This weeks readings all seemed to have a very similar tone. Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado", Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz", and Mitsuye Yamada's "Cincinnati" all were very dark and depressing, at times even gruesome. With Poe, we see this through his choice of setting as a description of what light this story should be read in. This tale of revenge builds it's distastefullness with the story progressing through a descent into underground catacombs characterized as dark and damp. As Montresor and Fortunato descend further and further, we see the Fortunato's condition worsen continuously, as his cold continues to impair him as they get lower and lower. His condition is also worsened by his progressive intoxication pressed unto him by his enemy Montresor. Fortunato's fate finally culminates at the bottom of these catacombs, where--being that he is by this point completely drunk and still ill with a cold, he is lead into his doom by Montresor. The method of chaining him to a wall and slowly building walls of bricks around him until he is completely enclosed, then dropping a burning torch inside to burn him alive is the type of gruesome imagery that helped make Edgar Allan Poe one of the greatest writers the horror genre has or will ever see. Fortunato's descent down to his death serves as a metaphor for a man's descent into hell, as it is started by sinful indulgences like too much wine, then hastened by the illness that a reckless lifestyle can lead to, then finally death at the hands of those one had wronged through their actions. This similar thought of drunken failure can be found in part of "My Papa's Waltz" as well. Roethke immediately gives us the alcoholic image of the narrator's father when describing "The whiskey on your breath" in line 1. The waltz that he is referring to his father dancing is in fact not the elegant dance we all have known. When the narrator says waltz, he means drunken stumbling, as in the drunken stumbling his father would make, as well as the possible abuse that stemmed from these drinking binges as described with lines 9-12 "The hand that held my wrist was battered on one knuckle; and every step you missed, my right ear scraped a buckle."
As fate would have it, the event I attended for this blog was in fact "The Enigmatic Edgar A. Poe in Baltimore and Beyond" at the George Peabody library at the Peabody institute of Johns Hopkins. The Peabody institute is a university funded institute and secondary school for young students gifted in the arts. This was second time visiting the institute for an event this calendar year; as I previously attended a series of student run operas as a part of my Music Fundamentals class last spring. Having seen both the concert hall and library, I must say I highly recommend visiting this place, as many of their events are open to the public. Their library is perhaps the most beautiful that I have ever seen, and their student performers and artists are borderline prodigies.
The exhibit on Poe is a brilliant look at not only his work and life, but also his personality and how his disposition affected the way his colleagues viewed him. The exhibit has many original manuscripts hand written by Poe himself, including "The Raven" and "The Telltale Heart". Perhaps my favorite section was the display case showing the obituaries written on Poe at various times after his passing. One in particular, written by Rufus Griswald, was an offensive yet hilarious attempt to eviscerate his rival's legacy by depicting Edgar Allan Poe as a depraved junkie. The exhibit at the Peabody Library is open to the public Tuesday-Thursday from ten in the morning until five in the evening, and is open from the late morning to early afternoons Friday through Sunday. I would highly recommend anyone with an interest in Poe, or for that matter detective and horror stories to check it out.