Ligeia, The One and Only
By: Kevin Bong
The author, Edgar Allan Poe was individualistic in his writing and this explains the remarkable creativity found throughout his work. One short story in particular, “Ligeia” which Poe published in 1838, demonstrates all the major aspects of Romanticism: rejection of classicism, fervent idealism.
The story of “Ligeia” follows an unknown narrator and his wife Ligeia, who is a beautiful, mysterious, and intelligent character. Ligeia dies, and she mutters passages from an odd poem entitled “The Conqueror Worm” in her last breaths. Later, the narrator remarries,this time with a woman named Rowena who is not nearly as beautiful, mysterious or intelligent as Ligeia. Rowena is the stereotypical woman, a classical example of what women were supposed to be during the era. Interestingly, Rowena also dies, and the narrator, who we learn is an opium addict, supervises the body overnight. The story ends with Rowena coming back from the dead, transformed into Ligeia. Throughout the entire the story, Poe provides the reader with countless examples of his repetitive romantic ideals and his skill of American Romantic literature.
A key trait of Romanticism in this short story is the rejection of classicism. Poe makes the narrator’s first wife, Ligeia, have such remarkable beauty; for the narrator, Ligeia’s beauty serves as a source of love and endearment. As the narrator of the story puts it “the character of my beloved made their way into my heart by paces so steadily and stealthily progressive that they have been unnoticed and unknown” Ligeia’s “singular yet placid cast of beauty” is in sharp contrast to Rowena’s “fair-haired” and “blue-eyed” classical beauty. Poe repeatedly points out the superiority of Ligeia’s beauty because it does not conform to the typical definition of beauty. Ligeia’s features “were not of that regular mold which we have been falsely taught to worship in the classical labors of the heathen” Poe sees flaws in the narrator’s second wife because she fits the mold too easily. And perhaps the best example of Poe’s rejection of the ordinary and embracing of the strange can be seen in certain passages describing Ligeia’s mysterious characteristics. He describes the narrator’s beautiful wife as one would describe a ghost: “She came and departed as a shadow.” He describes her eyes as unreal and superhuman because of their large size: “far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race.” Ironically, at times Ligeia even frightens the narrator with her “grotesque” appearance. However, throughout the entirety of the story, these odd appearance traits are objects of reverie for the narrator, and he makes clear to point this out repeatedly. Poe rejects classical values and welcomes the supernatural through the vivid descriptions of Ligeia’s uncanny beauty.
Poe also manages to display another key trait of Romantics fervent idealism in this morbid and frightening tale. The narrator’s story appears sincere and is certainly not