Great Story: "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe

I well remember the first time I read "The Cask of Amontillado," maybe fifteen years ago. It was my lunchbreak, and I'd staggered out of my office, desperate for mental sustenance. I wandered into a bookstore, and opened Poe's collected works... Reading this story, like reading any great story, was a life-transforming experience. What does it do for you?

Apparently the story was first published in Godey's Lady's Book (Vol. XXIII, no. 5), November 1846, 33: 216-218. Other excerpts from Godey's Lady's Book here -- most of the stories they published seem to have contained practical moral instruction, which was not Poe's forte. According to Wikipedia, their main editor was Sara Josepha Hale, author of "Mary had a Little Lamb," and their issues contained sewing patterns. Incongrously, they also published quite a lot of Poe.

The 1840s were interesting times politically, desperate ones economically. Poe died three years after this story was published. Some decades later, he was discovered by the French. More comments later.
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5 thoughts on “Great Story: "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe”

  1. “The Cask of Amontillado” has an interesting history. Poe wrote it in response to a feud with Thomas Dunn English. Altercations between these two rivals included literary criticism, a lawsuit, and a fistfight, the latter resulting in a cut on Poe’s face from a ring on English’s pinky finger.

    English lampooned Poe in his revenge-based novel “1844”, in which a character named Marmaduke Hammerhead, renowned author of “The Black Crow”, was portrayed as drunken, dishonest, and abusive. Published first in serialized form as “The Doom of the Drinker, or Revel and Retribution,” the novel was reportedly hard to follow. Poe countered with “The Cask of Amontillado”, a concisely crafted comeback with specific references to “1844” such as the setting, a subterranean vault, and mention of the secret society of Masons.

    It seems that Poe intended to best English not only in the content of his story but in the quality of his prose. That same year, Poe defined his standards for good writing in “The Philosophy of Composition”, an essay in which he argued for efficiency, artistry, and “unity of effect”. Read it here:

    http://www.eapoe.org/works/essays/philcomp.htm

    Poe also wrote an essay on “The Philosophy of Furniture”.

  2. Thanks for this link.

    I tend to see Fortunato as obviously innocent, the victim of a madman — surely, I reason, no one who had given this narrator justification for this kind of a revenge would agree to accompany him into the cellars in the first place.

    But if Fortunato is Thomas Dunn English, then he has indeed given cause for offense. And there’s even a sense in which Poe has succeeded in fooling English and walling him off for eternity – since if England is remembered, it will probably be as the model for Fortunato. In which case, the writing of this story might itself be considered one of history’s most perfect acts of revenge.

  3. In Patterns in Criminal Homicide, Marvin Wolfgang found that a significant number of homicides in Philadelpia result from trivial insults. I say Fortunato was asking for it.

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