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Artifacts and Fiction - Workshop in American Literature
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Discipline Tutorial: Domestic Architecture
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serial: #3111
James William Carling, THE RAVEN (ca. 1882) courtesy of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond, Virginia.

The nineteenth-century American preoccupation with "the gothic" offered an alternative vision of domestic life to the cleanliness and purity stressed by the "Cult of Domesticity." This drawing of the room described in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrates the mystery, torment, and fear that is the hallmark of gothic literature. Although James Carling created this drawing in 1882, nearly forty years after Poe penned his famous poem, it captures the gloomy, terrifying atmosphere of the study where the speaker of "The Raven" is reading when he is first accosted by the ominous bird. The odd lighting, foreboding shadows, and menacing weaponry in the illustration all contribute to a feeling of dread and possible impending violence.

From the dark study of "The Raven," to the dank cellar of "The Cask of Amontillado," to the seemingly haunted house of "The Fall of the House of Usher," Poe's representations of domestic architecture consistently portray private homes as spaces of fear, brutality, and perversion. This alternative view of domesticity forces readers to grapple with the darker sides of private life and to question their comfortable ideas about human nature.

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