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Edgar Allan Poe Short Stories

Howard is an avid short story reader who likes to help others find and understand stories.

Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his poems and short stories. His works are often categorized as gothic or horror.

His short stories remain widely-read and enjoyed by many. This page lists many of Poe's stories, famous as well as lesser-known.

There's good news if you're interested in a collection. I love being able to get a comprehensive volume of an author's work, and that's what's available in The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.

I hope you find a new favorite here.

edgar-allan-poe-short-stories

What is Poe's Most Famous Story?

There are a few candidates for Poe's most famous story, all of which are listed on this page. Some of the possibilities include:

  • "The Cask of Amontillado"
  • "The Fall of the House of Usher"
  • "The Masque of the Red Death"
  • "The Pit and the Pendulum"
  • "The Tell-Tale Heart"

These are probably Poe's most widely anthologized and read short stories. They're also often parodied, alluded to, or referenced in other media.

Here are the stories mentioned above, and many others, with a short teaser so you can get a sense of them.

"The Assignation"

The narrator recounts a gloomy night he was returning home. He was in a gondola on the Grand Canal. It's silent and deserted. He's startled by a hysterical shriek. A child had slipped out of its mother's arms and fallen into the canal. The mother is the Marchesa Aphrodite, a woman adored in Venice. Many potential rescuers jump in looking for the child. The child's father, Mentoni, is also in view. He's playing his guitar and doesn't seem worried.

"Berenice"

The narrator, Egaeus, lives in a mansion and is from a prominent family. He grew up with his cousin, Berenice. They're going to be married soon. Egaeus is melancholy and tends to obsess over things. Berenice is full of energy. One day, she is struck by a disease, which changes her character.

"The Black Cat"

The narrator is to be executed. He wants to tell his story but doesn't expect to be believed—he hardly believes it himself. He has always been a mild and tender person, and fond of animals. When he married, his wife filled their home with all variety of pets. A cat, Pluto, became his favorite. Eventually, the narrator's drinking causes a change in his demeanor. He starts mistreating his wife and his pets.

I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.

— The Black Cat

"The Cask of Amontillado"

Montressor vows revenge against Fortunato over an insult, despite overlooking many injuries. He's careful to give no sign of his intentions. Knowing Fortunato's pride in his knowledge of wine—and his fondness for drinking—Montressor devises a plot. He mentions a concern over the quality of some wine he has purchased. Fortunato insists on checking it out.

"The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion"

Eiros dies in an apocalypse that has ended life on Earth. He's finds himself somewhere else, talking to Charmion, who died ten years ago. Cut off from the details of his previous life, Charmion asks about the circumstances around Earth's demise.

"A Descent Into the Maelstrom"

Two men rest in a crag during a mountain climb. The older man tells the story of what happened to him three years ago. It was six hours of terror, which aged and weakened him terribly. He was on a fishing expedition with his two brothers. Their boat was caught in a hurricane.

"Eleonora"

The narrator lived in the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass with his aunt and cousin, Eleonora. It was an isolated place, and no strangers ever visited. He and Berenice fell in love after fifteen years together.

"The Fall of the House of Usher"

The narrator recounts the autumn day he visited the House of Usher. The master of the house and his friend, Roderick, had written, asking him to come. Roderick is suffering from a strange illness, as is his sister, who lives there with him. The narrator finds the house insufferably gloomy. It's been many years since he's seen his old friend, and he's shocked by what he sees.

We sat down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher!

— The Fall of the House of Usher

"The Gold-Bug"

The narrator visits his friend, William Legrand, on Sullivan Island. He lives there with his servant, Jupiter. Legrand used to be wealthy, but has fallen on hard times. The narrator finds his old friend enthusiastic over the discoveries of a new mollusk and a new bug. The bug in particular is striking. Legrand left it with an acquaintance, so he sketches the bug for his friend. Legrand becomes fixated on the paper.

"Hop-Frog"

The king loves jokes and surrounds himself with accomplished joke tellers. He particularly loves practical jokes. For this, he has his "fool", Hop-Frog, who's also a dwarf and has difficulty walking. The king finds him very amusing. Hop-Frog is mistreated but he bears it well. When the king decides to throw a masquerade party, he seeks Hop-Frog's advice.

"Ligeia"

The narrator reminisces about his departed wife, Ligeia. There are significant gaps in his memory. She had a strange beauty. She was also unusually knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects. After a while, she fell ill.

"Loss of Breath"

On the morning after his wedding, a man severely berates his wife. During a pause in his rant, he loses his breath, and not figuratively. He hides the condition from his wife and takes his leave. The man is confounded and spends his time working on the problem.

Imagine—that is if you have a fanciful turn—imagine, I say, my wonder—my consternation—my despair!

— Loss of Breath

"The Light-House"

The narrator has secured a post at a light-house. He starts a diary. He's glad to be there by himself. His only company is a dog, Neptune. He's going to use his solitude to work on a book.

This is probably the last piece that Poe wrote, and is considered to be unfinished. I still like it as it is.

"The Man of the Crowd"

The narrator sits at a coffee house in London. His strength is returning after months of poor health. He's enjoying his resurgence. He becomes absorbed in the scene around him, eventually focusing on the people. He starts categorizing the passersby. His attention eventually settles on an old man.

"The Man That Was Used Up"

The narrator reminisces about General John Smith. He was a remarkable man with a commanding presence, wonderfully proportioned with striking black hair. He was known as a great speaker and would talk of his courageous exploits and technological advancement. The narrator noticed something about the way the general moved.

. . . I left General Smith with a heightened interest in the man, with an exalted opinion of his conversational powers, and a deep sense of the valuable privileges we enjoy in living in this age of mechanical invention. My curiosity, however, had not been altogether satisfied . . .

— The Man That Was Used Up

"The Masque of the Red Death"

A fatal plague is devastating the country. It kills swiftly and painfully. Prince Prospero and a thousand nobles sequester themselves in an abbey to wait it out. They're stocked with provisions and the doors are welded shut. As a diversion, the Prince holds a masquerade party.

"Metzengerstein"

The Berlifitzing and Metzengerstein families have a centuries old rivalry. They share a border and exert opposing influences in the government. Frederick Metzengerstein becomes the family patriarch at age eighteen. His first four days in this new position are filled with debauchery, treachery, and atrocities. On the fourth night, the Berlifitzing stables are burned down.

"The Murders in the Rue Morgue"

During a visit to Paris, the narrator lives with Monsieur Dupin, a man of reading and imagination. He proves to have excellent analytical abilities. They have no visitors. They read, write and talk to each other. They go out to walk only at night. One evening, they read the report of a double murder. There were shrieks from inside a house. It was badly disheveled, and the door was locked from the inside. Dupin offers his assistance.

"The Oval Portrait"

The narrator takes refuge in an abandoned mansion. It's richly decorated, including a great number of paintings. He finds a book cataloguing the paintings. He reads and studies the paintings for hours. His attention eventually settles on the painting of a young woman.

"The Pit and the Pendulum"

The narrator is condemned to die. He loses consciousness. He wakes up on his back in the dark. He tries to explore the surroundings, but it's confusing. He falls at one point and finds a drop just in front of him—there's a pit in the middle of the cell. Further time in the cell reveals more and more terrors to the helpless man.

The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. I struggled for breath. The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me.

— The Pit and the Pendulum

"The Premature Burial"

The narrator's greatest fear is to be buried alive. He's aware of many cases where it happened. The narrator's overwhelming fear is warranted—he is subject to fits of catalepsy. He can be motionless and senseless for days or even weeks at a time. He takes every precaution possible to ensure he won't be buried prematurely.

"The Purloined Letter"

The narrator is enjoying a quiet evening with his friend Dupin, a man with exceptional analytical powers. They receive a visit from the Prefect of the Parisian police. He wants to ask Dupin's opinion on an odd case. A letter with sensitive information has been stolen from the royal apartments. The thief is known. His place has been searched unsuccessfully. Dupin wants a detailed description of the letter.

"The Tell-Tale Heart"

The narrator is dreadfully nervous but not crazy. He became obsessed with the thought of killing an old man, probably because of the man's eye, which he found very unsettling. He proceeded with his plan with caution and foresight. For seven nights he takes great pains to observe the man while he sleeps. The man's eye is always closed, so he can't proceed. On the eighth night, the old man wakes up.

Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire.

— The Tell-Tale Heart

"William Wilson"

The narrator, who calls himself William Wilson, explains how he went bad, from trivial to true wickedness. He describes the school he attended as a boy. His forceful disposition made him rise above his peers. There was one exception, though. A scholarly boy opposes William in his studies and in the playground. To make it more unsettling, this boy has the exact same name as the narrator, was born on the same day, and resembles him strongly.

What Was Poe's Theory of the Short Story?

Poe had three main standards for a work of fiction:

  • It should be short enough to read in a single sitting.
  • It should be planned, not written spontaneously.
  • It should have a "unity of effect", an overriding emotional effect, which every element in the work should contribute to.

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