Edgar Allan Poe

The Gothic/Industrial movement is about transforming death, decay, anger, and sadness into things of beauty— and nobody has ever done that as well as Edgar Allan Poe. While Poe is credited with writing the first detective story (The Gold-Bug) and is considered by many the first English short-story writer, he is best remembered for his moody, evocative horror fiction.

It is almost impossible to overstate Poe's influence. Only H.P. Lovecraft has had a comparable influence on modern horror fiction. Poe-tic touches can be found throughout the Hammer oeuvre, even in those films which weren't directly based on Poe's work. Among the French symbolists and decadents, Poe was thought to be the greatest writer in the English language; he's certainly one of the few authors popular both with academics and with their students.

Industrial culture is fascinated with madness, crime, and murder... a fascination which can be traced back to Poe. In Poe's stories, we find a whole host of crooks, creeps, and psychopaths. One protagonist tears out his girlfriend's teeth after she's buried alive. Another walls up his dead wife and still another chops up his mentor and hides his body beneath the floorboards. Many Industrial artists affect ironic poses and drop the names of serial killers for shock value; Poe got into the skin of his madmen and presented us with their tortured inner world.

T.S. Eliot's line on John Webster applies equally well to Poe: he saw the skull beneath the skin. An aura of mortality, futility and hopelessness pervades Poe's work. In the great stories The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, it becomes a major part of the action. Despite the efforts of Frederick Usher or the Prince and his court to avoid the inevitable, death comes to them and their line. Poe, like today's Goths, realized all too clearly that in the end "darkness and decay and the Red Death held inimitable dominion over all."

The Gothic aesthetic is largely drawn from Poe's work. The Goth who dyes her hair black, paints her eyes to make them appear sunken and applies white face makeup is reaffirming Poe's long obsession with dark, slender, tubercular women. Nobody before or since Poe has joined eros and thanatos so strongly; his vision of love amidst the gravestones has resonated for over 150 years. Had there never been a Ligeia or an Annabel Lee, there might never have been a Theda Bara.

Recommended Reading:

Commentary by Kevin Filan, Monday, June 1, 1998.