Tackling Poe: The Complete Works, Part 5

The fifth installment of Tackling Poe: The Complete Works is going to be starting strong, with The Tell-Tale Heart. What’s been your favorite story so far? It’d be a hard choice for me; probably either The Pit and the Pendulum or The Fall of the House of Usher. If I were pressed to choose one that isn’t considered a “classic”, I’d go for William Wilson.

Ten more stories, this time, in an effort to get this project finished by the end of October (not likely)! Unfortunately, a lot of the audio versions are located on Youtube. If you know of a free MP3 version of these stories online, please let me know!

  • The Tell-Tale Heart
  • Berenice
  • Eleonara
  • Ligeia
  • Morella
  • A Tale of Ragged Mountains
  • The Spectacles
  • King Pest
  • Three Sundays a Week
  • The Devil in the Belfry

But first, a long-lost family tree of Poe’s:

poeversions

The Tell-Tale Heart

Clarke-TellTaleHeartAudio Version: Archive.org

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 2,129 words

Summary: A servant of an old man goes mad, blaming the blind eye of his master.

Review: This is a simplistic, and also, incredibly complex story. The plot itself is pretty straightforward (and terrifying), but the scariness of it lies in the use of hearing. We all hear whispers, things that aren’t there– at times, ringing, or some such disturbance. The Tell-Tale Heart turns hearing perverse, and is an awesome story for it. Highly recommended, if you haven’t read it already. One of his best final lines for a story as well.

Some lines:

Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me…. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture–a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees–very gradually–I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

And:

I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.

And:

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense?

And:

I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

Berenice

From an Italian Comic

From an Italian Comic

Audio Version: Archive.org (Track 6)

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 3,196 words

Summary: A man, betrothed to his cousin Berenice, who has become emaciated and epileptic from sickness, becomes obsessed with her teeth after she smiles at him one night. 

Review: Wahhh, creepy! I think Poe played off of that very base fear of people messing around with your teeth very well. Forget the dentist, though, I don’t want this narrator anywhere near my mouth! A good read; definitely one of his more visceral.

Some quotes:

How is it that from beauty I have derived a type of unloveliness?–from the covenant of peace, a simile of sorrow? But as, in ethics, evil is just a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of today, or the agonies which are, have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been.

And:

…the noon of my manhood found me still in the mansion of my fathers…

And:

…I shrank involuntarily from their [her eyes’] glassy stare to the contemplation of the thin and shrunken lips. They parted; and in a smile of peculiar meaning, the teeth of the changed Berenice disclosed themselves slowly to my view. Would to God that I had never beheld them, or that, having done so, I had died!

More teeth bits:

The teeth!–the teeth!–they were here, and there,  and everywhere, and visibly and palpably before me; long, narrow, and excessively white, with pale lips writhing about them…

Eleonora

Poe_eleonora_byam_shawAudio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version: Lit2Go

Word Count: 2,471 words

Summary: A man who promised his dying cousin, Eleonora, that he would love her forever finds himself smitten with another many years after her death.

Review: This is the third story (almost in a row) now, that has spoken of elevated blood lines, and the idea of madness as genius. The second of these is one of his more popular theories (which has done nothing to dissuade the popular belief that he was mad, himself), but the first is also curious. It makes me wonder if there was something in particular going on in his life at this time, maybe in the intellectual community he took part in. It’s also the third story of a man involved with his cousin who dies (which was common back then, but Poe also married his own cousin, who died of tuberculosis). The only difference this time? In a very un-Poe-like way… there is a happy ending! I kept expecting horror, or some sort of vengeance from the woman who was slighted, but nope. All daisies here! 

Only one line I really want to share:

…the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence–whether much that is glorious–whether all that is profound–does not spring from disease of thought–from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.

Ligeia

Ligeia_by_MirrorCradle

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version: Lit2Go

Word Count: 6,320 words

Summary: A man writes of his dead wife, Ligeia, his great love, and her untimely death. Stricken with grief, the husband turns to opium and eventually marries again. This time, the woman’s name is Rowena. However, Rowena detests our narrator, and soon grows violently, repeatedly, ill. Eventually, she dies. However, as our narrator sits with Rowena’s corpse through the night, a strange thing happens: the corpse revives.

Review: I’m actually surprised that I hadn’t heard of this story until reading this anthology. Of all of the beautiful, ill women in Poe’s stories I’ve read so far, Ligeia is probably my favorite. There was something that felt more real, that he wrote about her struggling (even at the cost of her beautiful appearance) to not give in to death when she was ill, and the circular nature of her story was just all around a pleasure to read. It’s also the first story I’ve read in this anthology that includes some of Poe’s poetry. I highly recommend this one.

I have a few lines to share here, plus the poem, in its entirety:

I saw that she must die–and I struggled desperately in spirit with the grim Azrael.

And, the poem:

Lo! ’tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.

Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly;
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
Invisible Wo!

That motley drama!–oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased forever more,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness and more of Sin
And Horror the soul of the plot.

But see, amid the mimic rout,
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!–it writhes!–with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And the seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.

Out–out are the lights–out all!
And over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.

And:

She died;–and I, crushed into the very dust with sorrow, could no longer endure the lonely desolation…

Morella

by Henry Clarke

by Henry Clarke

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version: Lit2Go

Word Count: 2,181 words

Summary: After marrying the melancholy beaut, Morella, a man grows to abhor her. When she falls sick, he yearns for her death–however, Morella curses him on her dying day to sadness and despair, and dies, leaving behind a daughter. The daughter grows, the spitting image of her mother, the story culminating on the day of the daughter’s baptism.

Review: Reading Eleonora, Ligeia, and Morella in a row has been an interesting experience. They sort of feel like a trilogy of stories. Each is the same theme–the sickly wife who dies–but each approaches the subject differently. In Eleonora, there is a happy ending; in Ligeia, the wife’s soul refuses to rest, and is welcome upon its return; in Morella, the husband is cursed, and vengeance for his faithless love is exacted in full. I recommend this story as well.

There was a lot of beautiful prose this time around:

It is a happiness to wonder; it is a happiness to dream.

And:

And then–then, when poring over forbidden pages, I felt a forbidden spirit enkindling within me–would Morella place her cold hand upon my own, and rake from the ashes of a dead philosophy some low, singular words, whose strange meaning burned themselves in upon my memory.

And:

And since by person we understand an intelligent essence having reason, and since there is consciousness which always accompanies thinking, it is this which makes us all to be that which we call ourselves, thereby distinguishing us from other beings that think, and giving us our personal identity.

Plus:

Shall I then say that I longed with an earnest and consuming desire for the moment of Morella’s decease?

And, Morella, cursing her husband:

“The days have never been when thou couldst love me–but her whom in life thou didst abhor, in death thou shalt adore.”

And, a little later, more of the curse:

“But the days shall be days of sorrow–that sorrow which is the most lasting of impressions, as the cypress is the most enduring of trees. For the hours of thy happiness are over and joy is not gathered twice in life, as the roses of Paestrum twice in a year. Thou shalt no longer, then, play the Teian with time, but, ignorant of the myrtle and the vine, thou shalt bear about with thee thy shroud on the earth, as do the Moslemin at Mecca.”

The narrator, beginning to fear his 10-year-old daughter:

…oh, above all, in the phrases of expression of the dead on the lips of the loved and the living, I found food for consuming thought and horror, for a worm that would not die.

A Tale of Ragged Mountains

200px-Poe_ragged_mountainsAudio Version: Youtube

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 4,019 words

Summary: Augustus Bedloe, a sickly man addicted to medications and hypnosis, gives an account of one of his walks through the hills of Virginia, claiming to have seen a half-naked man and a hyena in a ravine, before stumbling upon a great Middle Eastern city. He describes being killed there, and then returning home, to tell the narrator and his doctor of the strange and unusual journey. As it turns out, the doctor has the other half of the story.

Review: This story was very nearly on my ‘okay’ list until the end, when Poe masterfully made use of a typo as the linchpin for the entire story. While the tale itself is not so spectacular, the ending is one of his more clever, and I can recommend it for that. Unfortunately, I can’t share my favorite lines, as it gives away the end!

The Spectacles

Poe_the_spectacles_byam_shawAudio Version: Youtube (Incomplete)

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 9,518 words

Summary: A man with poor eyesight and a hatred of glasses goes to an opera one night with his friend, Talbot. While at the performance, he catches sight of the most gorgeous woman he has ever laid eyesight upon. After many failed attempts at getting an introduction, he finally finds her on the streets of Paris and begs for them to be married, and with haste. The lady pleads with him to reconsider, and when he will not, finally agrees, on the condition that he begin to wear spectacles after they are wed.

Review: This story made me laugh. It’s quite an amusing farce all the way through; I enjoyed it a great deal. I liked Poe’s use of names and social constructs as a means to his end, in particular. I really recommend this one, even though it doesn’t have quite the same tone as some of his other works.

Some lines:

…I believe that I am well-made, and possess what nine tenths of the world would call a handsome face.

And:

The magic of a lovely form in woman–the necromancy of female gracefulness–was always a power which I had found it impossible to resist, but here was grace personified, incarnate, the beau ideal of my wildest and most enthusiastic visions.

And this, which cracked me up:

(cursing) …eighty-two hundred thousand baboons!

King Pest

Audio Version: Youtube

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 4,707 words

Summary: A couple of drunk seamen get more than they bargained for after running out on their bill at a tavern, and trespassing into a Plague-ridden zone of London.

Review: Poe masters the macabre in this piece, which holds at its crux a feast and tribunal of the Damned. The descriptions are chilling and fantastic, and the dialog was a delight. Highly recommend this one.

Some lines:

The city was in a great measure depopulated–and in those horrible regions, in the vicinity of the Thames, where amid the dark, narrow, and filthy lanes and alleys, the Demon of Disease was supposed to have had his nativity, Awe, Terror, and Superstition were alone to be found stalking abroad.

And:

…a pair of huge goggle eyes rolled their awful whites towards the ceiling in absolute amazement at their own enormity.

And:

In the cranium of this hideous thing lay quantity of ignited charcoal, which threw a fitful but vivid light over the entire scene…

Three Sundays in a Week

- from Fact Hut

– from Fact Hut

Audio Version: Archive.org

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 2,343 words

Summary: Our narrator and his bride-to-be, Kate, desire to wed, but the narrator’s uncle refuses to allow it until three Sundays fall together in one week.

Review: I liked the quick cleverness of this story, and the narrator was quite likeable. It was really interesting to see, as the quote above states, how Poe handled a positively baffling idea (at that time): that time is relative… and that because of the size of the world, and time zones, there is no definitive ‘day’ or ‘hour’ that we can all name at once. I really enjoyed this one.

The opening line:

“You hard-headed, dunder-headed, obstinate, rusty, crusty, musty, fusty, old savage!” said I, in fancy, one afternoon, to my grand uncle Rumgugeon–shaking my fist at him in imagination.

The Devil in the Belfry

Poe_the_devil_in_the_belfryAudio Version: Youtube

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 3,162 words

Summary: One day, in a quiet town of punctuality and very good kraut, a devil runs down the hillside and upsets the order of things- at noon, the clock instead strikes 13 o’clock, and causes much madness.

Review: This was a strange little story, but I enjoyed it. I wasn’t all too sure about the end, and it’s meaning, but the subtext of the story–that these people of habit do not think about a man who has just been murdered and instead insist on counting the strokes of the hour–is altogether upsetting. The most interesting thing about that, though, is that it is still very applicable to the mentality of the today. I guess people don’t change much!

A description of the devil:

…he had a long hooked nose, pea eyes, a wide mouth, and an excellent set of teeth, which latter he seemed anxious of displaying, as he was grinning ear to ear.

And now we are done with Part 5, and are 45% of the way through Edgar Allan Poe: The Complete Works! Almost halfway… Next time, we’ll be looking at Lionizing, X-ing a Paragraph, Metzengerstein, The System of Dr. Tarr & Prof. Fether, How to Write a Blackwood Article, A Predicament, Mystification, and several others I have never heard of before. Should be an adventure!

If you’d like to read any of the other parts, Feel free to check them out below:

19 thoughts on “Tackling Poe: The Complete Works, Part 5

    • Alex Hurst says:

      I thought I’d read a lot of Poe… but so far, I’ve not even read half of what’s been in this collection. The Cask was one of my favorites too. So very classic.

      Thanks for stopping by! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Melissa Osburn says:

    I am really enjoying this series! Many of these I haven’t read in a very long time, and some I’m not sure I have read. I think my favorites are The Oval Portrait, The Tell-Tale Heart, The System of Dr. Tarr & Prof. Fether and his poems The Raven and Annabel Lee.

    Like

  2. Miranda Stone says:

    Ah, this installment includes my absolute favorite Poe story: The Tell-Tale Heart. (I know–not very original. Many people claim it’s their favorite, and it is arguably his best known story.) As for his lesser known works, my favorite would be Berenice. As you wrote in your post, it evokes a visceral reaction in the reader. I remember reading Eleonora and also being surprised that it has a happy ending. After reading your comments here, I was curious as to the year it was published. According to Wikipedia, it was published in 1842, just as Poe’s wife Virginia was showing signs of tuberculosis. Wikipedia also stated that the story is considered somewhat autobiographical, and that Poe was dealing with his guilt at the idea of marrying again after Virginia died. I’m wondering if Virginia had given him her blessing to marry again, and the story’s happy ending is a reflection of that. I’ll have to go back and re-read King Pest. I don’t remember any of that story, but it sounds very interesting! I look forward to reading more of your series, especially since I haven’t heard of any of the stories to be included in the next installment, either!

    Like

  3. JoHanna Massey says:

    So excited to have located this series. You really have done some serious study here. Will be returning time and time again to savor this. “The Devil In the Belfry” was read to our 7th grade class many many years ago. It was my introduction to Poe. I received a volume of his stories that Christmas and devoured them.

    But I have not read Poe as an adult…and thanks to your excellent series, he has captured my attention once again. Thank you.

    All my best to you,

    Liked by 1 person

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