR="ALL">

From: Ann Davey Date: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 03:18 PM My apologies for not starting this note on June 1. For future reference, anyone is welcome to post the initial note beginning the official discussion on the first of the month. I remember reading and enjoying Poe's poetry as a child because I had an aunt who was very fond of it. However, I don't remember reading any of his short stories. A few years back, my non-reading son read "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" in his junior high English class and was absolutely entranced. Peggy and Ruth mentioned that they also enjoyed Poe when they were young. Now that I have read "The Pit and the Pendulum" I must confess that - at least at my now advanced age :) - his prose leaves me cold. In addition to being overwrought, his writing is not always easy to understand. Admittedly, I am never attracted to horror stories or movies; I'm the kind of person who watches scary movies through her fingers. I am sure this story has considerable appeal for someone with different tastes. So how about it? Did anyone really enjoy this story and, if so, why? Also, I hate to be dense, but what exactly was at the bottom of the pit that promised a slow death and made it warrant 5 exclamation points? ("Oh for a voice to speak! --oh! --oh! horror! any horror but this!") Ann
From: Ann Davey Date: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 03:21 PM The following note is from Martin Porter, who I think has captured Poe's style wonderfully. I copied it from the June Preview topic. Martin: Well, I read it and didn't like it much, so I would not know how to begin the thread exactly. I think I'll use this month to get a head start with Cervantes. An attempt at Poe's grand manner: "Words cannot describe the grim and deadly horror that overcame my soul as that endless flood of adjectives assailed my mental faculties. And dashes - conveying a sense of urgency - of haste - and exclamation marks! The terror of those grim uprights with dots beneath! My nerves were unstrung as if my entire frame had been subject to the hourly torments of some fiendish galvanic engine. But after ten or so pages it was all over. I staggered out into daylight and left behind me the fearsome gloom of that writing, destined to terrify future generations of impressionable schoolboys with its nightmarish gothic terrors."
From: Martin Porter Date: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 04:03 PM (Apologies. As you know, I am not usually irreverent towards the classics.)
From: Jody Richael Date: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 05:20 PM I have not read much Poe in the past so I am glad to have a little more exposure. The book I borrowed contained many of Poe's short stories so I read a couple of others in addition to The Pit and the Pendulum and they all leave me somewhat confused. I feel as if there is some great key out there to understanding what all these short stories really mean. Does anyone want to enlighten me? I was somewhat put off by the ending of The Pit and the Pendulum. It was so unrealistic and dramatic that I was sure the whole thing must be a big metaphor (of what I have no idea). I cannot imagine enjoying this story as a child! Jody
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 06:30 PM I'd read this story, as well as a few of his others ("The Cask of Amontillado" comes to mind), in high school. I don't remember them ever being favorites, but I think I had more patience for them then! I think one of the keys to understanding his success is recalling the time in which he wrote: no horror movies, no TV, no video games. I gather that his was one of the first, if not the only, games in town for horror and suspense. If you don't enjoy, in a ghoulish way, imagining what might be in the pit (to quote a much-loved film: "snakes; it had to be snakes!"), you won't enjoy this story. I have no idea what Poe had in mind, or if he had anything specific in mind, but I think he was smarter leaving that up to the reader's imagination so that each of us could supply our own worst nightmare. (Today when I read the story, I thought of alligators!) His writing certainly is overwrought (and Martin's parody brilliant!). But would it have seemed less so in his time? Reading this today brought the "Moonstone" to mind, perhaps because of some similarly fantastic plot elements. I think 19th cent. readers had much more patience for wordiness. Jody, I agree that the ending is weak. When I taught junior high English a while back, I used to forbid my students from using endings like, "then I realized it was all a dream" when they'd written themselves into a corner. This ending strikes me the as a similar cheap way out. I think it would have been a better story if it had been a third person narration about a guy who ultimately died a horrible death at the hands of the dreaded Inquisition. (Any Monty Python fans here?) A historical question: would the French troops liberating the prison have been Napoleon's? Seems a bit late in the day for the Spanish Inquisition to be going full-force. Did France invade Spain in the 16th century? Mary Ellen
From: Pres Lancaster Date: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 07:55 PM "Until 1595 France was paralyzed by a series of civil wars" The French soldiers seem to be from Poe's imagination. Now if he were writing of Goya's period . . . I think he was not unique in writing horror - just preeminent. His overwrought style was pretty typical of that type of writing at the time. When I was a boy the "Tales of Edgar Allan Poe", along with volumes of Maupassant and others, were advertised in the magazines, in the same fashion as Durant's "History of Civilization" today. The HOC is horror, but a cut above Poe.
From: Ann Davey Date: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 09:03 PM I read the story in the annotated The Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe edited by Stuart and Susan Levine According to the notes in this edition, La Salle, the French general who rides to the rescue at the end, was one of Napoleon's generals who fought in Spain in 1808. Poe's history was a little shaky. The Inquisition was not active at that time. Also according to the notes, anti-Catholicism was high in the U.S. at this time. Poe's audience presumably was quite willing to accept this account of nefarious Catholics sadistically torturing an innocent man. Mary Ellen, good point about the stronger impact of written horror stories before the days of movies and videos. And it's good to know that I wasn't supposed to understand what was at the bottom of the pit. Ann
From: Jonathan Metts Date: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 10:34 PM It seems to be true that people used to be more easily frightened by books. I'm told that Frankenstein was a real chiller in its day. Makes you wonder what they would have thought of our modern horror movies, like The Ring. (I just saw it the other day and thought it was pretty damn good.) Jonathan Published daily at Currently reading: The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
From: Peggy Ramsey Date: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 11:29 PM You guys actually have me kind of scared to reread this -- do I want to disturb my memories of the book by finding out it's not as good as I thought it was? I hate when that happens! But the reminder that this is from a time before movies and television is a good one. Isn't this about the same era where people were busy scaring themselves at seances? I remember having a similar discussion in college while reading Dickens. We were talking about WHY Dickens seemed so long-winded. The professor used a giraffe as an example; a writer today could just say giraffe, because everyone knows what a giraffe looks like. But if Dickens wrote about a giraffe, he would have do describe it in detail, because most of his audience would have never seen one. Btw - there were a couple of other Poe stories that gave me the wiggins as well --"The Tell-tale Heart," and whichever one it was where the guy got bricked up in the wall. Being buried alive is my ultimate damp-palm fear...:::shudder::: Peggy Resident Peasant
From: Dale Short Date: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 11:47 PM Very good point, Mary Ellen, about considering the historical period in which Poe's stuff was written. I don't think readers can ever experience the full impact of a Poe or a Dickens on their contemporary audiences when we judge their stories at a remove of a century or more--if only because their popularity spawned so many imitators. I remember, in my youth, going on a field trip to hear a symphony orchestra concert and was surprised that they would stoop to playing a song from a cereal commercial on TV. I'm off now to enter The Pit...well, vicariously, anyway... >>Dale in Ala.
From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003 12:40 AM The guy got bricked up in the Cask of Amontillado, Peggy. Ruth, off to reread P&P
From: Sherry Keller Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003 07:30 AM I read this last night. Talk about your deux et machina! That ending was pretty abrupt. I thought it interesting, though, to use "monkly" to mean sinister. We certainly don't think of monks as bad things today. I thought it was a pretty good description of your worst nightmare. The language is overblown by today's standards, but, have you ever read Henry James? I kept wanting to read it aloud in a deep dark voice. Sherry
From: Martin Porter Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003 09:28 AM "deux et machina" - Mmmmm - I'm not too sure about your Latin Sherry! And Anne D., I'm not at all sure about your assertion that the Spanish Inquisition was not active then, since one of my more unusual books has the following significant title page:
Memoirs of Don Juan Van Halen Comprising the narrative of his imprisonment in the dungeons of the inquisition at Madrid and of his escape, his journey to Russia, his campaign with the army of the Caucasus, ... second edition London 1830
- if you think I'm making this up, see where the book is mentioned. (van Halen lived from 1788 - 1864)
From: Sherry Keller Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003 10:16 AM Obviously, I don't know any Latin. I meant "deus ex machina". Maybe I should have said: Talk about your being rescued at the last minute out of the blue. Sherry
From: Pres Lancaster Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003 11:39 AM "We certainly don't think of monks as bad things today" - SHERRY Speak for yourself, Sherry. {GGG} I always thought it was rats at the bottom of the pit - HUNGRY rats. (Note to BEEJ: Essayette: What's at the bottom of your pit?) About yesterday's (?) writing styles: Remember the story of readers in NY waiting on the dock for the arrival of the next installment of a Dicken's serial - Did Little Nell die ?
From: Ann Davey Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003 12:50 PM Ah, Martin, I would never doubt you. As for the Inquisition being inactive, I was going by the notes in the annotated edition I was reading and my own dim memory. I'll have to do some further checking. Ann
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003 01:37 PM I checked out what "The Catholic Encyclopedia" had to say about the Spanish Inquisition--which didn't exist in its most infamous state until the time of Ferdinand & Isabella, in the late 15th century. It kept going through the 18th century. Then "King Joseph Bonaparte abrogated it in 1808, but it was reintroduced by Ferdinand VII in 1814 and approved by Pius VII on certain conditions, among others the abolition of torture. It was definitely abolished by the Revolution of 1820." I suspect that the memoirs of Senor Van Halen may have been something of an exercise in creative writing (or else he was a very busy man!), capitalizing on anti-Catholicism thriving in Europe, as it did in the US, as already noted in this thread. But maybe my question about the historicity of Poe's tale may be beside the point. As I recall, many of his horror stories, including "The Cask" and "The Masque of the Red Death" seem to be set in a vaguely defined past, far away from us. It's been a while since I read them, but I think part of Poe's enduring success is his tapping into universal human fears--whether the Thing at the Bottom of the Pit, or being entombed alive, or the simple fear of death itself and the ultimately fruitless, yet extensive, efforts we make evade it! (I think "The Masque" could provide a great lesson for our death-avoiding, youth-worshipping culture: you can run, but in the end, you can't hide!) Mary Ellen
From: Dale Short Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003 02:53 PM My two cents on 'TP&TP'... Overwrought? Absolutely. Too wordy? By far. Just plain hard to read, in spots? Yep. And yet...once I forced myself to ignore sentence structure and read strictly for images, sort of like fast-forwarding a film, I found this story to have a convincing inner reality that somehow resembles the way we experience a nightmare...a quality shared by Kafka's "Metamorphosis," despite its many differences in style...and I agree with Mary Ellen that Poe has tapped something universal here, which is probably why the story is still in print these many years later despite its stylistic problematics. Far from my favorite Poe story, but still. My guess is that the Pit contained rats bigger and even more anti-social than those who ventured out to rob the food bowl and bite the fingers, and that the choice of Pit or Pendulum gave new meaning to the expression about frying pans and fires. Did anybody else get the feeling that the prisoner might have been hallucinating about the elaborateness of the Pendulum's design? Seems like a whole lot of craftsmanship just for slicing and dicing nonbelievers, but stranger things have happened. And as endings go, this one is about as abrupt as they get. Reminds me of a teacher of mine who used to translate deus ex machina as "God riding a Greyhound bus." One final political comment...I find it very interesting that the religious fundamentalists who wonder why us liberals are paranoid about mixing God and government just stare blankly when the Inquisition is mentioned. Never heard of it. Sad, and scary. >>Dale in Ala.
From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003 03:37 PM Warning, Aside Ahead!!! (Dale, when I happened to mention the Inquisition to my aged Catholic Italian aunt, she just looked at me. She'd never heard of it, and I could see the doubt rising in her eyes the longer I talked. When I next saw her, she sat me down and said, "I talked to Sister Agnes about that thing you were telling me, and she said there were some bad priests.") As you were. R
From: Jonathan Metts Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003 05:07 PM Ruth, one day the same will be said of our modern Catholic priest scandal. Not that it compares to the Inquisition but...well, maybe it does. It's pretty scary. And it didn't require any kind of alliance between the church and state, either. Jonathan Published daily at Currently reading: The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
From: Dale Short Date: Friday, June 06, 2003 12:09 AM Does anybody here remember a film version of "The Pit and the Pendulum"? The site says it was released in 1961, adapted by Richard Matheson and directed by B-movie giant Roger Corman. Apparently this was a very loose re-telling, since it had a contemporary setting and was stretched to 80 minutes. The film had completely escaped my mind until my memory was jogged by reading the following reference in Stephen King's memoir On Writing. Now, I have a vague remembrance of having seen it on television when I was a kid... My friend Chris and I liked just about any horror movie, but our faves were the string of American-International films, most directed by Roger Corman, with titles cribbed from Edgar Allan Poe. I wouldn't say based upon the works of Edgar Allan Poe, because there is little in any of them which has anything to do with Poe's actual stories and poems ("The Raven" was filmed as a comedy--no kidding). And yet the best of them--"The Haunted Palace," "The Conqueror Worm," "The Masque of the Red Death"--achieved a hallucinatory eeriness that made them special. Chris and I had our own name for these films, one that made them into a separate genre. There were westerns, there were love stories, there were war stories..and there were Poepictures. "Wanna hitch to the show Saturday afternoon?" Chris would ask. "Go to the Ritz?" "What's on?" I'd ask. "A motorcycle picture and a Poepicture," he'd say. I, of course, was on that combo like white on rice. Bruce Dern going batsh*t on a Harley and Vincent Price going batsh*t in a haunted castle overlooking a restless ocean: who could ask for more? You might even get Hazel Court wandering around in a lacy low-cut nightgown, if you were lucky. Of all the Poepictures, the one that affected Chris and me the most deeply was "The Pit and the Pendulum." Written by Richard Matheson and filmed in both widescreen and Technicolor (color horror pictures were still a rarity in 1961), "Pit" took a bunch of standard gothic ingredients and turned them into something special. It might have been the last really great studio horror picture before George Romero's ferocious indie "The Night of the Living Dead" came along and changed everything forever (in some cases for the better, in most for the worse). The best scene--the one which froze Chris and me into our seats--depicted John Kerr digging into a castle wall and discovering the corpse of his sister, who was obviously buried alive. I have never forgotten the corpse's close-up, shot through a red filter and a distorting lens which elongated the face into a huge silent scream... *** Hazel Court in a low-cut nightgown. Ah, yes. Who could ask for more? >>Dale in Ala.
From: R Bavetta Date: Friday, June 06, 2003 12:45 AM Don't remember the films, Dale. As to what's in the bottom of my conception of the Pit, or what's in my personal Pit, which amounts to about the same thing. Why it's the unknown, of course, which can be scarier than anything else. R
From: Jonathan Metts Date: Friday, June 06, 2003 01:12 AM Your quote makes me want to read King's book, even though I don't really care for his fiction. Jonathan Published daily at Currently reading: The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
From: Dale Short Date: Friday, June 06, 2003 10:14 AM I'm not generally a King fan either, Jonathan, but I really enjoyed his On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and I'm guessing you would too. Many nifty asides on the psychology of horror and the daily process of writing, plus a tour de force account of his near-death experience of being hit by a reckless driver that's notable for its objectivity and dark humor. >>Dale in Ala.
From: Jody Richael Date: Friday, June 06, 2003 11:17 AM I have found it interesting that everyone's imagination of what was in the pit has been some sort of animal horror. Honestly, that never occurred to me. I was thinking there were more human devised and controlled tortures down there (thankfully I couldn't picture any specific torture). Perhaps I am I too cynical of human nature but I would rather be left to wild animals than certain humans. Jody
From: Jonathan Metts Date: Friday, June 06, 2003 12:34 PM Re: George's challenge in the Kafka thread I think any story with deus ex machina is meaningless, at least in its broadest form. It may have little meanings contained within, but the story as a whole can't mean anything if you cheat its development like that. But if Poe meant only for the story to be entertaining, and it does entertain, then it at least has a reason to exist, if not a "meaning" per se. I have not read a ton of Poe, but from what I have read, I prefer his poetry to short stories. Jonathan Published daily at Currently reading: The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
From: Peggy Ramsey Date: Friday, June 06, 2003 03:12 PM I second Dale's recommendation of Stephen King's "On Writing" -- I bet I've read it a half-dozen times. He also kept me company on my last drive to Virginia with the CD version of the book (obtained from the library). And if you're interested in the horror genre, he also wrote another non-fiction book called "Danse Macabre," which is kind of a forgotten gem for "how it works horror geeks" like me. This is what Steve has to say about the film version of TPATP in Danse Macabre: "In AIPS The Pit and the Pendulum we see another facet of the bad death -- perhaps the absolute worst. Vincent Price and his cohorts break into a tomb through its brickwork, using pick and shovel. They discover that the lady, his late wife, has indeed been buried alive; for just a moment the camera shows us her tortured face, frozen in a rictus of terror, her bulging eyes, her clawlike fingers, the skin stretched tight and gray. Following the Hammer films, this becomes, I think, the most important moment in the post-1960 horror film, signaling a return to an all-out effort to terrify the audience...and a willingness to use any means at hand to do it." And he was totally right - I DO remember seeing that movie as a kid, and had nightmares about being buried alive for years. But to get back on topic -- I think both Poe and King are applying the last sentence of that quote -- terrify the audience, using any means necessary. I just went looking for a particular King quote on horror, but found this one instead (which may actually be better). From the forward to Night Shift, his first collection of short stories: "The great literature of the supernatural often contains the same "let's slow down and look at the accident" syndrome; Beowolf slaughtering Grendle's mother; the narrator of "The Tell-tale Heart" dismembering his cataract-stricken benefactor; the Hobbit Sam's grim battle with Shelob the spider in the final book of Tolkien's Rings trilogy." Semi-off topic - this also gives me a chuckle, because it sounds like my review of "Fargo," -- it was like getting a real good look at a gory traffic accident. You thought you wanted to see it and couldn't wait to get there, but once you looked, you kind wish you hadn't. Peggy Resident Peasant
From: Peggy Ramsey Date: Friday, June 06, 2003 05:36 PM Here it is - hope I haven't killed this discussion: "I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud." Stephen King, Danse Macabre. Peggy Resident Peasant
From: Dean Denis Date: Saturday, June 07, 2003 01:39 AM If anyone is curious, here is a translation, which I found on the Web, of the Latin passage at the beginning of the story: "Here an unholy mob of torturers, with an unquenchable thirst for innocent blood, once fed their long frenzy. Our homeland is safe now, the baneful pit destroyed, and what was once a place of savage death is now a scene of life and health." For me the story is about hope. As he says, "I had swooned; but still will not say that all of consciousness was lost. What of it there remained I will not attempt to define, or even to describe; yet all was not lost. In the deepest slumber -- no! In delirium -- no! In a swoon -- no! In death -- no! Even in the grave all was not lost. Else there is no immortality for man." His punishment is not merely death but an agonizing death: "That the result would be death, and a death of more than customary bitterness, I knew too well the character of my judges to doubt. The mode and the hour were all that occupied or distracted me." And it is just that which is at the bottom of the pit: "Neither could I forget what I had read of these pits -- that the SUDDEN extinction of life formed no part of their most horrible plan." It was not so important to me how he was saved but that his hope allowed him to prevail long enough to be saved. A hope born of consciousness which in the end represents the victory of the rational over the irrational. Although the story mentions monks the quatrain at the beginning refers to The Jacobins, the poilical group which gave France The Reign of Terror. All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: Candy Minx Date: Sunday, June 08, 2003 05:27 PM I have to say I felt very close to comments by Dale and Dean here. Dale, you nailed the FEELING of this story for me, that it is about slowing down the reader, the style the over wrought...and yet I agree it most surely is high handed...but ultimately, if a reader surrenders to the style, it works! Dean, I really enjoyed the translation, thank you for your effort. I too think this story is about hope, and about freedom. I believe if there is some hidden message, as some readers have said they had the sensation they were missing something, I believe there is something feeling or pain about political freedom, about spiritual freedom and freedom from oppression...horror genre or government is a metaphor or an allegory between rule and choice... I died laughing about whose afraid of monks or "monkly" not being a terrifying concept, You got to check out The Boys Of St, Vincent! Only, its terribly sad and scary. I have other thoughts...but must organize them somehow, playing catch up here by reading the terrific sets of notes so far... Cheers, Candy who has missed participating in classics corner
From: Dean Denis Date: Sunday, June 08, 2003 10:20 PM Thanks, Candy. All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: Candy Minx Date: Monday, June 09, 2003 11:22 AM Last night I watched the movie Catch Me If You Can, and was noticed there were several moments that we could see the main characters aversion to confinement. Eventually, he was confined in solitary for four years. I found myself wondering what this would feel like, and there is a time in the movie when he comes out for a meeting, and the actor looks so beat down. I felt compelled to read this story again today...and it really gives me the sensation of what it might feel like to be locked up...and I feel so sick when I read it. I even got very used to the style of speaking within the story...and it occurred to me, How did Poe write this so well?!(uh oh get me I am using the dreaded exclamation mark, inspired by Poe?!!!!!)heh heh. Did Poe hide in a well or something? In prison movies I find I am often terribly frightened by scenes where the prisoner goes into isolation, and this story seems to answer my fears as well as my curiosity. I really feel I have experienced, if only just a little what it might be like. the kind of obsession the prisoner goes through measuring his cell. I think I would be too afraid to even participate in searching my environment. The following paragraph demonstrates to me how Poe entices me...his hero is brave and simple and reasoning... "My worst thoughts, then, were confirmed. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. I struggled for breath. The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me. The atmosphere was intolerably close. I still lay quietly, and made effort to exercise my reason. I brought to mind the inquisitorial proceedings, and attempted from that point to deduce my real condition. The sentence had passed; and it appeared to me that a very long interval of time had since elapsed. Yet not for a moment did I suppose myself actually dead. Such a supposition, notwithstanding what we read in fiction,is altogether inconsistent with real existence; but where and in what state was I? The condemned to death, I knew, perished usually at the autos-da-fe, and one of these had been held on the very night of the day of my trial. " I love how he mentions "Such a supposition, notwithstanding what we read in fiction,is altogether inconsistent with real existence" is so simple but how his mentioning fiction...seems to make this story suddenly become something OTHER than fiction to me. It begins to not be so heavy-handed to read, not so archaic a style... More than anything I am struck by how very existential this story is...and I wonder how many French philosophers may have been inspired by this at first glance horror story then turned political critique. It seems very much like metafiction to me, eat your hearts out Paul Auster and Don DeLillo and Sartre and Nicholas Baker...all of a sudden I see this writing and thought process within a story like this as such a mega influence... its also kind of weird to me, if this is the Inquisition, its kind of cool to me that the French are the saviours and heros considering all the recent cultural and political miffs between France and America in past months... Where is Toledo? Spain...or South America...
From: Candy Minx Date: Monday, June 09, 2003 12:40 PM Ah, I was wondering who the tortured person is an incredibly liberal view and compassionate towards the people who were seen as heretics to the Inquisition, no? It would have been quite radical if the victim was a South American native...the story reflects what is truly awesome about America. This could be a mascot for Amnesty International...
From: Candy Minx Date: Monday, June 09, 2003 01:11 PM The Gothic novel springs forth rather suddenly as the increasing preoccupation with individual consciousness that begins in the early 18th century collides with the unique cultural anxieties of the late 18th century. The effect of the former has already been well-established in literature, as Richardson and other "novelists of sensibility" invest their characters with unprecedented psychological depth. The Gothic novelists are less skillful and subtle in their depictions, and are often accused of populating their novels with stock or "flat" characters. Yet the emotions of these characters are externalized in a radical new way; their deepest passions and fears are literalized as other characters, supernatural phenomena, and even inanimate objects. At the same time, the nature of the fear represented in these novels--fear of imprisonment or entrapment, of rape and personal violation, of the triumph of evil over good and chaos over order--seems to reflect a specific historical moment characterized by increasing disillusionment with Enlightenment rationality and by bloody revolutions in America and France. The excerpts arranged below, therefore, are united by a focus on the psychological aspects of the Gothic in the broadest possible sense. They address such complex and overlapping themes as the mental and emotional portrait of the characters within the novels, the deep cultural anxieties that the novels reflect (and often attempt to work through), and the intense psychological responses that these works seek to elicit from their readers. The critical excerpts are therefore not necessarily psychoanalytic in their approach; they draw from a wide variety of structuralist, historicist, and reader-response traditions as well. Further introduction is provided at the beginning of each of the four sub-sections. more stuff: The Poe Decoder site has some entertaining and outrageous essays... A couple of fellow readers here have said they felt there was some underlying message or moral in this story...I think you may be right...what could it be?
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Monday, June 09, 2003 07:17 PM About the Pit... It was very, very deep. (I remember he threw something down & waited a long time for it to land.) So if the narrator had fallen into the pit, why wouldn't he have just died from the impact? How could the ingenious torturers guarantee a slow death in the Pit? (Hmm, maybe this reveals what is at the bottom: MATTRESSES. You just keep bouncing for ages & starve to death!) Mary Ellen, who is getting a little silly and should turn off the computer. (Candy, I hope to think about your question in a more serious moment.)
From: R Bavetta Date: Monday, June 09, 2003 07:24 PM Perhaps each of us has a Pit. And what is at the bottom of our particular Pit is whatever frightens us the most. Do you think this is what Poe intended? R
From: Dean Denis Date: Monday, June 09, 2003 11:46 PM Mary Ellen, in reading this: "I succeeded in dislodging a small fragment, and let it fall into the abyss. For many seconds I hearkened to its reverberations as it dashed against the sides of the chasm in its descent; at length there was a sullen plunge into water,... I gathered that a person falling into the pit would hit the sides repeatedly on the way down. The pit's design would never provide a deadly impact against the sides. In the end, the water would break his fall and leave him to die a lingering death bruised and broken. All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: Janet Poppema Date: Wednesday, June 11, 2003 01:39 PM How about the idea that there was NOTHING at the bottom of the pit? It was just a deep, empty hole where you could only look up and see "freedom" with no way of getting to it...only to die slowly of thirst and hunger? Janet I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. Groucho Marx
From: Janet Poppema Date: Wednesday, June 11, 2003 01:49 PM It is interesting that Jonathan brought up "The Ring" and then Dean mentioned water in the pit (I had forgotten that water was mentioned). Jonathan....did you like the ending to "The Ring", by the way? I thought it could have concluded a little earlier than it lost me when the gal came out of the TV....OH, PLEASE!! janet I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. Groucho Marx
From: Jonathan Metts Date: Thursday, June 12, 2003 03:08 PM Yeah, The Ring is one of those cases where I think it would have been much scarier if the sci-fi stuff had been left out. Seeing the girl step out of the TV ruined my suspension of disbelief. But that Naomi Watts is SMOKING! Between this movie and Mulholland Dr., she's my new queen of horror. Jonathan Published daily at Currently reading: The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy

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