The Gothic form of writing is generally held to have started in the Eighteenth century with the publication of “Castle of Otranto” by Horace Walpole. This form of writing developed over the next two centuries, utilising the realms of the supernatural and the fantastic, while creating an atmosphere of gloom and decay. Edgar Allan Poe was the founder of the modern detective story and one of the greatest exponents of the Gothic novel. His “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque” published in 1840, included perhaps the epitome of the Gothic genre, “The Fall of the House of Usher”.
In order to assess whether the passage given is typical of the Gothic and detective novel, it is necessary to examine both “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Murder in the Rue Morgue”.
The Gothic novel exists both in a dark and unreal world and a world of normality, encouraging a co-existence between the natural and the unnatural. As the story of “The Fall of the House of Usher” unfolds, the mood and tone of the novel are enhanced by the bleak, isolated and ominous description of the house and its surroundings.
This conveys to the reader the sensation that a mystery is about to take place, while also allowing one to become mindful of the pervasive feeling of trepidation and suspense. As the narrator draws nearer to the gloomy and forbidding home of the Ushers, he is unnerved by the house and its surroundings. He tries to allay these fears by maintaining that the unnatural and portentous aura that the house and its environs possess, “… are” (III: pg 138) caused by natural phenomena.
Gothic writers were concerned with the mind, the causation of madness and the borderline nature of sanity and insanity. J. Porte states that Edgar Allan Poe “…designs his tales as to show his narrators limited comprehension of their own problems and states of mind”. (IV: pg 160). The narrator in the story seems to be the epitome of rationality and has no desire to loose his sanity. The world he is a part of is the world of common sense and pragmatism, (IV: pg 163), but this world is traumatised by the sensations he feels towards the “House of Usher” and it’s surroundings as he approaches it, and he can not “… grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon” him.(III: pg 138).
He therefore acknowledges in true Gothic style that the supernatural effect created by the house has an impact on one’s unconscious, creating a “capacity for sorrowful impression”. Although this notion may be forthcoming from a first impression, such impressions can be incorrect. The narrator believes however, that it is the mind that dictates ones feelings and senses, (III: pg. 138) and concludes that any investigation of the manipulative powers of these effects over the mind is “…beyond our depth.”(III: pg. 139) This he feels is a “… a mystery all insoluble” and states that if the house and its surroundings did not look so depressing and did not cause him to suffer “…a sense of insufferable gloom”(III: pg 138), then this feeling of forbidding would not be so transparent in his mind.
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” deals with the seemingly mysterious and puzzling murders of two women in their apartment. The complexity and unusual circumstances of their deaths leaves the police completely baffled by the case and someone of supposedly superior intellect and mental acumen is needed to solve the murders. ‘Dupin’ the detective and his companion the narrator, use analysis to solve the case. There are no “shadowy fancies”(III: pg 138), as in “The Fall of the House of Usher”, everything is calculated and logical. The fundamental difference between the passage from the “House of Usher” and Poe’s detective story is that, in the former the mystery is “all insoluble”, while exploring the restricted subjects of incest and the mind.
In the latter however, the mystery is solved and there is no exploration of anything other than logic, which suggests that the author may be conforming to society and submitting to the “bourgeoisie community” and therefore creating a “typically American detective novel”. (II: pg 497.) The eerie way in which the room is locked leaving no signs of entry or exit, and the way in which the murders are committed, leaves the reader to assume the possibility that the murders are of supernatural element. This consideration is dismissed by Dupin, who maintains that “The doers of the deed were material” (III: pg 209), and that he did not “… believe in preternatural events”. (III: pg 209) This is in complete opposition to “The Fall of the House of Usher”, where the narrator, as he first comes into contact with the house and its surroundings, is under the impression that here is something unnatural.
The descriptive way in which the passage from “The Fall of the House of Usher” suggests that by changing “… the particulars of the scene”(III: pg 139), the effect that the house imposes on the narrator can be changed. This reflection is not seen by Dupin in “The murders in the Rue Morgue”, there is no sense of “… sorrowful impression”. (III: pg 138). To Dupin the murders are merely “… peculiar” (III: pg 206), he is unattached and uninvolved in the murders, apart from the excitement that they generate. Both the narrators are however, sympathetic to the plight of the victims and show compassion, but they are unable to interfere in any of the proceedings and merely retell their account of the events.
In order to be considered as part of the Gothic genre the passage from “The Fall of the House of Usher” and the story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, have to follow certain criteria. The dark and forbidding features which highlight the supernatural countenance of the “The Fall of the House of Usher” are certainly conducive to the Gothic novel. Also the perception of mystery and suspense created as the story delves into the hidden and sublime world of the subconscious, while exploring hidden agenda’s that supposedly should not be discussed in “decent” society, certainly qualify the story as belonging to the Gothic style.
The “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, while following the same pattern of using horror, mystery and a sense of pervasive gloom does not however, seem to be able to align itself with this genre. There is no supernatural element involved. The story is recounted with rational explanation and it is logic that is used to solve the crime. This means the story is explained as it develops, rather than it developing by itself, as “The Fall of the House of Usher” does, thereby allowing it to remain enveloped in the Gothic shroud of mystery and suspense.