Saturday, October 8, 2016

#Poe Read-Along - The Mask of the Red Death #witchseasoncm

Yesterday was the anniversary of Poe's death.
On September 27, Poe left Richmond for New York. He went to Philadelphia and stayed with a friend named James P. Moss. On September 30, he meant to go to New York but supposedly took the wrong train to Baltimore. On October 3, Poe was found at Gunner's Hall, a public house at 44 East Lombard Street, and was taken to the hospital. He lapsed in and out of consciousness but was never able to explain exactly what happened to him. Edgar Allan Poe died in the hospital on Sunday, October 7, 1849. (

I was first curious abou the spelling of the title of this story, as I was seeing it spelled online as "Masque" of the Red Death. However, in my unabridged anthology (published by Running Press in 1983), the title is The Mask of the Red Death. I believe it is a play on words on Poe's part. At the beginning of the story, he says, "The scarlet stains...especially on the face of the victim, were the best ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-man." There is a kind of scarlet "mask" that is a dead giveaway of someone with the disease. But then, Prince Prospero also holds a masquerade (masque) within his seclusion. I feel that was Poe's intent...for mask to represent both.

I'll admit to this being one of Poe's stories that was pretty deep so I did some analysis reading about it online. The first thing I read was the symbolism of the seven rooms of seven different colors representing the stages of life, the black room with the scarlet windows representing death. It makes sense and is quite clever, especially when the Red Death makes its appearance, walking from room to room, blue room all the way to finally black. When Prospero and his revelers follow, it is like they are going through life, and then they finally reach death at the hands of the disease.

There has been much analysis of Poe's works and this one is no different. They really dig in deep with the symbolism. For instance, the line "a thief in the night" is from the Bible and many scholars align the Red Death as the apocalyptic Jesus figure and the castle with Prospero and his revelers represents the world. And so, the Red Death brings about the end of the world. Interesting idea.

My final take is that these wealthy people seal themselves away to escape the Red Death, only to succumb to it in the end anyway. The can't escape what's inevitable, or what proves to be a virulent disease. I'm quite sure I remember reading about households during the Black Death that sealed themselves off from the rest of the city/town, but ended up contracting and dying from the disease anyway.

A great story, in my opinion, but not overly scary. What did you think about what I discussed above and/or did you like the story?

On a side note, and I'm sure I mentioned this last year, but I'm a huge Vincent Price fan. Price starred in a bunch of films based on Poe's works. This one was no exception.

The Masque of the Red Death/1964
A European prince terrorizes the local peasantry while using his castle as a refuge against the "Red Death" plague that stalks the land.

I'm not sure if I have seen this one or not. If I have, I don't remember it. You can watch it on Amazon Prime for $2.99, or here's the full movie from YouTube. Fun!

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  1. You know, I own that edition and I never noticed that different spelling. I grabbed it off the shelf just to make sure and, yep, there it is: mask. As a kid I thought "masque" was just an old-timey way of spelling "mask." I have more on my history with the story and some observations here:

  2. This was a very symbolic read. I enjoyed looking up and reading about the happenings
    occuring at that time period in Poe's life.
    Carol Smith

  3. "Masque of the Red Death" is one of my favourites by Poe! It actually has kind of creeped me out since I put in the light of real life epidemics such as ebola of today and the fears that grow out of them, including the paranoia it creates in some. That's neat the way you interpret the story as a life cycle journey that culminates in death. I never thought of it that way before, though I've always known Poe's stories to be heavy with symbolism as with the other Romantic writers' works. And I've seen the Vincent Price film and it is phantastic!

  4. I liked your analysis of the story, Michelle!

    I missed the Discussion Post, but I FINALLY got my review up today:

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