Here are some of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories to explore. His stories are usually dark and often fall into the gothic or horror genres.
There are many collections available, including the complete works, if you want to go through them at your leisure. A few are linked to below. Poe’s stories are definitely worth coming back to again and again.
For younger readers, a few of Poe’s best known works get the graphic novel treatment in Poe: Stories and Poems.
Edgar Allan Poe Short Stories
The Tell-Tale Heart
An unnamed narrator describes how he killed a man; he tries to convince his listener of his sanity and wisdom. He believed his boarder, an old man, watched him with an “Evil Eye.”
This is the second story in the preview of Great American Short Stories.
“Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire.”
—The Tell-Tale Heart
The Black Cat
The narrator, a condemned man, relates the series of events that led to his predicament. He was always docile and tender, with a fondness for animals. When he married, his wife procured several pets for him. Among them was a cat, Pluto, that became his favorite. Over the years his mood deteriorates. Eventually, his ill-temper reaches Pluto.
This is the third story in the preview of Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.
“I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.”
—The Black Cat
The Cask of Amontillado
The narrator, Montresor, tells the story of how he sought revenge against a man, Fortunato, who insulted him. He was careful to hide his feeling of ill-will toward the man. They meet one evening at a carnival, after Fortunato has been drinking. Using Fortunato’s knowledge of wine as bait, Montresor says he has paid full price for a shipment of Amontillado that might not be genuine. His target insists on lending his expertise immediately.
The Fall of the House of Usher
The narrator visits his friend Roderick who, along with his sister, is suffering from an unusual illness. They were close friends as boys but he knows little of Roderick. He recently received a letter from his old friend, referencing his illness and asking him to visit right away. On approaching the house, he finds it dilapidated. His friend has also deteriorated.
“We sat down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher!”
—The Fall of the House of Usher
The Masque of the Red Death
Prince Prospero invites a thousand nobles to his castle where they seek refuge from a plague, The Red Death, which is devastating the population. They plan to wait it out, having welded the doors shut. The prince holds a masquerade party as a diversion.
The narrator is in Venice, returning home by gondola. It’s a gloomy night. A shriek pierces the calm. A child has fallen from an upper window into the canal. Several people begin searching. The mother, the Marchesa Aphrodite, is very worried. The father, Mentoni, seems less concerned.
This is the seventh story in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems.
Egaeus and Berenice, cousins, grew up together in the family mansion. Egaeus is gloomy and obsessive; Berenice is energetic and lively. They are going to be married. Berenice gets a degenerative sickness. Egaeus begins to focus on her teeth.
This is the eighth story in the preview of Complete Tales & Poems, above.
William Legrand moves to an island with his servant, Jupiter, after losing a lot of money. When the narrator goes to visit, Legrand excitedly tells him about a gold-bug, but the narrator has to leave before seeing it. A month later, Jupiter goes to the narrator and asks him to come—he fears for his master’s sanity, thinking the bug may have bitten him.
This story can be read in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems, above.
There is an age-old rivalry between the Metzengersteins and the Berlifitzings. Shortly after Frederick, the last Metzengerstein, inherits the family estate, the Berlifitzing stable burns down. A horse turns up at Frederick’s place, presumably from the Berlifitzings, even though the grooms claim no knowledge of it. He keeps it.
This is the second story in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems, above.
MS. Found in a Bottle
The narrator, a seasoned traveler, boards a ship for the Sunda Islands. He notices signs in the sky and sea of an impending storm. The Captain disagrees. The ship is hit badly. Amid the chaos, he finds another survivor.
This is the seventh story in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems, above.
Loss of Breath
While berating his new wife, the narrator loses his breath—literally. He hides his problem, spends time meditating on the situation, and conducts a thorough search. He can’t find it.
This is the fifth story in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems, above.
“Imagine—that is if you have a fanciful turn—imagine, I say, my wonder—my consternation—my despair!”
—Loss of Breath
Robert Jones was a great man. His first act was to take hold of his nose. His mother declared him a genius; his father gave him a treatise on Nosology. When he came of age, his father sent him away to pursue his own path. He wrote a pamphlet on Nosology that was widely praised.
This is the ninth story in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems, above.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue
The narrator shares a residence with Dupin, a man with superior analytical skills. They like spending their time in seclusion reading, writing, and talking to each other. One day, they read a newspaper report of the violent murder of two women.
This is the first story in the preview of Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.
The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion
Charmion welcomes Eiros to the afterlife. The world has ended. Eiros tells the story of Earth’s demise. It started with the discovery of a comet. Scientists believed them to be harmless to Earth, so no steps were taken.
A Descent into the Maelström
While resting after a mountain climb, an older man tells his companion a story. Years ago, he and his two brothers were caught in a hurricane while on a boat.
The narrator, who some consider mad, tells the story of his young love. He lived in an isolated and unspoiled valley with his cousin Eleonora and her mother. He and Eleonora grew up together. One day their passions bloomed.
The king loves jokes, especially practical jokes. His court jester, or “fool”, is a dwarf and a cripple named Hop-Frog. The king treats him badly, but Hop-Frog does his best to get by. A great state party is approaching, so the king turns to his “fool” for some costume advice.
The Imp of the Perverse
The narrator expounds on his theory of reckless human behavior. He believes the we’re impelled to do the wrong thing by a force he calls The Imp of the Perverse. Being a condemned man, he was led astray by it himself.
After midnight, two sailors find themselves in a pub. The older one, “Legs”, is very tall while the younger man, Hugh, is very short. They had already made many stops and are now out of money. Many areas are under ban due to a plague. Legs and Hugh are drawn to such a spot while walking in a back alley.
Read “King Pest”
The narrator describes Legeia—a woman of rare knowledge, singular beauty and gifted with languages. She had unusually large and full eyes. She fell ill.
The narrator begins a diary his first day at his new post at a light-house. He looks forward to all the alone time he’s going to have. He’s going to use it write his book. The only company he has is his dog, Neptune.
This story was untitled and is most likely unfinished. However, I think it’s fairly satisfying as it is.
Read “The Light-House”
The Man of the Crowd
The narrator recounts an evening when he was sitting at a coffee house watching the people walk by. He divided the passersby into groups. He saw an old man who was difficult to categorize.
The Man That Was Used Up
The narrator remembers his meeting with General Smith. He was the hero of some notable battles, physically impressive and a great speaker. He noticed something different about the man that he couldn’t put his finger on. There was something about his movement—measured and precise—that stood out.
“. . . I left General Smith with a heightened interest in the man, with an exalted opinion of his conversational powers, and a deep sense of the valuable privileges we enjoy in living in this age of mechanical invention. My curiosity, however, had not been altogether satisfied . . .”
—The Man That Was Used Up
The Oblong Box
The narrator recounts a sea voyage from a few years ago. On board was his old friend Cornelius Wyatt and his wife. He had heard much about Mrs. Wyatt; she isn’t what he expected. Cornelius has also reserved an extra room for the trip. Additionally, he brings a large box with him.
Read “The Oblong Box”
The Oval Portrait
The injured narrator seeks shelter in an abandoned mansion. There are many paintings with an accompanying book that describes them. The narrator focuses on a painting of a young woman and looks up the story of when she modeled for the portrait.
The Pit and the Pendulum
A man is put on trial and condemned to death. He finds himself in a cell with a deep pit in the center and, above, a blade swinging back and forth on a pendulum.
“The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. I struggled for breath. The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me.”
—The Pit and the Pendulum
The Premature Burial
The narrator suffers from catalepsy and is afraid of being buried alive. He relates some of the many known cases where this has happened to people. He takes all the precautions he can so this doesn’t happen to him.
The Purloined Letter
The narrator is sitting with his friend Dupin, an amateur detective. They are joined by the Prefect of the Police, who lays out a case he can’t crack. A letter containing some compromising information has been stolen from a young woman by a government official. The suspect and his home have been searched to no avail.
Some Words With a Mummy
The narrator goes to Doctor Ponnonner’s to unwrap a mummy. There’s a sizable group present and the mummy’s laid out on the table. They see the mummy’s name written on the outer layer: Allamistakeo. There are three layers to get through.
The narrator has a story he claims will support the idea of love at first sight. He has weak eyes, but being young and good-looking, doesn’t want to wear glasses. Last winter, he and a friend went to the opera. The narrator amused himself by looking at the audience. In one of the private boxes was the most exquisite woman he had ever seen. His companion, Talbot, knows the woman and is able to arrange a meeting.
Read “The Spectacles”
The narrator stays with a relative in a country cottage during an outbreak of cholera in New York. They receive daily reports of the death of acquaintances. The narrator becomes preoccupied with death and also believes in omens. His relative is even-tempered with a philosophical intellect. They disagree about omens.
Read “The Sphinx”
The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
While in France the narrator visits an asylum. He had heard they used a “system of soothing” with the patients wherein punishments and confinement were avoided. To his surprise, his host informs him they have abandoned that system. The narrator is invited to stay for dinner.
Thou Art the Man
Barnaby Shuttleworthy, a wealthy and respected man, goes missing for several days. He had left home on Saturday morning on horseback with the intention of coming home that night. His horse, wounded, muddy, riderless, and missing its cargo, returned home two hours later. His friend, Charles Goodfellow, is overcome with grief but suggests they wait to see if Shuttleworthy turns up. His nephew, Pennifeather, wants to start an immediate search for his missing uncle.
Read “Thou Art the Man”
William Wilson relates how he suddenly turned evil. He describes the large house where he went to school, and its strict principal, a pastor. There is another student just like William—he has the same name, build and style of clothing.
I’ll keep adding short stories by Poe as I read more.