Monday, June 13, 2016
Poe's ghastly Cask of Amontillado and how it deceives us
Read a couple of short stories following the lead of blogger Charles May and his postings for Short Story Month (last month), including E A Poe's A Cask of Amontillado, which I'd read many years ago - an early 19th-century American story, touching on the horror genre, not the most sophisticated story you'll ever read but strangely compelling nevertheless. The (unnamed?) narrator begins by nothing that a man named Fortunato has insulted him - we never learn of the nature of magnitude of this insult - and the narrator plots his revenge. He's particularly diabolical in that he makes it a case in point to befriend Fortunato to the ultimate, to flatter him, so as to take him unawares - but he also wants Fortunate to know he's exacting revenge, so no sudden assassination of poisoning. So he plays up to F's vanity - tells him he's purchased an expensive vintage of the eponymous Amontillado (the annotations in the edition I read show that Poe really was not a wine connoisseur) and he wants F to taste to to ascertain its excellence (he lures F by stressing that he could also ask some other buy, Luchresi, which just spurs F's desire to prove he has the most sophisticated wine pallette. In short, he brings F into his basement crypt - lots of skeletons of ancestors stacked against the walls, and Poe describes the dank, humid, rotting atmosphere in the crypt - leads him to a dark cul-de-sac where he snaps F into chains and slowly and methodically builds a new wall of brick and mortar, sealing F into a tomb to die. What's especially perverse about this confessional story is that whether we want to or not we identify with the narrator - even though we know nothing about the so-called insult and even though we know his reaction is criminally perverse in fact deranged - esp because Fortunato is such a egoist and so easily flattered, a guy who probably deserves an evil fate though probably not this one.