I have once read “Ligeia” from The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe. Then I have read it again for this class. Both times, after reading this tale, it gave me the chills. Edgar Allan Poe never fails to consistently tingle the spine. While two centuries have passed since his tortured life and twisted pen have graced our world, his fame had endured and his collection of tales and poems reminds us why.
“I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the Lady Ligeia.” – Edgar Allan Poe
The story of “Ligeia” is about an unknown narrator and his wife Ligeia, who is a beautiful, mysterious, and intelligent character. Ligeia dies, and she mutters passages from an poem titled “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 as the narrator describes. Rowena is the stereotypical woman, a classical example of what women were supposed to be during the era. Strangely, 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 as the narrator believed the human was.
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 perfection of Ligeia’s beauty because it does not follow to the typical definition of beauty. Ligeia’s features “were not of that regular mould which we have been falsely taught to worship in the classical labors of the heathen”. Poe undoubtedly sees flaws in the narrator’s second wife because she fits the character too easily. Perhaps the most extreme 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 whole story, these odd appearance traits are objects of trance and musing for the narrator, and he points this out repeatedly. Poe rejects classical and typical values of the norms and welcomes and embrace the supernatural through the vivid and clear descriptions of Ligeia’s unusual and spooky beauty.
Above is a picture of how I imagine Ligeia (woman on the right) would look like from the narrator’s descriptions. Ligeia’s appearance is ghost-like, with the pale face, dark hair, and shadowy body. Next to her is Rowena who looks like how every women is normally expected to look like. From looking at this picture, it shows off Ligeia’s dominance as she stands over Rowena. She has more of an eerie and spooky look that attracted the narrator so much unlike Rowena’s simplistic looks.