A Month of Poe – Ligeia

Week two of reading Edgar Allan Poe is now over, and I have been reading Ligeia. Here are my thoughts on it…

Like The Pit and the Pendulum, Ligeia felt a little claustrophobic to me, with much of the action happening in one room, but it seemed there was precious little action and very little actual plot.

Once again, there were some chilling moments, such as the description of the narrator’s wives as they descend into death, but overall, I felt the story was lacking in real thrills, or even slight shivers.

Poe’s writing is completely failing to grip me.

It has been suggested by Elinas (see the questions and comments HERE) that my ambivalence towards Poe’s writing might be because it is “old-fashioned”. (THanks for leaving comments, by the way, Ellinas!) Fair enough, most of the books I read are more modern, but I do occasionally read and enjoy classics, and I adored Dracula (Bram Stoker), Camilla (J Sheridan Le Fanu), and Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) – all classic Gothic horror – and find them to be far more accessible in style. Poe’s use of language is just too flowery for my liking.

I wonder if I perhaps came to his works with my expectations raised to high and that has tainted my perception. With my expectations now considerably lowered, I hope I will enjoy this week’s choice a little more and perhaps it will give me the chill factor I’d so love.

I hope you will all join me in reading The Fall of the House of Usher.

If you’ve read along with me, I’d love to hear what you thought of Ligeia, so please leave a comment!



7 responses to “A Month of Poe – Ligeia

  1. Poe’s writing is tricky to evaluate because he seldom, if ever, wrote simply for “entertainment purposes,” if you know what I mean. They were all done to communicate ideas or messages, so they’re impossible to critique in terms of “normal” short stories.

    “Ligeia” has been analyzed in a million different ways, but my favorite interpretation sees it as an alchemical allegory. It’s way too long and complicated to go into here, but this theory about the story essentially sees the character of Ligeia as representing the alchemical process itself. (Poe used alchemical references in many of his works.)

    Like I said, he’s a tricky one.

  2. I don’t intend going into a technical alchemical analysis of the story – though the idea of alchemical transformation had occurred to me.
    A couple of more general points:
    It is unclear to me that Ligeia ever existed. The narrator says at the start that she is “no more”, yet on the face of it, she very much “is” at the end. She is portrayed as incredibly perfect. His memory of her is vague on a number of points, and seems to have become hardened by his contemplations into old age.
    So, what is are the possibilities?
    She is a creation of an old man’s imagination. The lover he wanted, the Goddess he worshipped. If so, the transformation of Rowena becomes the narrator’s triumph over death by the act of his own will in creating the very reality that he desires. However, that transformation is transitory, subjective, imperfect. Hence, Ligeia seems to disappear, to be “no more” almost as she is created. The will has its’ limitations. It may be on this view that the very creation of Ligeia is a triumph brought by the intellectual exercize of the very occult exercizes that he imagines undertaking with her in his youth. Shades of the alchemist there.
    Another possibility – Ligeia did exist, albeit much idealized in the narrator’s mind. Her reappearance is the act again of his imagination.
    Finally, the situation is as described. On that basis, it is an open question whether the will that re-creates Ligeia is the narrator’s or her’s. It also begs the question whether she was ever actually human, given her accomplishments.
    Issues raised:
    The power of the will to affect reality.
    The inter-relationship of objective and subjective reality (do we create what we perceive?)
    The level to which the will is empowered by passion – the effect of the emotions as a “power-house” for the mind (to refer to the ideas of another book, a magician is a person who knows how to hate well! And, in that context, remember that there is a suggestion that Rowena was murdered).
    The survival of the personality and will, and its’ limitations (time re-bears them through eternity, to quote Crowley).
    I dont pretend that this is exhaustive – it’s just what’s occurred to me on a quick read through.

  3. If you’d like to read more about Poe’s metaphysical undercurrents, this article is a good brief overview. It explains some things much better than I could. Unfortunately, Poe rarely gave any explanations of his work–and when he did, he was generally pulling your leg.


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