The Fall of the House of Usher


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Produced by Levent Kurnaz and Jose Menendez

The Fall of the House of Usher

Son coeur est un luth suspendu; Sitot qu'on le touche il resonne. DE BERANGER.

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in theautumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in theheavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through asingularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself,as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of themelancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was--but, with thefirst glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloompervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling wasunrelieved by any of that half-pleasureable, because poetic,sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternestnatural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon thescene before me--upon the mere house, and the simple landscapefeatures of the domain--upon the bleak walls--upon the vacanteye-like windows--upon a few rank sedges--and upon a few whitetrunks of decayed trees--with an utter depression of soul which Ican compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to theafter-dream of the reveller upon opium--the bitter lapse intoeveryday life--the hideous dropping off of the veil. There wasan iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart--an unredeemeddreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination couldtorture into aught of the sublime. What was it--I paused tothink--what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation ofthe House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could Igrapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as Ipondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactoryconclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinationsof very simple natural objects which have the power of thusaffecting us, still the analysis of this power lies amongconsiderations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected,that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of thescene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient tomodify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowfulimpression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horseto the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay inunruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down--but with ashudder even more thrilling than before--upon the remodelled andinverted images of the grey sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems,and the vacant and eye-like windows.

Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed tomyself a sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher,had been one of my boon companions in boyhood; but many years hadelapsed since our last meeting. A letter, however, had latelyreached me in a distant part of the country--a letter fromhim--which, in its wildly importunate nature, had admitted of noother than a personal reply. The MS gave evidence of nervousagitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily illness--of a mentaldisorder which oppressed him--and of an earnest desire to see me,as his best, and indeed his only personal friend, with a view ofattempting, by the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviationof his malady. It was the manner in which all this, and muchmore, was said--it was the apparent heart that went with hisrequest--which allowed me no room for hesitation; and Iaccordingly obeyed forthwith what I still considered a verysingular summons.

Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yetI really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been alwaysexcessive and habitual. I was aware, however, that his veryancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiarsensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages,in many works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, inrepeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well asin a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even morethan to the orthodox and easily recognisable beauties of musicalscience. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that thestem of the Usher race, all time-honoured as it was, had putforth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, thatthe entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and hadalways, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain.It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over inthought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises withthe accredited character of the people, and while speculatingupon the possible influence which the one, in the longlapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other--it wasthis deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequentundeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony withthe name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to mergethe original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocalappellation of the "House of Usher"--an appellation which seemedto include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both thefamily and the family mansion.

I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childishexperiment--that of looking down within the tarn--had been todeepen the first singular impression. There can be no doubt thatthe consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition--forwhy should I not so term it?--served mainly to accelerate theincrease itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical lawof all sentiments having terror as a basis. And it might havebeen for this reason only, that, when I again uplifted my eyes tothe house itself, from its image in the pool, there grew in mymind a strange fancy--a fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I butmention it to show the vivid force of the sensations whichoppressed me. I had so worked upon my imagination as really tobelieve that about the whole mansion and domain there hung anatmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity--anatmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, butwhich had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the grey wall,and the silent tarn--a pestilent and mystic vapour, dull,sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.

Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream,I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Itsprincipal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity.The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungioverspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-workfrom the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinarydilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and thereappeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfectadaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of theindividual stones. In this there was much that reminded me ofthe specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for longyears in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from thebreath of the external air. Beyond this indication ofextensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token ofinstability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer mighthave discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extendingfrom the roof of the building in front, made its way down thewall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullenwaters of the tarn.

Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to thehouse. A servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered theGothic archway of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thenceconducted me, in silence, through many dark and intricatepassages in my progress to the studio of his master. Muchthat I encountered on the way contributed, I know not how, toheighten the vague sentiments of which I have already spoken.While the objects around me--while the carvings of the ceilings,the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of thefloors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled asI strode, were but matters to which, or to such as which, I hadbeen accustomed from my infancy--while I hesitated not toacknowledge how familiar was all this--I still wondered to findhow unfamiliar were the fancies which ordinary images werestirring up. On one of the staircases, I met the physician ofthe family. His countenance, I thought, wore a mingledexpression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me withtrepidation and passed on. The valet now threw open a door andushered me into the presence of his master.

The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty.The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast adistance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessiblefrom within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their waythrough the trellised panes, and served to render sufficientlydistinct the more prominent objects around; the eye, however,struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, orthe recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperieshung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse,comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musicalinstruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitalityto the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow.An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over andpervaded all.

Upon my entrance, Usher rose from a sofa on which he hadbeen lying at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmthwhich had much in it, I at first thought, of an overdonecordiality--of the constrained effort of the ennuye man ofthe world. A glance, however, at his countenance, convinced meof his perfect sincerity. We sat down; and for some moments,while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling