Like the name suggests, The Fall of the House of Usher chronicles the downfall of the Usher family after they enjoyed decades of luxury and opulence as the owners of Fortunato Pharma, which raked in billions of dollars by selling the painkiller Ligodone. The twins, Roderick and Madeline Usher, had made a deal with the Devil, Verna, who granted them and their family immunity from any kind of legal issue. Yet Camille L’Espanaye, one of Roderick’s six children (two from his marriage with Annabel Lee and the rest from various women), took on the job of Fortunato’s PR (public relations) head. Along with her interns and assistants, Toby and Tina (her real name is Beth), she used to spin any major scandal or fraud into something that would be lapped up by the media, thereby softening the blow to the Usher family. Throughout the Fortunato trial, Camille looked for moments where Auguste Dupin–the investigator trying to pin down the Ushers–fumbled so that she could amplify it and dilute Dupin’s public image. However, when Roderick informed his children that they’d get $50 million for finding the informant who was leaking confidential details to Dupin, all her focus shifted from maintaining Fortunato’s shiny veneer to finding dirt on her siblings.
Camille L’Espanaye’s Vices
Initially, I thought that, apart from being a narcissistic individual (which was a common trait amongst all the Ushers), Camille L’Espanaye didn’t have a lot of negative traits. She mistreated Toby and Tina for having an opinion, and that was about it. But when Toby and Tina started to undress in Camille’s bedroom-plus-office, then she became a major red flag. I do not know how “sexual favors being a part of one’s job as the assistant of a PR head” is looked at right now, especially if it’s consensual in nature. The way I see it, it is wrong because there’s an imbalance in the power dynamics, and if the boss says that they want you in their bed and the employee is “consenting” to it, they are doing it out of desperation to keep the job. Toby and Tina eventually rebelled against Camille by telling her that they were in love with each other and didn’t want to be a part of the three-way relationship. Now, if Camille really saw them as romantic partners, she should’ve respected that and allowed Toby and Tina to continue doing their job because they were so good at it. Instead, she brought up the clause (which was probably illegal everywhere else) that forced Toby and Tina to offer up their bodies to Camille.
Toby and Tina had more self-respect than Camille because they walked out on her. I know you are probably wondering why Camille needed to come up with that arrangement when she could’ve been in a regular, polyamorous relationship. And the answer to that, and pretty much everything that the Ushers did, is that she did it because she could. There is no other reason. In addition to that, there was Camille’s hatred of Victorine. She never explicitly stated the reason behind it. Hence, I initially assumed it had something to do with race. But since she was close with Napoleon, who was a British guy of South Asian descent, I had to rule out that factor. Therefore, I assumed that she envied Victorine because of her intellect. She was essentially the only one among the siblings who could go toe-to-toe in a war of words and wits with Camille. Since she couldn’t outsmart her, she wanted her out of the loop by painting her as the informant. That said, in her final moments, Camille revealed yet another vice: a lack of empathy towards animals. Additionally, and this has nothing to do with the nature of her death, Camille’s penchant for keeping files on everyone led to the downfall of the Usher name as well as Arthur Gordon Pym, the Ushers’ trusted lawyer.
Why Was Camille L’Espanaye’s Death So Violent?
Toby and Tina (yes, her real name is Beth) were tasked with finding any information on Victorine and her illegal animal trials to greenlight the mechanical heart that Roderick Usher needed urgently. But since they were fired before they could get the job done, Toby nonchalantly told Camille to do the legwork because she never respected him or Tina for their dedication and loyalty. So, she had to go all the way to Victorine’s Rue Labs to dig up some dirt. By the way, Camille took up two parking spots for handicapped people. You can consider that one of her vices.
Anyway, Camille went in there with the intention of clicking some pictures of the chimpanzees that Victorine was experimenting upon, not to free them or to alert the authorities because that’d probably tarnish the Usher name. She just wanted to expose Victorine by showing all that to Roderick. That was why she didn’t pay heed to Verna’s (the literal embodiment of death) warnings, who was disguised as a security guard. Why did Verna warn Camille? Didn’t Camille cover up the data that showed how millions of lives were affected by Ligodone? Or did that data never reach Camille, thereby absolving her of any actual sin? If that was the case, it’s understandable that Verna didn’t consider Camille’s “bad behavior” as something that should be met with cruelty. However, I guess when Verna saw Camille mocking the tortured chimpanzees, she was convinced that Camille needed to die brutally. Hence, she puppeteered one of the chimpanzees, lectured Camille about the practice of animal trials, and then let the primate tear Camille into pieces. Did Camille deserve to die? Well, that wasn’t an option because Camille’s (as well as the rest of the Ushers’) fate was sealed by Roderick and Madeline. Did Camille deserve to die like that? If Verna thought that Camille deserved it, then she deserved it. I am sure that if Camille showed even an ounce of empathy, Verna would’ve put her down in a non-violent way. She didn’t, though, and hence, death-by-chimp.
Parallels Between Camille’s Arc and ‘The Murder in the Rue Morgue’
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue marked the first appearance of Auguste Dupin, a character with a knack for analyzing murders and mysterious cases on a granular level and solving them in a manner that seemed preposterous on the surface, but there was a method to the magic. Given how Dupin originated in 1841, you can say that he was one of the first fictional detectives, predating even Sherlock Holmes, who appeared in A Study in Scarlet in 1887! Anyway, coming back to the short story, the plot took place in Paris, where the narrator befriended Dupin due to their shared love for books, and their bond only grew as they spent more and more time with each other. But that wasn’t all that integral to the larger story. It only laid the groundwork for the murder mystery the narrator and Dupin were about to embark on.
One morning, the murder of two women living at Rue Morgue Lane, Mrs. L’Espanaye and her daughter, was reported. Apparently, the police were unable to comprehend the level of carnage and the state of the bodies of the two women. The witnesses stated that they had heard two voices: one was of a Frenchman, and the other was inaudible. And there was apparently no sign of escape. So, Dupin flung himself into this case to find out the murderer(s). He (mentally) scanned the room where the crime happened and came to the conclusion that the crime was committed by an orangutan who belonged to a sailor. When the narrator asked how he deduced that, Dupin broke down his process of analysis, and, I have to say, Poe’s display of Dupin’s detective skills has been ripped off by every fictional writer in existence. And, of course, when the sailor arrived, Dupin was proven to be right.
The episode in which Camille L’Espanaye (the same surname as the woman in the short story) died was titled Murder in the Rue Morgue. “Murders” became “Murder” because only Camille died. Rue Morgue was the name of a street in Paris in Poe’s short story, and the name of the lab that Victorine owned was named Rue Laboratories. It was actually nicknamed Rue Morgue because all the animals that Victorine and her partner, Al Ruiz, experimented upon died there. Camille was murdered by a chimpanzee, while an orangutan killed Mrs. L’Espanaye and her daughter. The sailor captured the orangutan with the intention of selling it.
Meanwhile, Victorine used the chimpanzees to test her mechanical heart. So, there was a common theme of humans abusing animals to make money off of them. Mrs. L’Espanaye and her daughter died for no fault of their own. Well, the short story said that Mrs. L’Espanaye reacted way too hysterically upon seeing the orangutan, which then agitated the primate, thereby leading to the massacre. But screaming at the top of one’s lungs seems like a normal reaction to seeing an orangutan back in the 1800s, I suppose. Camille, on the other hand, walked into the room full of caged chimpanzees and provoked them by taking pictures of them with the flash on. Also, Camille was destined to die. That was why Verna freed one of the chimpanzees, who then went to town on Camille. Camille’s death obviously prompted an investigation, but it wasn’t overseen by the character Auguste Dupin. The character of Dupin, in the short story, investigated Mrs. L’Espanaye’s death. I think this one is a reach, but I’ll state it anyway: the short story made a big deal of Mrs. L’Espanaye’s white or silver hair (she was an elderly lady), and Camille had silver hair, too.
With all that said, I don’t think that’s where the connections to Poe’s short stories end. The Fall of the House of Usher had a character called Toby, and, as you have read earlier, his relationship with Camille was shady. That character’s name being a reference to Toby Dammit (yes, that was the name) from Poe’s Never Bet the Devil Your Head seemed like an Easter egg, especially because Toby was nothing like Toby Dammit. Toby was calm and rational, and Toby Dammit was rude, and his vocabulary was just filled with expletives. One of the phrases that he commonly used was, “I’ll bet the devil my head.” The narrator hated it because it seemed like Dammit was mocking the Devil. One day, when Dammit uttered that phrase while betting that he could jump over a turnstile at the end of a bridge, the Devil or Death himself appeared to observe the occasion. Of course, Dammit failed to pull off the move, and he hit his head on a beam while jumping over the stile, which killed him. In Murder in the Rue Morgue, Camille L’Espanaye met the personification of death, who told her not to go through the doors to the chimpanzee chambers. However, she didn’t listen to Verna, and she met her demise. So, we can say that Camille’s final moments were a mixture of Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue as well as Never Bet the Devil Your Head.