Thursday, April 23, 2009
"THE OVAL PORTRAIT" by Edgar Allan Poe
I'm dipping deep into the well of American literature for the Euro-American Gothic of Edgar Allan Poe and finding Poe considerably more interesting than I had bothered to notice on previous readings. I notice, for instance, how the form of "Ligeia" mimics the narrator's obsessions in the long, proto-decadent blazon upon Ligeia's face, describing each detail in cinematic close-up. I also notice the clever structure of the brilliant miniature "The Oval Portrait," in which the narrator's narrative is captured by and terminated within the narrative of the portrait, just as the portrait captures the narrator's obsessive interest and ends the life of the sitter. This is a truly great story, a contrast to those like "The Mystery of Marie Roget" where he appears to be writing for payment by the word. It's nearly perfect, unpadded and completely, mysteriously bizarre. It also incidentally fulfills the American literary imperative to impart useful information, in this case how to smoke opium in a 50/50 mixture with tobacco. Amazing the things great literature can teach us.