A Possible Source for "The Fall of the House of Usher"
For me, no image better captures the weirdness and perversity of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" than Harry Clarke's interpretation of Madeline Usher's "rending of her coffin." With this story, Poe took the conventions of the gothic narrative in vogue during previous decades and compressed them into this tight story of live burial, doomed twins, and a decaying family mansion. The story opens with one of the most perfectly constructed sentences in dark literature:
"During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher."
Recently, I came across what might be a source of inspiration for this line, a 1797 gothic novel by Mrs. Carver, THE HORRORS OF OAKENDALE ABBEY. This novel contains the kind of gothic conventions Poe would perfect, and it also begins with a line that in some ways echoes Poe's own beginning:
"In the gloomy month of November, when the mountains of Cumberland were almost concealed by the heavy black clouds which hung below their tops, and a thick dripping rain scarcely left the few scattered cottages of Oakendale discernable, the peasants were all retired to their habitations; and through this thick atmosphere the stately ruins of the antient (sic) Abbey appeared like a black mass of immense length, and could only be distinguished as a building, by the glimmering twinkling of the small panes of glass from some of the many windows which were dispersed without uniformity, in this gloomy structure."
Carver's opening mirrors Poe's both in structure (clunky as hers may be, she even has a similarly placed semicolon), as well as effect (the pervading sense of gloom.) According to Curt Herr's introduction to the recent Zittaw Press edition, Carver's work was received well on both sides of the Atlantic, so it doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility that Poe would have come in contact with THE HORRORS OF OAKENDALE ABBEY.