BBC Radio 4 Extra, 12-19 January 2014
Sometimes it's prudent to look
beyond the manifold adaptations of Poe's work, to banish memories of great films such as the Roger Corman cycle, to cast Vincent
Price to the back of one's mind and go back to the stories once more.
Listening to Sean Barrett's reading of Poe's classic tale, first broadcast in 2007, I was
struck by two things - first, Poe's unique ability to write in a controlled, almost unemotional way. Unlike many of
the adaptors, who have emphasized the horrific elements of the tales, Poe himself had the ability to make the mundane seem
horrific and vice versa. Roderick Usher's exploits are described in such a way as to make them seem as if they are daily
occurrences; the kind of thing any person might to in similar situations. None of us would ever behave in such an extreme
fashion (I hope), but Poe is interested in exploring possible worlds. Human beings have the capacity to behave
like this, should they so wish, without a shred of compunction.
Secondly, I understood just how attractive Poe's stories are for reading out loud. Sean
Barrett's dulcet tones seemed ideal for the text, comprised of long sentences with multiple subordinate clauses - we cannot
understand the import of each sentence until we have reached the end of it. Sometimes the waiting can seem endless;
but this is precisely how Poe builds up suspense in our minds.