Ligeia: Poe’s Masterpiece

Today I would like to focus on my absolute favorite tale by Edgar Allan Poe.    Ligeia is a beautiful, romantic, and dark tale!   Poe actually invented the name Ligeia for this tale.   If you are curious the name is pronounced Lie-G-a, but is sometimes pronounced Ledge-E-a.   Personally I prefer the first pronunciation, given it is the one Poe is said to have used.

Poe was the master of American Dark Romanticism and Ligeia is a prime example of this.   The story of Ligeia is one about a man mourning the loss of his first wife.    In his depression the unnamed narrator had turned to opium to deal with the pain.   The opium makes him an unrealible narrator, and this is a common theme among Poe’s tales (the unreliable narrator).   The narrator has taken much time to describe the specific nature of Ligeia.    He described the specific look of her face, and her stature.   He also described her intellect in great detail.

The narrator, however, cannot remember exactly where he met her, or when.   He only remembers it was in a city on the Rhine, so somewhere in Germany.   The narrator makes mention of Ligeia coming from a wealthy and prominent family, but claimed he never knew her last name (or if he did he does not remember it).   When he lost Ligeia the narrator moved to England with the inheritance he gained from Ligeia.

In England he meets the Lady Rowena Trevanion.    He married the Lady Rowena, and likely this is due to the fact that he had a large amount of money inherited from Ligeia.    Rowena’s father would not have allowed her to marry him otherwise.   

After the wedding the narrator installed Rowena into a bridal suite decorated with Egyptian artifacts, including sarcophagi.    Rowena was incredibly disturbed and scared by the chamber.   The narrator quickly realized that he not only did not love his new wife, he actually hated her.    He went on tirades against her, and continued to idealize and mourn his lost love, Ligeia.

Not long after the wedding, about two months, Rowena became gravely ill.   After some time Rowena, too, died.    While the narrator is sitting vigil next to the bed of his deceased second wife, he had a fever dream.   He saw her face become flushed with color again, and he tried to bring her back.    He tried to revive her several times, until he admitted she was gone for good.   At this time Rowena comes back from the dead, rose from her bed, and stood up and walked to the narrator.   He noticed first that she had grown taller, and then he realized that she was in fact not Rowena but Ligeia.   His lost love had been returned to him!

The tale can be interpreted many ways, as a supernatural tale of a witchy woman fighting death to come back to her husband, as a drug addict wishing his beloved alive again, or as a tale of a serial killer husband murdering his wives.   Ligeia is very often believed to have been a witch who fought death, and believed in immortality.   This is something I have always read it as, and I see Ligeia as being a supernatural woman!   

Poe used a quote by Francis Bacon to describe beauty in this story.    “There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.”    He changed the phrasing slightly from Bacon’s original, but he gives credit of the concept to Bacon.   I adore this quote, because it truly shows that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and perfection is overrated!

Poe also had Ligeia compose the poem The Conquerer Worm while she was dying in this story.   Poe utilized a possibly fictitious Joseph Glanvill quote throughout the story to describe Ligeia, and her story.   “And the will therein lieth, which dieth not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness. Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.”   Literary scholars have never been able to attribute this quote to Glanvill in any other source than the story Ligeia.

This story has been adapted to film twice.    First as The Tomb of Ligeia in 1964 (starring Vincent Price), and then as The Tomb in 2009(starring Wes Bentley).   The second adaption set the story in the modern day.   Both films are amazing!    

I hope you have enjoyed my analysis of my very favorite of Edgar Allan Poe’s works!   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is The Resurrection of Ligeia.    I found the image on at the KarinaMorenoArt shop.

Further Reading/Watching

  • Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
  • The Tomb (2009)