Obsessions: Love, Art, Death. Poe’s The Oval Portrait

The Oval Portrait   by  Edgar Allen Poe (1842)

Tuesday’s Tales of Terror, January 22, 2013

The setting: deep midnight at an abandoned château in the snowy Apennines Mountains.

The narrator: a wounded soldier takes refuge in this château, stays the night in one of the turret bedrooms “decorations rich, yet tattered and antique.” His room is filled with flickering light from “tongues of a tall candelabrum.” The soldier’s vision is captured by a great number of “very spirited modern paintings in frames of rich golden arabesque on the walls.”

Can you see this? Very inviting, I think. This week being the anniversary of Poe’s birth date, I chose The Oval Portrait because it represents Poe, not for his grisly writings, but for the romance, passion, and the hypnotic effect of obsessions.

On the soldier’s pillow lay a small volume, handwritten in “quaint words.”  And a stunning portrait of a young girl just ripening into womanhood hangs in the niche of his room. The flashing of the candlelight plays on her face and shoulders for hours … until the soldier can sleep no more. There is a secret in this portrait, one that the soldier feels compelled discover.

The soldier takes up the little volume and begins to read. The volume is written by the artist. He describes how he painted the portrait of his beauty on the wall. The artist did “not see that the tints which he spread upon the canvas were drawn from the cheeks of her.”

What does this mean? Ah-haa. Herein tells the destiny of fatal beauty and the obsession of art. Art and romance! I think it was Emerson who said art is a jealous mistress.

Read it here:  http://poestories.com/read/ovalportrait

Another of Poe’s romantic stories is Ligeia about a love object, written in the Germanic romantic tradition. The setting here is gray and decaying— even the sun and moon fall with a “ghastly luster.” This woman, Ligeia, is an exquisite beauty with dark curly hair and brilliant black eyes. But Ligeia is possessed with “a strangeness” the narrator describes … “She came and departed as a shadow.”  When Ligeia dies … the story takes a wicked turn into an obsession with death.

Read it here:   http://www.online-literature.com/poe/2126/

And stop by next Tuesday for another Tale of Terror.

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Filed under fiction, horror, short stories, supernatural, tales of terror

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