If you’re thinking about doing some gothic/horror reading this month, you can’t go wrong by going with Edgar Allan Poe, rightly one of the best-known writers in the genre. Although there was a good deal of gothic fiction before Poe began writing in the mid-nineteenth century, he solidified the genre by bringing immense literary talent, imagination, and innovation to it.
Prior to Poe, Enlightenment-era gothic fiction dealt largely with perverse villains, vulnerable maidens, ornate prose and dialogue, and gloomy atmosphere; preternatural events did occur but were not a prominent element of the genre. Poe changed all that by writing regularly of unnatural events while presenting more-realistic (though certainly not ordinary or mundane) characters and stressing a sort of cosmic or supernatural justice in which perversity and evil bring disaster (as is particularly evident in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”).
Poe’s understanding of the human mind was deep and scientifically sound, and he brought to his fiction a sophisticated and correct understanding of structure and literary tone. He devoted great skill and dedication in his use of literary devices, writing to achieve specific effects and consciously work themes and ideas into his stories rather than merely trying to spark sensations in the reader. He was one of the most sophisticated and skilled writers ever to work in the modern popular genres.
Although Poe certainly did not invent gothic fiction (whereas he did start the detective story and science fiction genres), he created the modern form of gothic fiction and set the pattern for the short horror story (a form in which contemporary Nathaniel Hawthorne) would likewise excel. Even more important for our present purposes, Poe wrote terrifically entertaining stories in genres ranging from detective fiction and adventure stories to science fiction and horror. Fortunately, all of Poe’s short stories are now available in a professionally formatted and proofread Kindle edition from The Mysterious Press, for only $.99.
I bought a trade paperback copy of The Complete Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe shortly after graduating college and considered it a bargain—at $8 or $10 dollars prior to the price inflation of the 2000s. To be able to obtain it for only $.99 is a very fine miracle of modern technology. You should take advantage of it. (Kindle books can be read on computers, phones, and tablets in addition to the Kindle e-reader.)
The Complete Short Stories, Edgar Allen Poe: Highly recommended.