Ligeia, Poe’s Witchy Woman

Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe. Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1867 – 1939). EAP American author & poet: 19 January 1809 – 7 October 1849. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

For Femme Fatale Friday of Gothic Romance Week, I have decided to write about Ligeia as Poe’s witchy woman!   I have written about this story before, but it has been a long time so I am delighted to take the opportunity to feature this tale as my Femme Fatale Friday post for my Edgar Allan Poe-themed Gothic Romance Week!   

The story of Ligeia is one about a man who married an intriguing and offbeat woman named Ligeia.   The husband is the narrator, as is common within the works of Poe.   The narrator is also shown to be an opium addict, which calls into question the veracity of the narrative itself.

The tale tells of what happens when Ligeia herself dies and the narrator remarried a woman whom he seemed to dislike.   During the course of the story, the reader is taken on a journey of learning why the narrator is so obsessed with his dead first wife.   Ligeia is, in the eyes of the narrator, different than other women (more specifically his new wife), as she is well-read and totally obsessed with the idea of immortality.   This leads to the interpretation that Ligeia was a witch all along.   It is one of my favorite interpretations of the tale, as I have always seen her as being a magical worker of some sort.   She does a massive amount of occult research in an attempt to figure out a way to cheat death.   She also composed a poem as she was dying that is darkly beautiful and haunting.   It also foreshadows her eventual return and triumph over death!

Ligeia is able to inhabit the body of her husband’s new wife when the other is dying of a similar illness.   It is left up to the reader to determine whether or not Ligeia has truly been resurrected, or if the opium-addicted narrator is simply hallucinating the whole incident in his guilt over remarrying when still obsessed with his first wife!   He had been horrible to his second wife during their brief marriage, likely also due to his guilt over feeling he had betrayed Ligeia, but it ultimately allowed her to return to him!

I adore the fact that this tale is left ambiguous and open to interpretation.   Personally, I always like to think that Ligeia is reunited with her husband, thus proving her intense amount of supernatural power!   However, I do think that the interpretation of hallucinations due to opium addiction is a strong and valid way to read the tale.   

Finally, I want to take a brief look at the cinematic adaptations of the work.   The 1960s Roger Corman film was part of his series of Poe films, starring Vincent Price as the husband.   It is titled The Tomb of Ligeia, and it is a fun and campy ride to watch.   I especially like the idea of Ligeia’s ghost inhabiting a black cat, a very witchy reference!   To be honest, anytime Vincent Price was in a film about Edgar Allan Poe, you know you are in for a good time, and this one is no exception.   There is also a 2009 film that was originally titled The Tomb but that now also goes simply by Edgar Allan Poe’s Ligeia which starred Wes Bentley as the husband.   This version of the film is updated to the modern age, making it an interesting take.   It also makes all of the witchcraft that is implied in the story and makes it explicit in the film!   This film was one of the Fangoria Frightfest Features, so I do not think it is known very well, which is honestly a shame!   I really like the way Wes Bentley portrayed the character of the husband.  The actress playing Ligeia did a great job of portraying her eccentricity and allure.   Both of these films are well worth watching for any Poe fan!

I hope that you have enjoyed learning a bit about Ligeia as Poe’s most witchy of female characters.   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is an illustration of Ligeia.   I found the image on

Further Reading/Watching

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