Published by Godey's Lady's Book on November 1846
Source: On shelves
Genres: Horror, Short Story
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"The Cask of Amontillado" is set in an unnamed Italian city at carnival time in an unspecified year, and is about a man, Montresor, taking fatal revenge on Fortunato, a friend who, he believes, has insulted him. Like several of Poe's stories, and in keeping with the 19th-century fascination with the subject, the narrative revolves around a person being buried alive—in this case, by immurement.
I don’t read much horror, but Michelle is hosting read-alongs of three of Poe’s short stories at Castle Macabre this month and they fit in so well with RIP X that I decided to join her on a couple. My daughter is a huge Poe fan, so I borrowed her paperback copy of Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe.
I wasn’t sure about reading The Cask of Amontillado. Being buried alive is one of my fears, silly I know but that’s beside the point. I may have read too many stories like Poe’s when I was younger, but the victim here is bricked into a wall, which is somehow different.
I don’t want to tell too much about the story, it’s only 9 pages long and you really should just take the few minutes and read it. A couple of things really stuck me, though. First is, as always, how much good short story writers can cram into those pages, how every word, every phrase, every description has to count.
Second, part of the horror in this novel, aside from the going deep underground in a damp vault filled with bones, is we don’t know what Fortunato did to provoke Montresor’s anger. Montresor is the story’s narrator, but we are only told that he is angry over a thousand injuries and a final insult. Even in the end, as he’s using stone and mortar to shut Fortunato in, he mocks him, taunts him, but never does the traditional explanation of why he’s doing it. We get a hint: “You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was,” but we can’t tell if the insults actually happened or if Montresor imagine them.
The other thing that stood out were the contrasts. There is Carnival, joyful, colorful, a day of freedom, which contrasts with the dark, damp trip underground to the vault and eventual, for Fortunato, confinement. Beyond that, even more noticeable are the differences between Montresor and Fortunato. Montresor is dressed in black, crazy, determined, serious. Fortunato is dressed as a court jester in a multi-colored outfit with bells on his hat, he’s drunk and hoping to the end that it is all a joke of some kind. We know the story is going to have a horrific ending, but there are times when you hope Montresor will back out of his plans.
Poe can be a bit difficult to read with a slightly old-fashioned vocabulary and sentence structure, but definitely worth reading. Next week is “The Fall of the House of Usher” and I’m hoping to read “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” this fall too.