“The Fall of the House of Usher” was first published in 1839 in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. At a time when most popular literature was highly moralistic, Poe’s stories were concerned only with creating emotional effects. Poe charged that most of his contemporaries were “didactic,” that is, they were preoccupied with making religious or political statements in their writings to the detriment of the fiction itself. His own tales of terror, in which he often depicted the psychological disintegration of unstable or emotionally overwrought characters, were in sharp contrast to the works of more highly praised writers of the time. Because of Poe’s disdain for didactic writing, he was little regarded by the literary establishment in his day.
But despite being dismissed by literary critics, Poe’s tales were instrumental in establishing the short story as a viable literary form. Before his time, such short works were not regarded as serious literature. Poe’s examples of what the short story could accomplish, and his own nonfiction writings about the form, were instrumental in establishing the short story as a legitimate form of serious literature. Poe had a strong influence in popular fiction as well. His tales of terror are considered among the finest ever produced in the horror genre. He also pioneered, some critics say invented, the genre of detective fiction with his story ‘ The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
During the time Poe was writing, a distinct and mature body of American literature was beginning to develop with the contributions of such authors as Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Fenimore Cooper. Before this time, American readers considered British literature the only serious literature available. American writers wrote imitations derived from British models. But with the advent of a new group of American writers who were writing about specifically American subjects, settings, and characters, a distinctly American literature began to emerge. Poe was one of the American writers of the time who helped to formulate this national literature.
Short Stories for Students, Volume 2, Edgar Allan Poe, Edited by Kathleen Wilson, Published by Gale Research, New York, 1997.