Sunday, April 25, 2010

Andrew's Thoughts on "The Cask of Amontillado" Scary Short Story by Edgar Allan Poe

In November of 1846, when The Cask of Amontillado was first published, Poe was living in his Fordham, New York cottage with his sick wife Virginia and his aunt Maria Clemm. They were in abject poverty. Poe was, however, finally gaining recognition (though little money) despite the literary barbs thrown at him by Hiram Fuller in the New-York Mirror. Thomas Dunn English, a friend of Fuller’s, parodied Poe's scary short story The Black Cat two years earlier in a story called “The Ghost of a Grey Tadpole” that portrayed Poe as a drunken fool. English then went so far as to defame Poe and challenged him to bring suit in the New-York Mirror, knowing Poe could barely keep his family feed let alone fund a lawsuit. When co-editors Fuller and Augustus Clason, Jr. refused to print a retraction, Poe brought suit to clear his name. Poe used an attorney friend and won the case. He received $225 in damages, assuring that English would be his antagonist until the end.
Earlier in 1846, English published a novel titled “1844, or, the Power of the S.F.,” which had Marmaduke Hammerhead as a central character, the popular author of “The Black Crow.” Hammerhead is a drunken liar. A chapter of “1844” takes places in an underground vault and here Poe takes it to a much deeper level. English uses the turn of phrase “For the love of God” in “1844, or, the Power of the S.F.,” and Poe spits it back to him in this story.

In The Cask of Amontillado, Fortunato, dressed as the motley fool, is the arrogant Thomas Dunn English and Poe in his black mask is Montessesor who has purchased a very expensive Spanish wine to which Fortunato wants to imbibe. The name Fortunato hints at English’s literary success resulting from luck. The crest of Montessesor is a foot crushing the head of a snake that has bitten into his heal. Although Fortunato does not consider Montessesor part of the “brotherhood” of freemasons (as a play on the secret Whig societies that were used in English’s story), he seeks this spirit, which is a metaphor for Poe’s imagination.

There is a similar reference to the great imaginative stories of the court jester in Poe’s Hop-Frog. To demonstrate he is in fact a mason, Montessesor pulls out a trowel, a tongue-in-cheek barb at the freemasons. Luchresi (pronounced, look-crazy) is Hiram Fuller. He is said to have “a critical turn.” The sherry (cheap wine and plentiful) and Amontillado (a brand of expensive and rare wine) are a contrast of non-literary and literary writing styles. Luchresi cannot tell the difference, which causes Montessesor to remark to Fortunato “some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own.” Fortunato desperately wants to drink of the Amontillado of which Montessesor has an overabundance. Here Poe once again masterfully combines political satire and uses words as his weapon to slay his literary enemies.

As a result of the above and fine writing, The Cask of Amontillado is Edgar Allan Poe's best scary short story of revenge. Read about more the scary shorties by Poe in Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated that I edited. Thanks!

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