The Cask of Amontillado

Another famed story that I’m not keen on. It’s really just a very sadistic murder told from the point of view of the murderer. So why is it so celebrated?

My assumption is simply that it’s the nature of the murder that is what fascinates – Fortunato is buried alive in a wall in a ruined crypt in an ancient (and unnamed) Italian city around the time of carnival. This was well known as a medieval punishment; Countess Erzebet Bathory was walled up in her rooms of Castle Cactice after being found guilty of the murders of numerous local girls. In fact, it was a common belief that the local gods, elves, sprites and fairies required a blood sacrifice to promote the success of a new building and dogs or cats were frequently dumped into the foundations for this reason.

It’s just that if it’s read alongside The Tell Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher, it strikes me that there is a progression in the burial theme here. In the first story, the victim may well be dead when the killer smothers him, but he is certainly deceased by the time he is dismembered and buried under the floorboards. In the second story, Madeline Usher is alive when she is entombed but dies soon after, killing her brother when she reappears. And in the third story, Fortunato is very much alive when he is bricked up in his niche. Being buried alive was something that terrified Poe, and consequently is a theme which appears frequently in his stories. I wonder if this was his way of trying to face down his fears, by being the person doing the burying rather than the person being buried.

It’s not a great story, if I’m honest. There are mistakes that even I spotted (and I’m not much of a drinker these days) which always irritates me. In the context of the other two stories that I have read recently, it did prove of interest though.


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