Text: Gerhard Hoffmann (Translated by Elizabeth G. Lord), “Space and Symbol in the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe,” Poe Studies, June 1979, Vol. XII, No. 1, 12:1-14


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Space and Symbol in the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

Institut fur Englische Philologie
Universitat Wurzburg

Washington State University

Editorial Note

This essay is the fourth in a series of translations sampling contemporary European responses to Poe [see Poe Studies, 9 (1976), 1-6, 33-39; 10 ( 1977), 1-12] and the first in a sequence of articles representing modern German criticism of the author, for which Roger Forclaz’ “Poe in Europe: Recent German Criticism” in Poe Studies, 11 (1978), 49-55, provides a general introduction. Gerhard Hoffmann is Professor of English and American literature at the University of Wurzburg, West Germany. His numerous publications cover a range from Shakespeare to the most recent trends in American literature and culture, with emphasis on analysis of basic patterns in literature — space, time, character, and action. He is editor of a series on German research in American Studies and has published several collections of articles on important American works and authors. Hoffmann’s most recent book, Raum, Situation, erzahlte Wirklichkeit: Poetologische und Historische Studien zum englischen und amerikanischen Roman [Space, Situation, Narrated Reality: Poetological and Historical Studies in the English and American Novel] has just been published. Currently he is working on projects dealing with O’Neill, the American novel to 1930, and postmodern American literature. “Raum und Symbol in den Kurzgeschichten Edgar Allan Poes” originally appeared in Jahrbuch fur Amerikastudien, 16 (1971), 102-127. The translation is published by permission of the author and Amerikanstudien/American Studies.


This article confines itself to E. A. Poe’s use of setting as spatial symbol and as a medium for conveying atmosphere in his tales. Close analyses of “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Masque of the Red Death” reveal that setting, with Poe, is an expressive atmospheric unity that rigorously excludes any isolation of an object as a symbol unrelated to the whole. This atmospheric unity is achieved through a unique correlation between observer and setting and/or participant in the story and the environment with which he interacts. ‘Objectively’ seen, the technical means for establishing this correlation are these: the stylization and circumscription [column 2:] of space, and the arrangement of individual details within patterns of orientation such as east-west, above-below, outside-inside, and so forth. ‘Subjectively’ seen, the fusion of vivid illustrative details, the emotional response of the spectator-narrator, and the mental process of reflection are of chief importance. Considered as a part of the symbolic pattern of the tale, the spatial symbol is based upon the atmospheric unity of a room, house, and/or landscape with the spectator or participant. Different kinds of space symbols may be distinguished on the spectrum between associative symbol at the one extreme and rational allegory at the other; these are designated as the ‘open’ and the ‘closed’ symbol, the latter approaching allegory but maintaining its symbolic structure by means of its manifold relationships with an epic [i.e., narrative] context. In addition, a ‘milieu symbol’ may be differentiated from an ‘analogical symbol,’ the former purveying the influence on the epic [narrative] character of the ideas and powers present in his environment, the latter embodying analogies between spirit and matter, character and setting. The use that Poe makes of the expressive ambiguity of the spatial pattern is indicative of an artistic design that aims at a mixture of different spheres of reality and approximates modern technique, even if the blending of the subjective and the objective is not as yet achieved by employing a montage of particles of reality but through the atmosphere of the expressive setting as such. (GH)



In a narrative work it is by no means a matter of course that concrete space, in which events take place, characters act, and objects are located, is evoked in the reader’s mind in more than the most general of terms. For example, Richardson’s, Fielding’s, Smollett’s, and Sterne’s works, in short almost all classical English novels of the eighteenth century, merely name or designate their settings — except for some nature scenery — without conveying connected visual data or evoking values of expression, let alone involving space or object as fellow actors. The discovery of aesthetic space as narrative component with variable atmospheric values, such as the uncanny or the idyllic, and with this discovery the clear delineation of such space in a work of art, were first achieved by the English Gothic novel. To be sure, in The Castle of Otranto, Walpole for the most part still sketches mere locales for action with a labyrinthine system of directions. Ann Radcliffe then develops a description that vividly calls space to mind, a space conveying an uncanny as well as an idyllic mood, and brings these to a first high point, for instance in her famous novel The Mysteries of Udolpho. After that, the use of the atmospheric qualities of space, as done here, takes on great importance, for example in the works of Dickens and Poe. The symbolic aspects of space and objects are also present here and there in the Gothic novel, for instance in the description of the subterranean caves [page 2:] which evoke images of hell in Lewis’ The Monk, or the subterranean regions of flight far from divine grace in Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer. With the exception of Dickens, however, the symbolic or allegorical presentation employing space and objects does not actually develop until the nineteenth-century American novel and short story. Hawthorne, Poe, and Melville must be mentioned here especially.

In terms of intellectual history, these authors’ interest in this symbolic or allegorical manner of presentation can be explained in terms of the common Christian heritage modified by the special spiritual conditions in New England and emerging in the domain of the arts as a “preeminence of spirit over matter”: “no art that sprang from American roots in this period could fail to show the marks of abstraction’’ (1). About the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the religious root of symbolic thought, which originally grew out of the assumption of a divine order and expressed itself in analogies between the realms of the physical, moral, and spiritual, can be detected only in part (2). The process of secularization manifests itself in that stress is no longer placed on analogies between God and nature, but instead on those between nature and man (3). Natural objects come to reflect psychic processes and moral problems, while religious-philosophical rationales are no longer given. At the same time, the analogy between inside and outside is also applied to the work of man — house and man-made objects — which now can directly reflect his countenance and his soul.

Given these spiritual conditions, the spatial environment of man increases in significance; this explains in part the effect of the Gothic novel, where spatial and psychic elements — in the reaction of man to the atmospheric qualities of space — become connected, though as yet in a relatively superficial way. To be sure, the motifs and means of presentation found in the European Gothic novel as well as tales of horror and darkness are modified individually by the American narrators and are adapted to the psychic or moral theme of a given work. Poe’s “terror,” which he creates by specifically making use of man’s relationship to space, is in his own words “not of Germany, but of the soul” (4); in “The Old Apple Dealer,” Hawthorne identifies with the “lover of the moral picturesque” (5). Thus American narrative art has modified mood-invested space* by enriching it with psychological and moral factors, causing it to assume symbolic character. That the stereotyped spatial motifs of the Gothic novel and story were in part retained — in spite of quite different goals — by the authors mentioned earlier may be explained by the fact that the narrator is now working with personal symbols, which only develop their meaning from the literary context and thus from the associations [column 2:] of the reader. Within the mood-invested nature scene, within the setting featuring the ruin, subterranean passages, labyrinths and corridors, and within the pattern of orientations above and below, outside and inside, these authors developed a firm topography and a system of place relationships, which by means of certain constants of expression facilitated the creation of atmospheric and symbolic form in the individual work.

All this is especially true of Poe, who proceeds from the delineation of space in the Gothic novel or story to develop narrative spaces in which physical elements combine with psychic ones in the sense of a genuine mutual relationship between space and dweller, or space and observer. Inner conflicts are transferred to spaces and objects, become embodied within them; at the same time, these conflicts in turn are determined by these spaces. Poe’s special achievement is that he endows a horror-invested space with its own traits divorced from pragmatic reality; he achieves this by combining real and phantasmic elements in an expressive entity with symbolic significance, thus preparing the way for the modern narrative literature of a James, Kafka, or Faulkner (6). The basic problem when delineating this kind of space arises from combining within space vividness, mood-investment, and referential quality. Poe’s solution to this problem will be analyzed here by interpreting examples from “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Masque of the Red Death.” To this end, it will be necessary to distinguish in terminology and in fact between 1) a mood-invested space, which arises from the relationship of object and subject, expressive thing and mood-invested persons, forming a closed unit of expression, and 2) symbolic space, the referential qualities of which grow out of the expressive unity of the mood-invested space.



In view of the significance of space in Poe’s work, or of the “complexity” and “suggestiveness” (XIV, 207) (7) which he demands and again and again realizes in his stories, it seems appropriate and desirable to seek their meaning by analyzing his presentation of space and concrete object. To be sure, such a procedure harbors the twofold danger that 1) the symbolic content of an individual story may be overemphasized and other aspects, for example the element of horror, and thus the mood-investment of space, may be neglected (8); and that 2) the expressive wholeness of the mood-invested space may be overlooked and the concrete objects seen in isolation as signs pointing beyond themselves in the allegorical sense. Wilbur, for example, states that “. . . [Poe’s] stories are allegorical not only in their broad patterns, but also in their smallest details” (9). Arguments against this view of Poe’s stories are, for one, that they can be read at different levels and therefore the allegorical interpretation’s claim to absoluteness is not fulfilled, and, for another, that although the stories as a whole seem to have referential character, the individual detail in large part eludes unambiguous symbolic interpretation (10). Proceeding from this fact, A. Stasts in his informative work on Edgar Allan Poes symbolistische Erzahlksunst seeks to explain the symbolic character of the [page 3:] short stories by means of the psychology of reader response. According to this concept, however, the reader’s imagination, adjusting to the perspective of the first-person narrator, succeeds only at the end of the story in overcoming “in a dramatic process the allegorical variant of the metaphor in favor of the symbolic one” (11). Although it is correct that the constituting of a symbol demands a psychic process in the sense of empathy, since the symbol, in contrast to allegory, must be grasped intuitively and experientially if it is to yield up its inherent meaning, it is not true that this psychic process occurs only at the conclusion of the story. On the contrary, from the very beginning Poe uses the “tone” as well as the diversity of “analogical resemblance” (XI, 63) in order to exclude “the allegorical variant of the metaphor.” Besides, the symbolic character of the tales is independent of the use of a first-person narrator, as is apparent, for instance, in “The Masque,” which has a third person narrator. The very elements which the symbolic structures and means of presentation in “The Fall of the House of Usher” (first-person narrator) and “The Masque of the Red Death” (third-person narrator) have in common indicate that it is not the figure of the narrator which is decisive; rather it is the delineation of space, by means of which, with mood-invested space as starting point, the symbolic quality of the narrative is constituted. This will be illustrated and discussed below in greater detail for the two tales just mentioned, with a few additional comparative remarks about the detective stories and the landscape sketches “The Domain of Arnheim” and “Landor’s Cottage.”



“The Fall of the House of Usher” suggests itself as the subject of the following investigation, for it is a “typical” Poe short story in which the most important characteristic of his tales, the combination of extreme intellectual and spiritual conditions with a suggestively mood-invested space, is especially clear and pronounced. In his late work Eureka, Poe set down the theory of his cosmological concept of the unity of a universe (12) which involves no qualitative distinction between animate and inanimate, for these concepts are there translated into a narrative context by correlating man and space and are rendered dynamic by the course of time. Thinking in terms of correlations and analogies is the intellectual prerequisite for this process. The most important artistic means for the translation of these thought patterns into a symbolic context is the “tone,” as Poe himself called it, which regulates the psychic proximity or distance between the narrator and the event. In so doing, it also connects subjective and objective (factual-concrete) components of the delineation of the mood-invested space and, aside from the “incidents,” plays the most important part in structuring the effective unity of the tales (13). Thus the “tone,” considered with the reader’s psychology in mind, also has a synthesizing effect; it affects simultaneously the intellect (“reason”), the heart (“passion”), and the soul, and creates in the “tales of effect” that “vividness” which in Poe’s terminology is the result of a detailed rendering of emotional reactions and observational dare. The “tone” helps to create the impression, [column 2:] so important for Poe, of “verisimilitude,” the probability of the events, making it possible for the reader to adapt to the narrative perspective and thus to experience from a distance which is variable internally as well as externally.

The delineation of space occurs as a process, conveyed for instance through the first-person narrator; indeed, in the tales of terror it is constituted first of all as mood-invested space (14), which is experienced through the mutual relationship of space and observer, a space with the atmospheric qualities of the unexpected, the inexplicable, the uncanny. It is of no concern here who experiences a given space as mood-invested — the narrator or narrative figure — or whether the subject remains the same or changes. Nor is the perspective distance decisive, which is the means of varying the spatial distance of the observer, that is of increasing or decreasing it. Whenever an experience is brought into focus from the subject’s side mood-invested space is involved, whether viewed from a distance or close up. From this very change of close and distant perspective with the impact on the observer remaining constant, Poe derives one of his most important effects for building an uncanny atmosphere. On the objective side, form, color, magnitude, and situation of concrete objects are expressive by nature: they cause things to appear strange or normal, threatening or familiar, uncanny or idyllic. Tones and sounds, light and shadow brightness and darkness are additional phenomena which create atmosphere. Directions also are significant in so far as they possess mood qualities. For example, Poe likes to employ the contrasts “outside” and “inside,” “above” and “below,” at climactic points of his stories. Other means for delineating space are the presence of certain living beings or people and the reaction of the mood-invested subject, perhaps his expressive gestures and movements; as mute motion these may replace the mood-creating empathy of a narrator with whom the reader would otherwise identify.

For the delineation of such a mood-invested space Poe develops a pattern, which possesses validity not only for the tales of terror but also for his detective stories and landscape sketches. This pattern represents a characteristic and profound change from space as delineated in the Gothic novel, where a certain aspect always created a predictable impression (in the sense of “sublime” perhaps or “picturesque”). Poe transforms this rather mechanical relationship into an individual one, usually irrational. The reaction to an impression made by space in Poe’s stories cannot be predicted; mere observation often changes immediately into mood-investment, or the inexplicable phenomenon of mood-investment again provokes the attempt merely to observe, thus giving rise to a psychologically well founded sequence of mood-investment, observation mood-investment, and so forth, which is strengthened even more by reflection. In this way, observation and mood investment are brought into a dynamic, tense relationship, a relationship that forms the basis for the experience of the uncanny. The beginning of “The House of Usher” offers an example:

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in [page 4:] the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was — but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me — upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain — upon the bleak walls — upon the vacant eye-like windows — upon a few rank sedges — and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees — with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium — the bitter lapse into everyday life — the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart — an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it — I paused to think — what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. (III, 273f.)

Characteristic in the already mentioned sense of the unpredictability, either as to kind or intensity, of an impression is the fact that to some extent relatively normal objects, the expressive value of which the observer seeks to fathom by means of singling them out, but which he must experience as equally mood-invested and therefore as being an atmospheric unit, call forth an uncommonly strong reaction: “the mere house,” “the simple landscape feature,” “a few rank sedges,” “a few white trunks.” In various ways, the inexplicability of the emotion is emphasized, by which the narrator feels overpowered: for one thing by the direct indication “I know not how it was,” for another indirectly by the tense change of preterite to present, which stresses especially the extent to which feelings are confused, the confusion persisting with undiminished vehemence in spite of the distance in time between experience and report. It is furthermore significant that the emotional reactions evoked by the sight of the house are of a complex, difficult nature, deviant from the norm, and are felt to be such by the narrator. This fact explains at the same time his efforts to analyze his internal processes; this analysis gives to the entire presentation its characteristic form, namely the permeation in turn of observation, mood-investment, and reflection. Accordingly, the narrator begins by describing the impression made on him by the house, even before telling of details in its appearance. Visual details are given in a fragmentary fashion, in a way that does not permit combining them into a picture of the whole; they are not given until several lines farther down, and then as a mere insertion into a sentence which seeks to determine more closely the condition of “utter depression of soul” at the sight of the house. Furthermore, their selection indicates that they are intended to evoke atmospheric qualities without which the impression of uncanniness on the viewer, (and the reader) would be utterly unthinkable: “bleak,” “vacant,” “eye-like,” “rank,” “white,” “decayed.” The argumentative ( in part anaphoric) stringing together of individual words and phrases, a means of creating sound values, as well as the ever more pronounced reflective element, serve to intensify expression and prepare the reader’s awareness that, for the time being, “description” is coming to an end, which end directly expresses the impossibility of dealing intellectually with the experience: “nor could I grapple with [column 2:] the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered.” What enables the narrator here to share the “knowledge” of the author (15), even though in a limited way, and to pass it on to the reader indirectly, is “intuition,” which is so important for Poe and which connects the various forces of the soul and mind (16).

If focusing on intuitive experience (not on observation, which singles out objects and their attributes) is the subjective component of delineating a mood-invested space, then one of its “objective” prerequisites is wholeness or circumscription in respect to settings otherwise without mood-investment or invested in different ways. For this reason, Poe prefers remote buildings as the scene of his stories; where the surroundings are included in the description, they mostly have the same uncanny or fairytale characteristics as the house itself (17). In the excerpt quoted above, for example, the narrator speaks of a “singularly dreary tract of country,” characteristically emphasizing the impression of somberness by means of a situational element: the evening shadows, which render indistinct the contours of all objects and therefore their singularity; the low ceiling of clouds, which has a burdensome effect and emphasizes that space is hemmed in and constitutes a unit of expression. In his Philosophy of Composition, Poe gives as reason for his approach “that a close circumscription of space is absolutely necessary to the effect of insulated incident: — it has the force of a frame to a picture” (XIV, 204). By following this method, he achieves an intensification and dramarization of interpersonal relationships or the relationship between man and the organic or inorganic world surrounding him.

Delineating a mood-invested space in successive stages is not restricted to the sequence and integration of observed details, emotional reaction, and ideational analysis, but includes also the narrator’s repeated attempts to escape a mood by changing his focus for external reasons. Mood-invested space builds up because of the very fact that the narrator seeks in vain to break up the unity of the mood-invested space into the sum of the isolated details of the observed setting by changing his position, that is to say by approaching in space and thus making closer examination possible. The observer’s resistance and the intensity of experiencing space are artfully correlated here by Poe:

I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression, and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down — but with a shudder even more thrilling than before — upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows. (III, 274)

This passage is similarly informative about Poe’s procedure in preparing and giving reasons for the constitution of symbols through mood-invested space; it shows how the author prepares to transform rational-logical analogies between space and man into symbols by means of duplicating sensual phenomena ( this duplication corresponding here at the same time to an alienation), and [page 5:] how he establishes this transformation within the mood-invested space. Since for the reader language is the medium through which matters are presented by the observer-narrator, Poe logically applies this method of duplicating to the language as well. The “shades of the evening” thus point to the “shadowy fancies” in the narrator’s consciousness; the feeling of “insufferable gloom,” which seizes him at the sight of the house, conversely then finds a pendant in the “air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom” (III, 278), which fills Roderick’s study and again points to the “one unceasing radiation of gloom” ( III, 282) emanating from Roderick’s spirit. Verbal expression (like the delineation of space) emphasizes also the alternating activity and radiation of space and person, excluding one-sided causal dependence. Into this situationally experienced expressive unit of space is embedded here at the start the first metaphorically suggested analogy of man and space in the expression “eye-like windows”; significantly, this formulation is then repeated at the end of the quoted passage and in immediate connection with the description of the phenomena duplicated in the lake; by their position at the end of the paragraph, these words take on emphasis as well as a prophetic meaning.

In the course of the story the mood-invested space, that is, its unity of expression and not its individual isolated details, comes to form the basis of the analogous relationships between man and space. This strengthening of the parallelism of man and space coincides with the intensification of the mood; that is to say the analogies between man and space are bound atmospherically and in this process both appear equally enigmatic: the house exhibits “a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones” (III, 276), and this “wild inconsistency” in the building’s structure corresponds to the “inconsistency” in Roderick’s behavior. A similar correspondence exists between the beginning deterioration of his personality and the fine fissure in the masonry, which runs from the roof to the tarn, while the resemblance of Roderick’s hair to the “minute fungi” uniformly covering the masonry finally involves even the realm of plants, thus connecting in space the organic vegetative realm with the inorganic and, by association, both with man. The procedure of planning space as an entity beginning with the atmospheric is shown most effectively at the high point of the description, when organic and inorganic, visible and hidden elements join in a vivid atmosphere which surrounds house, trees, and lake and binds them into a unit. By means of its associations and rhythms, language plays an essential part in preparing the analogous relationship of man and space, while relationships between visible atmosphere and ideas of illness and decay, heaven and hell are suggested:

. . . about the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity — an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn — a pestilent and mystic vapour, dull, sluggish hintly discernible and leaden-hued. (III, 276)

For Poe the following formative principles of delineating a mood-invested space can therefore be stated: 1) circumscription and wholeness of space, which do not admit of singling out any object; 2) perceptibility to the senses of the magical-uncanny elements of effect, which have become concrete in the spatial entity by a process of rendering atmosphere visible; 3) duplication of phenomena, which prepares for the constitution of symbols within the mood-invested space; 4) verbal suggestion by means of “tone,” repetition of words, and metaphoric phrases, and finally 5) dynamization of this delineation of space within the psychic and physical process.

These principles for forming mood-invested space encompass then, as emphasized earlier, the conditions that make symbolic space possible (18). At the same time, however, for Poe the formative principle is also relevant to content, because the wholeness of the mood-invested space refers to the unity of the universe. For one thing, mood-investment and wholeness of space are prerequisites for the actualization of its symbolic qualities, for symbol is dependent on situation, as Tindall has already pointed out (19). On the other hand, mood-investment and wholeness are to be understood symbolically because they point to a fate which is the same for matter and for spirit within the cycle of becoming and passing away, individuation and dissolution. This is particular to Poe, and testifies to the unity of his cosmological and poetic conception. Now in the attempt to define more closely the relationship of mood-invested and symbolic space, differentiations necessarily result — especially in respect to kinds of symbols — differentiations important for the analysis of Poe’s tales as of all symbolic narrative literature.

In this connection it is necessary to remember also that the object as symbol — like all objects in the mood-invested space — is a definite part of an expressive entity for the very reason that it is experienced and can be experienced only as part of its surroundings. This is to say, the referential character of the concrete symbol and of space ( both belong inseparably together) is tied to a concrete inner as well as outer situation and may change or be lost with a change in the spatial arrangement or in the focus of the narrative figure or the narrator. To be sure, the symbolic value does not depend on a certain person, for the mood-invested space has subjective as well as intersubjective aspects. This then explains the fact that space and object can be experienced differently, and that their referential character may be recognized or not. Furthermore, this explains the fact that the symbolic value of a spatial phenomenon is seen differently at different times or by different persons, and here lies the cause of the ambivalence of the symbol which permits several interpretations, indeed provokes them. The more intimately a symbolic object blends with its surroundings and is fused with the context, the more it seems to be open to various interpretations. Conversely, a relatively “closed” symbol results in the case of a static, rationally solvable system of correspondences, a system approaching allegory, which maintains, however, its symbolic structure by means of multiple references within the context. The use of different kinds of symbols in one and the same story then has a definite purpose: with the openness of certain symbols, for example, Poe knows how to counter the danger that “the obvious meaning . . . will be found to smother its insinuated one” (XI, 111), while the closed symbol [page 6:] (at times in connection with a poetic allusion) causes hidden meanings to become apparent.

Besides this formal distinction between an open and a closed symbol according to the degree of its dependence on mood-invested space and the narrative context, a second differentiation is aimed at aspects of content, especially the relationship of man and space. According to the nature of this relationship, it is possible to speak of a symbol that determines causally, or a milieu symbol, and one that enlightens existentially, or an analogical symbol (20). The milieu symbol generally represents a slice of reality, which reveals the ideas and forces that determine man and his condition. But the analogical symbol, in which appearance and meaning of an object are related in an analogous manner, is directed to a greater extent towards the inner situation of the narrative figures and toward interpersonal relationships. In the case of the milieu symbol, in addition to mood-invested circumscription and wholeness, greater importance belongs to factual values and observational qualities in the documentary sense. Analogical symbolism on the other hand — especially because of its function of interpreting the inner being of man — is characterized by being independent to a great extent of ties to pragmatic reality and thus also by greater completeness, which results from the freedom of choice and arrangement of details. The analogical symbol naturally plays the more important part in Poe’s work because of the psychological themes of his best stories, all the more because it not only serves to clarify human existence but also encompasses an interpretation of cosmological conditions and thus establishes a parallel between the fate of man and of matter. But Poe also elicits special effects from the very contrast of milieu-oriented and analogical interpretation of the symbol, as will become apparent. Within the framework of the wholeness of the mood-invested space in “The House of Usher,” and by means of duplicating spatial phenomena ( for instance as mirror image in the water), associative relationships are now established which in the end take on symbolic significance. The same is true of the concretely visible atmosphere, which as symbol of the unity of action of man and space also acquires something like a dramatizing function in the final scene.

Verbal suggestion by means of the “tone,” which to a considerable extent brings about the constitution of the mood-invested space, is for the reader also the medium which evokes the “under or mystic current of its meaning” (III, 284) and thus endows the mood-invested space with referential character, that is to say with its symbolic function within the whole narrative. The suggestive element here arises from the mere coloration of the language, that is to say from the factual, emotional, or ideational presentation of the details, or from the metaphoric expression which establishes connections (“eye-like windows”); in fact, it urges upon the reader — always within the framework of the mood-invested space — the feeling of an “analogical resemblance” which forms the foundation and expression of the symbolic space and integrates the mood-invested and the symbolic space. The “tone” can fulfill this integrating function, because for one thing it arouses the feeling of the unexpected, often of the uncanny, and for another it reveals to the sensitive reader the referential character of space. The strong ideational elements, that could at first be interpreted as a psychic reaction to the experience of space, here acquire yet another function: by stimulating the reader’s reflection and imagination in addition to his feeling, they prepare for the intuitive recognition of the atmosphere’s symbolic values of expression, that is, they help to turn the mood-invested space into one that is at the same time symbolic, without losing atmospheric qualities (of the uncanny or the horrible). The narrator may be conscious or not of the analogical relationship among objective phenomena, or between object and man; the attentive reader, however, is able to grasp the relationships intuitively, indeed is helped substantially by the “tone” which expresses the “knowledge” of the author.

How important ideational elements are for the constitution of symbolic space, or for the clarification of the referential qualities of mood-invested space in Poe’s work, may be seen by yet another characteristic of his tales, that is by the insertion of cosmological ideas and poetological remarks (through narrator or protagonist) which correlate to the delineation of space and interpret it. These reflections in their graded sequence reveal a formative principle similar to the delineation of mood-invested space itself, which causes the narrator to fail again and again in his attempts to shift the focus from mood to observation. Thus Roderick’s and the narrator’s repeated attempts to explain the mysterious phenomena serve but to confirm their irrational, inexplicable aspects. This holds true for the narrator’s reflections which are of a rational and milieu-oriented nature and concern the determining influence of the house on the inhabitant or the duration of its influence over generations, and by means of which he seeks in vain to clarify the strange analogical relationship; even more so this holds true for Roderick’s views concerning the spiritual influence of the house, not the least reason being the emotionally colored manner of expression and the concept of mood-invested space as a unit of expression. For instance, Roderick is conscious of an influence “which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance . . . obtained over his spirit — an effect which the physique of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence” (III, 281). The connection between the material and the spiritual is presupposed here; later on, Roderick’s theory about objects being able to feel, about their “sentience,” is given as reason. At the same time, Roderick refers here without being explicit to the formative principle of mood-invested space, namely its wholeness of expression. His theory, quoted below, contains therefore not only cosmological but also poetological elements, including in particular the principles mentioned in the above discussion of the delineation of space, that is, the principles of wholeness, sensualization, duplication, verbal suggestion, and dynamization in connection with the element of time:

The conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones — in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around — above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence [page 7:] — the evidence of the sentience — was to be seen, he said (and I here started as he spoke,) in the gradual yet certain condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls. (III, 286)

The tendency towards increasing clarification in description as well as in reflection can be observed also in regard to the symbolic quality of space: as the action progresses, the open symbol is supplemented by the closed. To this corresponds the integration into the story, approximately at midpoint, of the ballad about the “Haunted Palace,” its referential quality being expressly emphasized by the narrator’s poetic allusion to the “under or mystic current of its meaning.” Elsewhere, Poe’s remark concerning interpretation is just as plain: “for by the Haunted Palace I mean to imply a mind haunted by phantoms — a disordered brain’’ (21). Accordingly, the palace itself, the seat of the “monarch Thought” (III, 284), may be understood to mean Roderick’s head, the yellow banners on the roof his long silken hair; the two “luminous windows” are his eyes, which are described as “large, liquid and luminous” (III, 278), while the palace door (“with pearl and ruby glowing”), from which is heard the praise of truth, evidently is supposed to represent his mouth with lips and teeth. This construction, however, takes on thematic relevance in the sense of the story only with the events inside the palace, events which may be designated generally as dissolution of order: “But evil things, in robes of sorrow / Assailed the monarch’s high estate” (III, 285). The function of this poem — dubious in its artistic or rather lyrical quality (22) — within the narrative as a whole is not limited to the clarification of the psychic processes in a “disordered brain” that Poe stressed; that is, it represents more than an allegory which can be analyzed rationally and more than a mere bit of stage business. Being Roderick Usher’s creation, it is, with its phantasmic quality, a manifestation of mental disturbance; because of its referential character it is also a sign of the sensitivity and clairvoyance of its author and of his truly amazing intuitive insight into his inner situation. Moreover, this ballad expresses Poe’s cosmological ideas in regard to the relationship of matter and spirit; it forms, so to speak, a connecting link between Roderick’s theoretical discourse on the “sentience” of objects — which characteristically follows the ballad’s rendition — and the relationships outlined in the delineation of space, the relationships between matter and organic life, space and man. This means that the ballad of the “Haunted Palace” is one of Poe’s signals to the reader which direct his attention to the referential quality of the spatial environment without the need for the symbolic components’ becoming too explicit within the space delineation itself. This in turn means that the space presented in “The House of Usher” remains an open symbol, with manifold references not interpreted in detail (23). How important this is for the successful conclusion of the narrative as a tale of terror, and thus for the preservation and augmentation of the elements of the uncanny, then becomes apparent in the rest of the tale.

This continuation of the story is characterized by the fact that the tendency to clarify, which had increased more and more to about the middle of the narrative, now gradually recedes, with the result that the actual moment of action again unfolds more vigorously and references which [column 2:] were all too plain are dissolved. This is brought about 1) with the help of analogies which become increasingly more subtle and decrease in their accessibility to logical-rational insight as the story approaches more and more closely the climax of action and emotion, that is, the reappearance of Madeline; and 2) through the intensification of the atmospheric element in the delineation of the mood-invested space — this intensification, however, does not detract from its power to refer by association.

Even before the final scene, Poe begins the reduction of rationally intelligible relationships, for example by emphasizing the “vagueness” which characterizes the content of Roderick’s artistic creation and by describing one of his paintings, whose determining qualities consist of strange spatial structures and light phenomena — “a ghastly and inappropriate splendor” (III, 283). That this passage refers to the story’s conclusion with its unnatural light phenomena and to the description of the vault with Madeline’s coffin cannot be overlooked, but the nature of the individual references remains an open question. For in the mysteriously lit and hermetically sealed vault in the painting may be seen both a depiction of Roderick’s wide awake and sensitive consciousness, which knows no protective darkness, and — in the parallel to Madeline’s provisional burial place — an indication of Roderick’s mysterious relationship to his twin sister, whom he will bury alive knowingly or unknowingly (24). Also the “meaning” of the strangely condensed atmosphere of the house during the night of the storm, together with the “pestilent and mystic vapor” taken up again from the story’s beginning, intensified by light effects and rendered dynamic by whirling movements of the air, remains open for the time being — in spite of the narrator’s explanation in natural terms. In the atmosphere has been seen for one thing “an adumbration of the ‘enshrouded’ figure of Madeline” (25), for another the desperate struggle of the house against Roderick’s resistance (26), as well as a “tumult of natural elements impotently opposing the silent and sullen powers which in that hour assert dominion over the House of Usher” (27). What is in essence uncanny in this scene might well be the vagueness of any meaning or the multitude of ambiguities that become tangible only in the atmosphere and not evident until the final image of the collapsing house; this atmosphere again receives its “under-current of meaning” by means of subtle analogies, which point to mysterious relationships between the outside and the inner part of the house, or the realm of the soul, respectively. For everything alludes to everything else; there is no beginning and no end, no cause and no effect, rather both are always united, according to Poe’s conviction that the created is at the same time creator and that the unity of the universe depends on all being related and interdependent (28).

This plurality of relationships and references to meaning is made possible by the shaping of a scene, which is typical for Poe in that it assigns to matters of space a dominant role as fellow actor. That is the scene in which Lady Madeline, believed dead and buried in a subterranean vault, reappears melodramatically in a night filled with outer and inner horrors. In this scene, which constitutes about one third of the narrative and its climax, Roderick, Madeline, and the house form a unit of action which expresses itself most clearly in the destruction of all — [page 8:] Madeline’s and Roderick’s death and the collapse of the house — at the end. In regard to space, Poe uses for his mood the double contrast of outside and inside, above and below, and the mutual intensification of visual and auditory sensations. In addition there is, as previously mentioned, the method of condensing the atmosphere together with a return to such now-intensified optical phenomena as clouds and “pestilent vapour,” and also the correlation between man and space in the form of expressive movements. In regard to the complex of outside-inside relationships, the strange optical phenomena outside correspond to the inner space with its “gloomy” furniture and the “dark and tattered draperies, which tortured into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the bed” (III, 290). To the mood of space, intensified by vague and indefinable noises, the narrator responds with expressive movements that betray his own mood-investment: he gets out of bed, dresses, paces back and forth, then suddenly jumps up while reading. An especially intensive, mood creating effect comes above all from the sounds, which Poe — like the authors of Gothic novels before him — employs with the aim of pulling space together, as it were, in this case of connecting the subterranean vault, from which the sounds come, with the upper floor, where the narrator and Roderick are at the time. The greater vagueness of the auditory sensations in comparison to the visual ones facilitates an intensification of the uncanny; Poe achieves even greater intensification by linking the real noises with the imaginary ones, which are described in the “romance” that is read aloud. Through the slowly approaching sounds a temporal-spatial arch of tension is finally created; at its high point the Lady Madeline, only seemingly dead, appears in the door which has been torn open by the storm, without the narrator or reader coming to comprehend the full significance of this event.

This significance is disclosed only at the very end of the story by a mysterious process which the narrator observes as he flees in panic and looks back: the originally fine crack in the masonry suddenly widens — before a moon shining blood red — until the house collapses and disappears in the unfathomable mountain lake, which then closes “sullenly and silently” (III, 297) on the fragments of the house of Usher. In this spatial event meaning and development of the story is contained in nuce: the disintegration of the building (like the death of brother and sister before) is to be understood as a sign that matter and spirit have returned into the totality of being, from which they had emerged before in a long process of ever greater differentiation and refinement. The crack in the building and Roderick’s (as well as Madeline’s) “nervous agitation” were outer signs that the critical point of utmost refinement had been reached, where the return, the “chaotic precipitation” (XVI, 307), and with it the dissolution, according to Poe’s ideas, must necessarily follow (29). The dialectic of “repulsion” and “attraction,” of spiritual and material principle, of individual freedom and necessary bondage, which Poe saw as determining the universe as well as human life with its cycle of becoming and passing away, is thus given form as a process in the narrative: by the depiction of the refinement of all senses and intellectual capabilities in Roderick, his psycho-physical deterioration, [column 2:] and the death-like collapse of his twin sister Madeline (to her also, Roderick stands in a mysterious relationship full of ambiguities), as well as by the evolution of the inorganic into organic matter and its resulting disintegration. At the end of the story this process is contracted and in the final scene rendered vivid once more.

The disclosure of these symbolic connotations to the reader by means of a spatial image or process can be explained for one thing by the fact that Poe had from the very beginning directed the referential qualities of space and the ideational elements towards this context and thereby also towards the final event. They also prepare for the comprehension of the symbolic quality of the final image, which refers back to the beginning, realizes once more the total process of the narrative, and compresses it thematically, thus enabling the reader (in contrast to the narrator) to comprehend intuitively the twofold quality of empathy and recognition.



While Poe in “The House of Usher” solves the problem of describing and delineating mood-invested space by blending observed details, emotional reaction, and the fundamentally analytical attitude of the first person narrator, he must reach for different means in “The Masque of the Red Death,” for this story is told auctorially and thus (usually) from a greater distance. Although the narrator occasionally chooses a close focus and writes from the perspective of a certain character, the story as a whole — in contrast to “The House of Usher” — is conspicuously impersonal in tone all the time. Poe therefore achieves the decidedly dense atmosphere not by means of the narrator’s mood-investment, but by stylizing space and the characters’ expressive gestures throughout. Expressive elements in the static space relationships come to be contrasted and the (temporal) sequence of events within these spaces is rendered rhythmic.

From the very beginning, the description of space is aimed at making evident the two principles which are confronted bodily at the climax of the story: the bizarre autocracy of the individual in the person of Prince Prospero and the inexorable lawfulness of time and death, embodied in the masque of the Red Death. Accordingly, the primary formative principle is contrast (30), which begins with the spatial opposition of outside and inside. As the circumscription of the setting in “The House of Usher” could be explained primarily by the striving for concentration, that is by a formal principle, here a condition of tension prevails, which has both significance for content and at the same time existential relevance. For outside lurk danger and death; inside, there seems to be a security which permits an intoxicating enjoyment of life. The separation of the domains is emphasized by means of the illumination: the natural daylight outside the house is contrasted with the artificial illumination of all the windowless rooms by the flickering flames of the “tripods.” The seclusion of the house from its surroundings, for practical reasons, to be sure, and neutral in regard to values, thus creates the impression that an artificially created realm is arbitrarily isolated from the realm of natural life and natural order.

The principle of contrast (like the principle of rhythmization) can also be observed in the arrangement and decoration of the interior rooms. On the one hand, they show the Prince’s preference for the bizarre by the strangely irregular and unclear arrangement with “a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards,” which runs counter to the customary arrangement of an “imperial suite” with its “long and straight vista” ( IV, 2 51); the rooms are arranged in an irregular fashion similar to the winding passages in other stories by Poe. On the other hand, however, the presence of firm orderly lines — the entire establishment extending from East to West and its orientation towards the seventh room (where’seven’ evokes the concept of the ages of man) — points to an immanent order. This impression is reinforced by the corridors on both sides of the rooms. which follow the rhythm of the suites and by this emphasis on the directional components, translate the irregularity of the arrangement into a kind of regularity. The same becomes apparent in the coloration, which is uniform within each room but changes from one room to another. The sequence of the expressive colors — blue, crimson, green, orange, white, purple, and, in the seventh room, black and red — on the one hand seems to express the Prince’s “love of the bizarre,” his extremely individualistic autocracy and freedom; on the other hand, however, the execution of the seventh room in black and red color tones and the breaking of the formative principle of uniform coloration in this very room show the rhythmic encounter of the polar forces mentioned earlier. The place standing out within this entire mood-invested space is the last or seventh room, because it is the last of the rooms and because it has accompanying symbolic associations tied to the number seven, to the room’s situation toward the West or the setting sun, and to black, the color of death (31). The most conspicuous mood-investing device is the gigantic ebony clock with its “brazen lungs,” symbol of time in its double aspect as measurable time and the power of fate, that sets an end to all life on earth. This double aspect is emphasized by the clock’s location “against the western wall” (IV, 252), evoking with the image of the setting sun that of the ultimate end, while the order of time and fate is illustrated by the monotonous movement of the pendulum, which is also set off by the rhythm of the language (32). Even more important, however, is the striking of the clock, its tone measuring time and creating within the suite a uniform mood in the sense of being directed towards the end.

The mood-investment of space, however, not only builds up — here as elsewhere — on the basis of objective factors but also results, as mentioned before, from the interchange between space and man: the mood-invested characters respond to the mood-investment of space. The black room, for instance, “produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all” (IV, 252). Even more impressive in this connection are the peculiar movements of the dancers, of whom it is said, “they writhe to and fro” (IV, 254). Their expressive movements — the reaction to spatial mood-investment — reflect at the same time the bizarre element that characterizes the space as a whole and causes the dancers to appear as figures parallel to Prospero, whose [column 2:] fate they share in the end. Space and man thus form a unit of action here as they did in “The House of Usher.”

The element which guides movement is sound; there is for one thing the striking of the clock, its tone filling space and contracting it; there is for another the shrill tone of the music, which corresponds to the bizarre interior arrangement and the eccentric movements and here has an effect opposite to that of the clock, the effect of expansion and dispersion. One is reminded of Poe’s cosmological principles of “repulsion” and “attraction,” forces that keep the world in balance, while a disturbance of its equilibrium through the refinement of what is individual, through “repulsion,” as in “The House of Usher” activates the power of “attraction,” which leads to death (33). In “The Masque,” attraction and repulsion now-are translated into expressive movements — pressing forward and receding, motion and cessation of motion — and thus are dramatized. The phantasmic play of movement to the sounds of the music is followed, with each striking of the hour, by the dancers becoming motionless, by their being struck dumb and the music falling silent, until with the dying away of the last stroke dancing begins anew. Scenes of motion and cessation of motion alternate five times in the same manner and thus divide the action in the sense of rendering it rhythmical. While the clock strikes, the remoteness of the seventh chamber, into which no one will venture, becomes a threatening proximity, leaving no room for individual action. There are two possibilities for making room: receding and pressing forward. As these two motions, opposites in their direction, follow one another, they mark the progress of time and the approach of the high and end point of the action. This sequence of motions becomes quite clear, for instance, when the Red Death appears. Growing alarm is made evident by the expressive movement of receding to the periphery of the space: “the vast assembly . . . shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls” (IV, 257); the counter movement towards the black chamber then follows, an attempt to gain space by conquest [Bewaltigung] and by crossing boundaries [Uberschreitung]. The irony lies in the fact that this transgression is at the same time a result of attraction (by the clock and by death) and thus leads to “chaotic precipitation.” Here the different modes of behavior of the figures of death and of the human beings, which again are made evident by expressive movements, are effectively contrasted. The gait of the Red Death is “solemn,” “measured” — like time, he halts only at the wall of the last chamber, that is at the outermost limit of the space (in time) at his disposal. The others rush after him (“the revellers . . . threw themselves into the black apartment,” IV, 257), their behavior is reaction, not action, and they confirm his power — again by an expressive movement — as they sink dead at the feet of the gigantic clock.

This black ebony dock, which “breathes its last” with the narrative figures, is the central symbol of the story. It seems to be merely an allegorical piece of stage property, but as shown above it is at the same time, and primarily, a part of mood-invested space. Within this tension and its resolution lies the uniqueness of the symbolic method in this story. The structure of the clock symbol is determined by the double embodiment of time: as a kind of personification [page 10:] with a “minute-hand,” a “face,” “brazen lungs,” and a “life” (IV, 253), it has the fixed, immovable meaning of the power of fate that is time and so constitutes a closed symbol with allegorical traits; as part of the totality of furnishings, especially in the last chamber, as a body of sound, which divides measurable time by its striking, it belongs to mood-invested space and directs the action. Much like the clock, the colors black and red in the last chamber, as well as the direction of the suite from East to West, contain elements of the closed symbol. But it is significant that the same does not apply to the other colors; their meaning remains open to a great extent. Here again, closed and open symbols are contrasted in dialectical manner. As to the directional component, its closed meaning is suspended at least at times by the process of motion and the polarization of East-West in the course of the narrated events. So it is that towards the end of the story the Prince’s voice resounds from the Easternmost chamber and, analogous to the penetrating sound of the clock (both are designated by the verb “ring”), fills all the chambers of the suite. In the end, to be sure, the significance of the clock, as of the directional component and the colors red and black (blood and death), seems to be solely allegorical, for the duplication of the figures’ death by the ‘dying’ of the clock shows the’significance’ of the clock to be separable from the phenomenon. This, however, only seems to be the case: though on the one hand the symbolic variant of the meaningful image is translated here into the allegorical one, on the other hand the atmospheric forces of the uncanny, which were developed in the course of the story, affect also the clock symbol and tie it to the total expression of space which only then (together with the expressive movements of the figures) endows it with its meaning. The clock then fulfills here the function of the ballad in “The House of Usher”: it unveils meaning and at the same time, by heightening the referential quality within itself, prevents space as a whole from becoming a closed symbol. The clock is not the only instance of this kind. This process of translating a ( relatively) open symbol into a closed one, visible in the floor clock, can be observed with particular clarity at the end of the story in the flames of the “tripods.” At first, these lend movement to space by means of their flickering light and invest it with mood — the flames evoking only very vaguely the idea of individual life — and not until the very end does the element of meaning emerge more clearly, though without assuming, in spire of its closedness, the character of allegory: “And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired” (IV, 258).

Besides the closed spatial symbol, the poetological comments by the narrator in this story also fulfill an interpretive function in keeping with Poe’s dictum: “every work of art should contain within itself all that is requisite for its own comprehension” (XI, 78). As in “The House of Usher,” the closed spatial symbol (primarily) interprets the fateful context, while poetic allusion concerns above all the concept of the characters. The narrator describes the “masqueraders” as “grotesque” and “arabesque,” giving here according to Kayser “perhaps the most complete and appropriate definition that the word grotesque was ever given by an author” (34): [column 2:]

Be sure they are grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm — much of what has been since seen in “Hernani.” There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these — the dreams — writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. (IV, 254)

The remarks about the grotesque and arabesque are not used here in the merely impressionistic sense as in the title of Poe’s collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (35), but serve to characterize a world view and a category of delineation which perceives deformity as the observed and experienced nature of man and which sees and presents this deformity as horrible and ridiculous at once. It appears here as sensual reality misshapen or — in Durrenmatt’s words — as “sensual paradox” (30), in that it orients itself by the visible exterior forms and natural proportions of the body (for example “figures with unsuited limbs”). The phantasmic and distorted as formative means of the grotesque join with dreamlike elements, opening for Poe, as must still be shown, an opportunity to depict the unconscious; this possibility he uses in an impressive way to impart significance to the story, its “suggested meaning.” While the description of space alone creates an impression merely of the bizarre and phantasmic, not of the ridiculous (37), since the domains are not mingled here and the perspective remains unchanged, the grotesque arises in the counterplay of space and man, in the materially bizarre coloring of what is human, which then appears misshapen under the aspect of the natural. Thus the expressive movements of the narrative figures appear distorted, mechanical, or animal-like and contain all the characteristics of the grotesque:

The distortion in the elements, the mingling of the domains, the simultaneity of beautiful, bizarre, horrible and repulsive elements, the fusion into a turbulent entity, the alienation into the phantasmic and dream-like (Poe used to speak of his “waking dreams’’), all this has entered here into the concept of the grotesque. This world is prepared for the invasion by the nocturnal, which will bring destruction as death in a red mask (38).

Stated differently and examined as to function within the story, the distorted expressive movements of the figures reflect their subconscious knowledge of their fate, which is also embodied in the directional system of the space and in the sound of the clock; they can escape it only accompanied by festive music, using phantasmic masks and costumes, and making distorted movements in a room with bizarre furnishings; with each fateful striking of the clock, however, they must respond to this fate more consciously by turning rigid or receding — or through the attempt to overcome. Against the background of Poe’s cosmological concepts (39), the dialectic of “repulsion” and “attraction,” of spiritual and material principle, which becomes apparent in expressive movements, the fear and terror of the figures as of Roderick Usher can be understood as the highly developed personality’s resistance against giving up its individuality in favor of the universal cycle of repulsion and attraction, refinement and death. At the same rime, however, the contradictory expressive [page 11:] elements of space (phantasm and order at the same time) and the contrast of the movements — receding and pressing forward — contain analogies to a discrepancy philosophically reasoned out by Poe, the discrepancy between creator and created, self-determination and determination by something alien to the self, which is the final condition of every particle in the universe, especially, however, of man and of the artist through his share in the divine (40).

With this utterly closed, logically constructed story, Poe has taken another step, even beyond “The Fall of the House of Usher,” towards modern ways of presentation such as the surrealistic and the grotesque. For the time being this brings to an end a development which began with the Gothic novel. Poe accomplishes the integration of space into all levels of the story: as picturesque, not to say melodramatic stage and as fellow actor in the spatial scene; as the sign of unalterable fate (the clock), which manifests itself in death; as the sign of the individual will to self-preservation, which shows itself in the bizarre furnishings; and as expression of the conscious, as well as of the subconscious, that “knows” of the cosmic process of becoming and passing away, yet yields its own life to this process only unwillingly.



When one compares the delineation of space and the constitution of symbol in “The House of Usher” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” common traits in the application of narrative means emerge, which in the face of different narrative premises point to a unified concept in Poe’s works. A glance at the detective stories and landscape sketches may serve to confirm this. Conspicuous is the circumscription of space, which gives it a hermetic character in that it has become devoid of references to pragmatic reality. This far-reaching renunciation of mimetic traits (in the strict sense), and the confusing confrontation of contrary symbolic phenomena, which reaches its climax in “The Masque of the Red Death,” give to the delineation of space the special mood-investment of the strange and the uncanny, the unclear and the hidden, and stimulate reflection. Being hermetic, space at the same time is available for various possibilities of expression and can be manipulated artistically. After the Gothic novel had discovered mood-invested space, Poe was — together with Hawthorne — first in recognizing its availability for expression and the resulting possibilities, especially for the foreshortened presentation in the short story. Because the short story must use its setting economically and, in contrast to the novel’s broader delineation of the world, especially reflects man’s reaction to a given situation, Poe’s own mixture of illustrative, emotional, and ideational presentation of space is not only an expression of the “unity of effect” (IX, 106) he strives for but also evidence of a mode of presentation which is in keeping with the form of the short narrative. In regard to the “objective” qualities of space, this fulfillment of the short form shows itself in the reduction of details in favor of a stylized overall impression, and this in turn rests on the arrangement of space according to a few important basic elements [column 2:] which determine the expressive qualities of the details. Directional components such as East and West above and below, outside and inside and formal elements like the circular and the angular, the straight and the twisted, the open and the closed, acquire their special meaning within the narrative context and are related in the sense of being made parallel or contrasted. These static relationships are again rendered dynamic in the “spatial” scene — that is, a type of scene in which the course of events is determined essentially by space as an active participant, and which dramatizes the relationship of man and space at the climax of the narrative. This is so not only in the tales of terror but also in the detective stories — for instance, in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” the “murder” of the two women by an orangutan is described from the perspective of the spatial realities — and in the landscape sketches for example, in “The Domain of Arnheim” the forms of the landscape, coming together and separating with changing perspectives during the trip on the river, alone impart to it their special character. In all cases it is important that, according to a given delineation and in spite of certain constants of expression, mood-investment and associative meaning of space can be varied.

In the delineation of mood-invested space, this becomes apparent in the sequential variation of focus and presentation, that is observation, mood-investment, reflection, observation, and so forth, the circle beginning at will, with observation as in “The Masque,” with mood-investment as in “The House of Usher,” or with reflection as in “The Domain of Arnheim.” Always, however, all stages are gone through. The fact that the observer becomes uncertain results, on the objective side, in the narrative spaces becoming enigmatic. Either the previously described circle of observational, emotional, and ideational presentation creates the impression of something being in process, something indissoluble as in the tales of terror — perhaps even in “Ligeia” — and thereby creates the mood quality of the uncanny, which in Poe’s works is brought about in particular by the partially hidden becoming perceptible, if not atmospherically tangible; or the circle can bring about a result as in the landscape sketches, in that the observer recognizes in nature and its details, by tracing these back to certain ideal, harmonizing, basic forms like the circle or the meandering line (as a connection of the straight and the circular line), the works of God and in these the “Almighty design” (VI, 187).

The variability and artistic manipulatability of hermetic space also applies to its contextual significance. It can be seen in the variability of the manner of relating phenomenon to meaning. In the detective stories, such as “The Purloined Letter,’’ Poe can entirely forgo symbolic significance and concentrate meaning solely in the appearance of space, its observational qualities, or, as in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” he can introduce additional mood qualities. Central in both cases, however, is the pragmatic or intuitively rational solution of an enigma. which can be fathomed only with the help of spatial details. Poe’s use of the symbol thus exhibits two characteristics: for one, the multiple variation in mode of linking meaning and phenomenon between the two poles of symbolic atmosphere and objective allegory, snaking it impossible to limit Poe to only one way of using the symbol [page 12:] (such as the allegorical); for another, the supplementary use of different modes of connection, such as the open and the closed symbol with its many variants. Through the atmospheric references of the former, the quality of the mood-invested space is attained, while the rational logical references of the latter (together with poetological comments) clarify the meaning of the spatial entity. The complementary use of both, or the integration of the closed symbol into the narrative context and thereby into the narrative course of time with its changing conditions, does not allow the abstractable meaning, in the sense perhaps of Poe’s cosmological concepts, to predominate, and thus provides that the atmospheric elements of the mood invested space are not destroyed by being transferred to the pattern of the observed space (which underlies the allegorical space arrangements). This is accomplished, as becomes especially dear in connection with the clock symbol in “The Masque,” by means of the firm establishment of even the closed objective symbol within the greater unit of the mood-invested space. At the same time, and in the sense of varying and enhancing the sequence as well as rendering it rhythmical, the tendency toward in creasing clarification of the “under or mystic current of meaning” by means of the closed symbol and poetological comments becomes apparent in the course of the narrative. For the disoriented observer in “Landor’s Cottage,” for instance, the contemplated details at first emerge only gradually into full clarity from the mood-invested space and then merge again into the “design,” the (divine) principle of order and composition which is basic to space and invests it with mood. Moreover, besides this tendency to clarify, the inclination to dissolve again the all too plain rational-logical analogies within the events becomes notice able — especially in the tales of terror — so that the balance between mood-investment and the function of associative reference remains intact.

The manipulatability of the mood-invested and symbolic hermetic space becomes further evident not only in the manifold possibilities of relating phenomenon to meaning, with which Poe experiments, but also in the quality of meaning and therefore in the determination of content. On the one hand, Poe has the Ushers’ house appear as a milieu symbol — in the early view of the narrator — and thus as a symbol for the ideas and forces of the environment that determines the inhabitants; on the other hand, he uses it as an analogical symbol which has the function of conveying insights into existence. As milieu symbol, it clarifies causal relations between house and inhabitants; as analogical symbol, it interprets the decay of personality and points to parallel developments in matter and spirit, space and man, in keeping with Poe’s cosmological ideas. For direct statements about the meaning of space and its symbolic references, the possibilities of variation have a similarly wide range. The immediate conceptual definition is at its most direct in the landscape sketches, which are aimed at illuminating the divine “design” in nature. Finally, the many ambiguities in Poe’s spatial symbolism become apparent not only in the contrasting or combining of different kinds of symbols, which articulate their meaning more or less plainly, but also in the expressional ambivalence of the individual basic forms of symbols and complexes of direction. Poe develops the same basic [column 2:] forms — the contrast of the open and the closed, the high and the deep, the linearly extended and the convoluted, and so forth — for the space full of horror as for the spatial idyll (“The Domain of Arnheim,” “Landor’s Cottage”). The rounded and (approximately) circular forms reflect the artificial, hallucinatory closedness of a prison-like space, or one marked by supernatural phenomena (“The Pit and the Pendulum,” “Ligeia”); they artistically heighten the immanent lines of nature in the sense of the divine “design,” as in “The Domain of Arnheim;” or they give symbolic expression to idyllic isolation and security, as in “Landor’s Cottage.” In the liberation of detail for purposes of expression and in the manipulatability of the symbolic qualities of space, there appear traits which clearly point beyond Poe’s time. In the reality of represented detail and the unreality of the total impression, in the combination of open and closed symbol, in the advantageous use of the expressive ambiguity of the spatial pattern, in short, in the delineation of a hermetic space and the recognition of its artistic manipulatability, there appear traits of a mode of presentation which aims at intermingling different spheres of reality — much as in such works of modern literature as Kafka’s Strafkolonie. To be sure, in Poe’s works the combination of the subjective with the objective is not yet achieved by means of a mental montage of particles of reality but rather through the atmosphere of the mood-invested space, which fuses objective reality and subjective experience in an imaginary but coherent world, into that whole which “proves to be more than the sum of its parts” (41).



* Translator’s Note: “mood-invested space” renders the original’s “gestimmter Raum.” “Gestimmt” is from the verb “stimmen,” which can mean’’to tune,” for example a musical instrument, or to put into (a certain kind of) mood,” for example a person. Here the verb is part of a coined term that runs throughout the article as a leitmotif. Professor Hoffmann discusses its meaning in the following paragraphs and its source in footnote 14, the English equivalents “mood-invested space,” “mood-invested,” and “mood-investment” for its various forms have been selected from options suggested by him. [[This note appears on page 2, at the bottom of column 1.]]



(1) F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (New York: 1941), pp. 242f.; compare also Ch. Feidelson, Jr., Symbolism and American Literature (Chicago: 1953), p. 104; on the genesis of American symbolism, see especially U. Brumm, Die religiose Typologie im amerikanischen Denken. Ihre Bedeutung fur die amerikanische Literatur- und Geistesgeschichte (Leiden: 1963).

(2) On the development of correlative thought in the eighteenth century, compare for particulars E. Wassermann, “Nature Moralized: The Divine Analogy in the Eighteenth Century,” ELH, 20 (1953), 41.

(3) Compare also Emerson’s essay about “Nature,” Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 11 vols. (Cambridge, 1883), I, 32f.

(4) From the “Preface” to the Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, quoted according to A. H. Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe. A Critical Biography (New York, 1941), p. 289.

(5) The Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Riverside Ed., 15 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1882), II, 495.

(6) On Poe’s relationship to modern literature compare among others [page 13:] H. B. Parkes, “Poe, Hawthorne, Melville: An Essay in Sociological Criticism,” Partisan Review, 16 (1949), 164f.; L. Hofrichter, “From Poe to Kafka,” Univ. of Toronto Quarterly, 29 (195960), 405-419; H. H. Kuhnelt, Die Bedeutung von Edgar Allan Poe fur die englische Literatsur (Innsbruck, 1949); H. Levin, The Power of Blackness (London, 1958), p. 126 (Faulkner); P. F. Quinn, The French Face of Edgar Allan Poe (Carbondale, 111., 1957), passim.

(7) Quotations in the following are from The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. J. A. Harrison, 17 vols. (1902; New York, rpt. 1965). Volume and page number appear in parentheses in the text.

(8) Compare for instance J. P. Roppolo, “Meaning and ‘The Masque of the Red Death,’” Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. R. Regan (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1967), p. 144: “what emerged was not, certainly, a short story; nor was it, except by the freest definition, a tale.” On the other hand, H. Galinsky in a comparison of the story with Hemingway’s “The Killers” rightly sees typical traits of the American short story in “The Masque” (“Beharrende Strukturzuge im Wandel eines Jahrhunderts amerikanischer Kurzgeschichte” [“Persisting Structural Characteristics over a Hundred Years of Change in the American Short Story,” shown as they occur in E. A. Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” and Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers”], Die Neueren Sprachen, Beiheft 3 (Frankfurt, o. J. [1957]); see for example, P. 41).

(9) R. Wilbur, “The House of Poe,” Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, p. 104. Jean-Paul Weber’s views are similar in “Edgar Poe or the Theme of the Clock,” ibid., pp. 79-97.

(10) Compare P. F. Quinn, “Four Views of Edgar Poe,” Jahrtnch fur Amerikastudien, 5 (1960), 142: “In an effort to account for what is felt as their [the stories’] overall symbolic significance, we turn back, in analysis, to individual details. And these, we usually find, are lacking in symbolic resonance.”

(11) A. Staats, Edgar Allan Poes symholistische Erzuhlkunst (Heidelberg, 1967), p. 69; compare in general pp. 62f.

(12) See F. H. Link, Edgar Allan Poe (Frankfurt/Bonn, 1968), pp. 314f.; M. Beebe, “The Universe of Roderick Usher,” Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, pp. 121-133.

(13) Compare here W. Blair, “Poe’s Conception of Incident and Tone in the Tale,” Modern Philology, 41 (1944), 228-240.

(14) The expression “gestimmter Raum” [mood-invested space] comes from E. Stroker, Philosophische Untersuchungen zum Raum (Frankfurt, 1965), who aims to lay the foundation for geometric space, but in an extensive first part investigates the “gelebten Raum” [lived space]. Characterizing this “lived space,” which she subdivides into “Aktionsraum” [space of action], “Anschanungsraum” [observed space], and “gestimmten Raum” [mood-invested space], she follows psychological investigations, above all those of K. v. Durckheim, “Untersuchungen zum gelebten Raum,” Neue Psychologische Studien (Muncher, 1932), VI, 387f.: “For the self, lived space is a medium of bodily realization, complementary form or amplification, threat or preservation; it is a setting to pass through or to remain in, an alien land or home, a material space, a place of fulfillment and opportunity for unfolding, a resistance and boundary; it is a voice and antagonist of this self in its momentary reality of being and of life” (p. 389). The following characterization of “mood-invested space,” in so far as general, not literary aspects are involved, is based on E. Stroker, pp. 22-53.

(15) The stylization of even “vivid” details by the author, directed at a “knowledge” that he wishes to convey to the reader and which contains his interpretive position, is emphasized also by K. Hamburger “Zum Strukturproblem der epischen und dramatischen Dichtung,” DVJ, 25 (1951), 20f.

(16) Compare V. Buranelli, Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1961), pp. 46f.; Link, Edgar Allan Poe, pp. 44f.

(17) The most important characteristics of Poe’s buildings in regard to size, situation, age, and decay, and of interior space in respect to its shapes, furnishings, and light effects, have been compiled in a kind of catalog by M. Kane in “Edgar Allan Poe and Architecture,” Sewanee Review, 40 (1932), 149-160; in the context of his interpretation of Poe’s stories, R. Wilbur, “The House of Poe,” sees the same examples as dream allegories. For example, “cellars or catacombs, whenever they appear, . . . . [in Wilbur’s view [column 2:] stand] for the irrational part of the mind” (p. 117).

(18) On the concept of the symbol, compare among others the survey and ample bibliographic references in E. Frenzel’s Stoff-, Motiv- und Symbolforschung (Stuttgart, 1963); see also W. Y. Tindall, The Literary Symbol (New York, 1955); and Feidelson, Symbolism; on the symbol in narrative literature, see especially H. Levin, Symbolism and Fiction (Charlottesville, Virginia, 1956), and U. Brumm, “Symbolism and the Novel,” Partisan Review, 25 (1958), 329-342.

(19) Tindall, Literary Symbol, p. 10.

(20) For the special conditions in the short story and the novel, those investigations of the symbol that have proven fruitful seek to differentiate between different kinds, taking into consideration the degree and the kind of relation to reality of the symbolic object, as well as its functional character in the narrative work. In this connection, the already mentioned investigations by Tindall, Levin and Brumm must be emphasized above all. Tindall distinguishes between “sign” and “symbol” and defines the latter in regard to form as “analogical embodiment” and in regard to content as “a complex of feeling and thought” (Literary Symbol, pp. 12f.). While including the sign, Levin distinguishes, on the basis of the “clarity” of the meaning, four “descending levels of acceptance,” which extend from the “conventional level” ( the Eagle as stare symbol), the “explicit level” (Hawthorne’s “scarlet letter”), and the “implicit level” to the fourth “conjectural level” (Symbolism and Fiction, pp. 39f.). Brumm’s starting point seems the most fruitful; according to the kind of connection between phenomenon and significance, she differentiates between two main kinds of symbols and designates them as (1) “cause-linked ‘realistic’ symbol” and (2) “transcendent or magic symbol” (p. 337). As the designations indicate, the ‘realistic’ symbol is distinguished by being firmly rooted in reality (p. 333), as well as by its rendering visible the “hidden causes” for real situations and phenomena (p. 334). The “transcendent symbol,” on the other hand, stresses the referential character of the object, which represents “a transcendent embodiment of the intended meaning” (p. 334). The above differentiation of milieu symbol and analogical symbol continues this distinction on the basis of content.

(21) The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1948), I, 161.

(22) The judgment by critics ranges from Quinn’s deprecatory remark — “. . . a poem which serves small purpose” (The French Face of Edgar Poe, p. 259) — to Wilbur’s identification of the house of Usher with the haunted palace and likening these to Roderick’s “mind,” finding in the ballad in addition “a possible key to the general meaning of Poe’s architecture” (“The House of Poe,” p. 107).

(23) It is significant that opinions about the particulars of the house’s symbolic significance diverge widely For example, Buranelli sees Roderick and Madeline Usher as “two faculties of the same soul . . of which their mansion is the body’’ (Edgar Allan Poe, p. 77); for E. H. Davidson, on the other hand, the house is “the total human being, its three parts functioning as one” (Poe: A Critical Study [Cambridge, Mass., 1957], p. 196). D. Abel finds in the house “the qualities . . . of Life-Reason, corrupted and threatened by Death-Madness (“A Key to the House of Usher,” Univ. of Toronto Quarterly, 18 [1948-49], 180), and E. A Robinson speaks of the “cosmic tendencies” and the “cyclic laws in the universe,” which also become evident in the house (“Order and Sentience in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’” PMLA, 76 [1961], 79). Feidelson calls the house “a symbol of the end of rational order” (Symbolism, p. 35) L. Spitzer stresses the “poetic expression of sociological-deterministic ideals which were in the air in 1839” (“A Reinterpretation of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’” Comparative Literature, 4 [1952], 360). Weber goes so far as to say that “the House of Usher clearly represents the clock,” the inhabitants are the “hands that ‘dwell’ in it and are wholly governed by its mechanism” (“Edgar Poe,” p. 87), and Wilbur, who sees in the story a dream of the narrator which leads him into the “Tiefen des eigenen Selbst” [depths of his own self], comes to this conclusion: “Since Roderick is the embodiment of a state of mind in which falling — falling asleep — is imminent, it is appropriate that the building which symbolizes his mind should promise at every moment to fall” (“The House of Poe,” p. 109). [page 14:]

(24) These rather subtle analogies have often caused confusion. Either they are ignored by critics, or they are merely enumerated without commentary as examples of Poe’s mode of composition (M. Beebe, “The Fall of the House of Pyncheon,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 11 [1956-57], 5; Abel, “A Key,” p. 183; Robinson, “Order,” p. 80) or they are roundly rejected (J. O. Bailey “What Happens in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher?’ “ American Literature, 35 [1963-64], 455f.). Only Spitzer attempts to establish in general terms a connection between the picture and the subterranean vaults of the House of Usher. How altogether contradictory the interpretations are also becomes evident in the attempts to interpret the painting, in which “anticipation of death and nakedness of design converge” (Spitzer, “Reinterpretation,” p. 355), or which represents an “impromptu expression of the evil which has mastered his sensibility” (Abel, “A Key,” p. 180), or which finally gives concrete form to a sort of conjuration: “a charm against the actual dark vault, which he hoped to purge with saintly light before laying Madeline’s body there” (Bailey “What Happens?” pp. 455f.). The attempts at interpretation become conspicuously all the more absurd the more precisely they seek to ascertain logical meaning — confirmation of the atmospheric, not logical mode of forming analogies in Poe’s tales of terror.

(25) Spitzer, “Reinterpretation,” p. 356. Compare also Robinson, “Order,” p. 78.

(26) Bailey, “What Happens?” p. 461.

(27) Abel, “A Key,” p. 184.

(28) Eureka, Complete Works, XVI, 314.

(29) Compare also Robinson, “Order,” p. 81.

(30) On the “Prinzip des Gegensatzes” [principle of contrast] in style and structure see the interesting interpretation by Galinsky, “Strukturzuge,” pp. 21). On the contrasting of “tone” from the beginning to the end compare Blair, “Poe’s Conception,” p. 238, as well as Poe’s remarks on the “effect of contrast” and the “force of contrast” in “The Philosophy of Composition,” Complete Works, XIV, 205.

(31) On Poe’s preference for the expressive colors black, white, red, compare W. O. Clough, “The Use of Color Words by Edgar Allan Poe,” PMLA, 45 (1930), 598-613. See also Galinsky, “Strukturzuge,” p. 14. Here, too, the technique of repetition and variation becomes apparent: “The redness and the horror of blood” are mentioned initially as the .-nark of the Red Death; at the end, the “halls of . . . revel” are “blood-bedewed.” “Scarlet” as the hue of the windows has its counterpart in the signs of pestilential death at the beginning (p. 250) and in the “scarlet horror” on the face of the figure at the end (p. 256). That the vocabulary here is assigned a special role in integrating space is evident also in the use of the word “shroud” for the wall covering and later for the garments of the Red Death.

(32) On rendering language rhythmical, compare Galinsky, “Strukturzuge,” pp. 11ff.

(33) Eureka, Complete Works, XVI, 208, 213f.

(34) W. Kayser, Das Groteske. Seine Gestaltung in Malerei und Dichtung (Oldenburg/Hamburg, 1957), p. 84.

(35) On the interpretation of the title, compare especially A. H. Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe, p. 289, and Levin, The Power of Blackness, p. 108.

(36) F. Durrenmatt, Theaserprohleme (Zurich, 1955), p. 48: “. . . the grotesque is only a sensual expression, a sensual paradox, the shape of a misshapen being. . . .”

(37) On the demarcation of the phantasmic from the grotesque, compare also G. Mensching, Das Groteske im Drama, Diss., (Bad Godesberg, 1961), pp. 36f.

(38) Kayser, Das Groteske, p. 84. Even though Kayser’s formulations here are somewhat vague, his assertion, too summary for the story as a whole, does fit the expressive movements of the figures because grotesque tendencies to distort form as well as content become apparent here. By linking these, A. Heidsick (Das Groseske und das Absurde im modernen Drama [Stuttgart, 1969]) has recently sought — in contrast to Mensching (Das Groteske) — to distinguish the grotesque as a realistic formative principle from the absurd.

(39) On this, see also some suggestions in J. P. Roppolo, “Meaning,” pp. 143f.

(40) Eureka, Complete Works, XVI, 314.

(41) Quinn, “Four Views of Edgar Poe,” p. 142


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