Have You Read??? No. 2

JIM HANSCOM”S READER’S BLOG No. 2

On a dark and stormy night, there is nothing like settling deep into a big, stuffed chair, pulling up the Afghan, pouring a snifter of sherry, and turning to Edgar Allen Poe. Let the wind whistle through the cracks and rattle the windows.  At Sunnyside, you can set aside Charlotte’s pleas to power up your cell phones and flashlight batteries and put aside her instructions for coping with COVID for at least until the morrow, and let your thoughts be overtaken by the master of the macabre.

Poe comes in disparate forms, and his poems (The Raven, Ulalume and Annabel Lee) compete for best in class, and his longer prose, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Gold Bug, is notable. But Poe is considered the father of the modern short story, and the focus here is on those short stories, typically a few pages long. The Murder in the Rue Morgues, with Inspector Dupin, is a template for all those detective stories on library shelves.

A reader’s sampling. Start with The Masque of the Red Death about the efforts of a group to wall itself away from a pandemic. Hear out the approach of the Prince Prospero when confronted with:

“The pestilence had long devastated the count.  No pestilence had ever been so fatal, so hideous.  Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood.…and the seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.”  Compare with COVID, if you will.

But Prince Prospero had the answer. The lockdown. He invited a thousand of his most hale minions to the deep seclusion of a castellated abbey and welded the gates shut. No gatehouse, clipboard and blinking thermometer, as at Sunnyside. The abbey was amply provisioned, as the courtiers bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself, and it was folly to grieve or to think. Again, compare. 

After five or six months, with the pestilence raging outside and all being well inside, the Prince decided to throw a party—a masked ball.

The Prince provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons,  ballet dancers, musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. It was a voluptuous scene. There was an apartment, shrouded in black velvet tapestries with scarlet window panes and a heavy tripod containing a brazier of fire that provided a light of ghastly countenance. There was a gigantic clock of ebony, and the pendulum swung to and fro, and at the hour the chimes emitted a discordant note that caused the giddiest to grow pale. Gulp.

Readers, It would be tempting here to declare that everything’s going all right, and everyone lived happily ever, details at 11, but let’s lean on Poe to complete the story.  It’s worth two sips.

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