Reading Edgar Allan Poe and other classic literature

In my junior year of high school, I took Honors English. During that year and during half of my senior year when I was also in Honors English, I read many stories and authors that, due to my short attention span, I was not able to really absorb what I read. Among those stories and novels: The Great Gatsby, A Separate Peace, Beowulf, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Villette. I have since been preparing to gear up to re-read these stories.

Interestingly enough, I enjoyed reading Robinson Crusoe, Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird and even Great Expectations. I also read, for a book report, George Orwell’s A Clergyman’s Daughter and enjoyed that one also.

And, so, last night, I read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Fall of the House of Usher.

After I bore down, I surprised myself and finished reading it in about two hours.

I find Poe’s autobiography very fascinating, but his writing style is definitely a complicated acquired taste. For me, it’s a lesson in strengthening my reading skills to understand and appreciate classic literature.

Poe’s style is to occasionally throw in French and Latin terms (such as Edmund Morris did in an annoying frequency in his authorized biography of President Ronald Reagan). He also uses words I’ve never heard of, perhaps words that were commonly used at the time but have fallen into disuse among modern English readers.

As for Usher, here’s what I understood: a man rides to a bleak, ominous mansion and spends time with an old friend whom he’s not seen in many years. What we learn of the Ushers suggests to me that incest has taken place within the family. The old friend’s sister dies and is buried in the wall. But, as the two men read stories and encounter one about a woman buried alive, they realize that the sister has also been buried alive.

And then, as the storyteller leaves the mansion, it collapses.

Yes, I will definitely have to re-read this again someday. While, admittedly, Poe’s writing style is far from my favorite, I suspect it’s the first step towards one of my biggest goals in life: becoming a well-read person.

Richard Zowie is a writer who believes a day should not go by without exercising his fingers on his keyboard. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardzowie@gmail.com.

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