“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”~Edgar Allan Poe
Every year during the fall months, usually around Halloween. I begin teaching my students about the American Romantics. Romantics, however, are not romance writers. Romanticism was a challenge to neo-classicism. They explored mythology, folklore, nature, the exotic, faith, mysticism, gothic, and the dark side of human nature. While some have stories about love, these are not the lovey-dovey, "Oh, Edward" tales you see on the shelves at your local book store. Oh, no, no, no...These stories deal with the macbre, the gothic, and...the...well, a little gore. It's my favorite unit of the year!!! Why? Three authors-Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. They are my favorite American Romantic writers.
Of the three, Edgar Allan Poe is my favorite. One of the reason's I love the work of Poe is his use of the unreliable narrator. You are never really quite sure what to make of his "mad" characters, who will try their best to convince you (and themselves) that they are not mad. Hawthorne takes the reader on journeys that resemble dreams and delve into the darkness of the human heart and psyche. Irving's stories are the type of stories that will make you laugh or send a shiver down your spine on a warm night. Interested?
Here are ten of my favorite Romantic short stories to teach, in no particular order:
"The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe. A man pays an autumn visit to a friend who may or may not have been driven to the brink of madness in an ancestral house where he lives with a sister who has bizarre illness. Tale of the psychological effects of isolation.
"The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe. Let's party like half the country is not dying from a mysterious ailment called the red death. The Prince Prospero believes he has protected his himself and his friends, but has he?
"The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe. Take one part alcoholic narrator, one part pet black cat, and a rope, and you have the makings of a tale of murder and mayhem.
"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe. Once again, crazy narrator who commits murder because of his disdain for his bosses weird eye. Tale of conscience and what it will do to the mind.
"The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe. Yet another, unstable narrator who exacts revenge upon an unsuspecting man who he feels has wronged the narrator's family.
"Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Did he or didn't he take that trip? It's a question you will still ask long after you have finished the story.
"The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. What is beauty? Should we sacrifice our natural selves to become that which the world or even our loved one's think we should?
"The Minister's Black Veil" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The town minister appears wearing a black veil upon his face. What secrets are hidden behind that veil?
"The Specter Bridegroom" by Washington Irving. The family is preparing for the wedding, but is the groom the real thing? Is he even real?
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving. The story of Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow.