Poe’s Art of Seduction: Montresor as Author in “The Cask of Amontillado”


  • Matthew Hutton


 Herein I argue that the character Montresor, the narrator and protagonist of “The Cask of Amontillado,” serves as Poe’s fictional illustration of an author engaged in the creative process. Montresor, in his actions and in his recounting of them, executes a “plot” that puts Poe’s theory of “unity of effect” to the test. Montresor seduces Fortunato just as Poe seduces the reader: through verbal craft. His intent is to induce terror, and the measure of his success is the measure of the degree to which he achieves maximum effect. Montresor’s plan, his execution, and his delivery of the tale all exemplify the principles Poe outlines in “The Philosophy of Composition”—an essay published just months before “The Cask of Amontillado.”

In the first section of the paper, I trace Poe’s development of the unity of effect theory in the years leading up to the publishing of “The Philosophy of Composition.” I then apply the theory to a close reading of “Amontillado.” In the final section, I discuss the tacit contract between author and reader required for Poe’s brand of horror. In observing the correlation between Poe’s conception of the author and his fictional illustration of the author, we see how Poe sets the preconditions for 20th-Century genre fiction by placing the audience in the foreground—an emphasis that would find full flower in the age of mass media, when the distinction between “art” and “entertainment” would become immaterial.