Tuesday Terror! Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe

Don’t forget to floss…

When discussing classic horror stories, it’s not possible to omit Edgar Allan Poe. Plus his stories are always great. Aren’t they? Time to find out in this week’s…

Berenice
by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

 

Misery is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform. Overreaching the wide horizon like the rainbow, its hues are as various as the hues of that arch, as distinct too, yet as intimately blended. Overreaching the wide horizon like the rainbow! How is it that from Beauty I have derived a type of unloveliness? — from the covenant of Peace a simile of sorrow? But thus is it. And as, in ethics, Evil is a consequence of Good, so, in fact, out of Joy is sorrow born.

After this cheery start, we learn that our narrator is Egaeus, the last of his line (thankfully), who grows up in the family mansion with his cousin, Berenice. He suffers from a mental condition, monomania he calls it though the opium might have something to do with it, that causes him to focus excessively on whatever grabs his attention to the exclusion of all else. She, once beautiful and agile, now suffers from an unnamed illness that causes her to waste away whilst having epileptic-style fits that leave her in a kind of trance. So they decide to get married. It’s a true romance…

During the brightest days of her unparalleled beauty, most surely I had never loved her. In the strange anomaly of my existence, feelings with me, had never been of the heart, and my passions always were of the mind. . . And now—now I shuddered in her presence, and grew pale at her approach; yet, bitterly lamenting her fallen and desolate condition, I called to mind that she had loved me long, and, in an evil moment, I spoke to her of marriage.

However, Berenice does have one feature which takes our dashing hero’s fancy…

The eyes were lifeless, and lustreless, and seemingly pupilless, and I shrank involuntarily from their glassy stare to he 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!


Unfortunately, he does not die. The same cannot be said for poor Berenice, who having smiled her ghastly smile, quietly goes off and becomes deceased. But a little matter like death isn’t enough to undo the effect of her toothiness on our lovely narrator. He carries out a horrific deed, and then, like so many before and since, pleads amnesia…

Yet its memory was replete with horror—horror more horrible from being vague, and terror more terrible from ambiguity. It was a fearful page in the record of my existence, written all over with dim, and hideous, and unintelligible recollections. . . I had done a deed—what was it? I asked myself the question aloud, and the whispering echoes of the chamber answered me,—“what was it?”

Harry Clarke illustration

* * * * * * *

Well, if you want to know what it was, here’s a link – but take my advice and don’t! Ugh! I reckon Poe must have been having a bad day when he wrote this one! I can’t say it scared me exactly, more disgusted me. Apparently it also disgusted the first readers too, and even Poe himself later said “I allow that it approaches the very verge of bad taste…” Approaches?? It walks right up and punches it on the nose!

Combine that with his constant insertion of bits of untranslated French and Latin…

Of Mademoiselle Salle it has been well said, “Que tous ses pas etaient des sentiments,” and of Berenice I more seriously believed que toutes ses dents etaient des idees.

Quite so!

The words were the singular but simple ones of the poet Ebn Zaiat:—”Dicebant mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas.” Why then, as I perused them, did the hairs of my head erect themselves on end, and the blood of my body become congealed within my veins?

Why indeed?

On the upside, there’s lots of traditionally Gothic stuff about the gloomy old mansion and the library filled with ancient, unspeakable tomes and so on. But I’m afraid this won’t figure in my list of top Poe stories. His narrator was opium-sozzled throughout and by the end of this I was kinda wishing I was too…

* * * * * * *

Fretful Porpentine rating:  😱 😱

Overall story rating:           😐 😐

The porpy’s teeth are nearly as lovely as Berenice’s…

NB I read this in the anthology Horror Stories, which was provided for review by Oxford World’s Classics.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

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47 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe

  1. Hmmm…..sometimes even Poe misses the mark, FictionFan. There’s a fine line between horror and ‘bad taste ghastly,’ and this one crosses it. Oh, well, I wouldn’t want to be judged on my weakest writing *shudder.*

  2. Well, it’s good to know that even Poe can have his off days. he’s s funny-looking bugger as well, isn’t he? I’m sure I’ve mentioned that before, but there’s something about him that gives me the willies. I had to click the link and I’m glad I had finished eating my cake, I tell you. The narrator is very annoying. Just say no, kids. 😉

  3. Gee, this one sounds dreadful, even if it was penned by Poe. Nope, I’ve got a full plate today, so I’m glad to read your review and know I can pass on this. Was worthwhile seeing the porpy and his golden teefies though!!

  4. Tell it not in Gath, whisper it not in Askelon…. I don’t like Poe! So there! Except for the detective stories and the raven, of course.

  5. I was thrilled to see that we were being treated to another of Poe’s stories this week but disappointed that it hit a bum note! As always though FF it is your comments that delight – I haven’t read the rest of the story (yet) but had to chuckle at your response to the author’s own comment about the poor taste!

  6. You have such an extensive range of suitable porpies, it really is impressive! ‘Berenice’ isn’t one I’m familiar with but I’m very fond of a number of other Poe tales. Out of interest, which ones would top your list?

    • Haha – there truly is a porpy out there for every story! I think Google save them up for me now… 😀 I’ve probably only read a dozen or so – maybe twenty – but my outstanding favourite is Silence: A Fable – not scary, really, but very unsettling. Of the more traditional Gothic ones, I love The Tell-Tale Heart – deliciously scary! What ones are your favourites?

      • Fantastic, well I hadn’t read Silence: A Fable either so googled it and read it and thought it was excellent, so thank you! Incidentally your review of it came up at the top of the search results! I think my favourites are The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, Hop-frog and Ligeia…

        • So glad you enjoyed it! That reading of it on youtube is fantastic too – the guy’s voice is perfect for the story. I listen to it at least once a year around Hallowe’en time. Ha! Really? I must admit my Tuesday Terror posts get far more random hits than any of my other posts, especially at this time of year. There must be loads of people out there looking for horror stories. I’ve never read Hop-frog so I shall seek that out – thank you! I think I’ve read all the others though I’m not totally sure about The Cask of Amontillado… must check that one too… 😀

  7. I went through a Poe phase years ago and read most of his short stories and poems, but this is not one I particularly remember, which probably speaks for itself. I was thinking about re-reading a few of the stories in time for Halloween, but maybe not this one!

    • I’ve still only really dipped my toe in. I read all the ones in his Tales of Mystery and Imagination collection and occasional other random ones, but I’d never read this one before. And I will never read it again either!! But I forgive him, since I’ve enjoyed plenty of his other stuff… 😉

  8. Oh my, the teeth! Well, I had such high hopes for this as it was Poe, but I also hadn’t heard of it, so I wondered…I had quite the chuckle at the end and beginning, so thank you for that, as well as for the entertaining review! Home next week’s Tuesday Terror pleases the porpy!

    • I hadn’t heard of it before either… and I kinda wish I still hadn’t! 😉 Haha – the porpy has taken to brushing his teeth frantically – I think the poor thing’s traumatised…

  9. I’m not a fan of Poe. Most of his stories that I’ve read are more gory and sickening than scary, including Berenice. But The Pit and the Pendulum did scare me – mostly because it reminded me of the terror I felt once when I woke up in a tent in pitch darkness, convinced I couldn’t breath and in a mad panic to get out.

    • I like some and dislike others. I’m never a fan of stories that try to shock through gore – give me spooky thrills any day! Yes, The Pit’s great, and I love Silence too – very different in tone from this one and nicely unsettling…

  10. Great review. Poe is the BEST horror writer imo because he always writes even his prose in a poetic manner; in other words, he’s NEVER just a horror writer. Each of his works is philosophical as well as poetic.

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