Places: Ligeia

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1838

Type of work: Short fiction

Type of plot: Gothic

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Places DiscussedBridal chamber

Bridal Ligeiachamber. Room in an isolated abbey in the wild English countryside. Following the death of his beloved first wife Ligeia, the narrator restores an ancient English abbey whose gloomy grandeur and remote setting match his own mental and spiritual desolation. Inspired by his opium addiction, he furnishes the abbey in a fantastic style of elaborate furniture, tapestries, wall hangings, and decorations in an attempt to overcome his sorrow. This mixture reaches its zenith in the narrator’s bedroom, high in a turret, where the huge bed has a canopy, and there is a gigantic sarcophagus of black granite from ancient Egypt. The jumbled mixture of exotic furniture and artifacts, and in particular its emphasis on the bizarre and the magical, are reflections of the narrator’s own internal state and a hint of the supernatural events to come.

It is to this bedroom, which the narrator calls his bridal chamber, that he brings his new wife, the Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine. Theirs is a loveless marriage and the narrator feels little sorrow when the Lady Rowena sinks into an illness, declines, and dies. After she is prepared for burial and is lying in the bridal chamber, the narrator sits in an opium-induced stupor watching over Rowena. The room seems to take on a life of its own, with almost imperceptible shadows gliding across the floor and the figures in the tapestries assuming sinister yet not-quite-perceivable patterns. During the night, Rowena revives and the startled narrator rushes to her side only to watch her fade again into death. This process repeats itself in the eerie atmosphere of the room until finally the dead Rowena reveals herself as the reincarnated Ligeia.

BibliographyBasler, Roy P. “The Interpretation of ‘Ligeia.’” In Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Regan. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967. A psychological study of “Ligeia” that interprets the work as an exploration of the narrator’s rational and nonrational obsession and madness.Jones, Daryl E. “Poe’s Siren: Character and Meaning in ‘Ligeia.’ ” Studies in Short Fiction 20, no. 1 (Winter, 1983): 33-37. Dismisses critics who interpret “Ligeia” as a straightforward gothic tale or a tale of psychological realism. Instead, explores the title character as a siren, which justifies her strength as well as the narrator’s weakness of will.Levine, Stuart. “‘Ligeia’: Multiple Intention, Unified Effect.” In Edgar Poe: Seer and Craftsman. DeLand, Fla.: Everett/Edwards, 1972. Argues that Poe uses Ligeia’s beauty to establish an explicitly romantic aesthetic. Explores several reasons why the story is difficult to interpret.Matheson, Terence J. “The Multiple Murders in ‘Ligeia’: A New Look at Poe’s Narrator.” Canadian Review of American Studies 13, no. 3 (Winter, 1982): 279-289. Sees the story as flawed and tries to reason through Poe’s own contention that “Ligeia” was his best tale.Saliba, David R. “Formulaic Achievement: ‘Ligeia.’” In A Psychology of Fear: The Nightmare Formula of Edgar Allan Poe. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1980. Explores “Ligeia” as one of Poe’s most successful nightmare pieces. Accepts the premise that the title character is a dream figure.
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