Tuesday Terror! Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe

Nor unto death utterly…

In the first story in the British Library’s new anthology of vintage horror stories, Cornish Horrors, Poe takes us to Cornwall for another delightful tale of a probably mad narrator, and definitely dead wives. Or are they??

by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia. Long years have since elapsed, and my memory is feeble through much suffering.

Yeah, see, I’m already thinking he’s probably mad. Who doesn’t remember where they first met the love of their life? But I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until he told me…

…a recollection flashes upon me that I have never known the paternal name of her who was my friend and my betrothed, and who became the partner of my studies, and finally the wife of my bosom.

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

Highly unlikely, if you ask me! Wasn’t he listening during the wedding vows? Didn’t they get a licence? Anyway, whether he’s mad or not, he’s obsessively in love…

In beauty of face no maiden ever equalled her. It was the radiance of an opium-dream—an airy and spirit-lifting vision more wildly divine than the phantasies which hovered about the slumbering souls of the daughters of Delos.

Aha! Opium! That explains a lot! Kids, if you’re listening, just say no!

After raving about every facial feature for a bit, nose, cheeks, chin, teeth (the man’s got a thing about teeth, seriously), he then takes several paragraphs to describe the one feature that sets Ligeia apart from all other women… her eyes!

They were, I must believe, far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race. They were even fuller than the fullest of the gazelle eyes of the tribe of the valley of Nourjahad.

Perhaps he met her in a zoo?

Illustration by Byam Shaw

But it’s not just physically that she outshines her sex, the girl has brains too…

I said her knowledge was such as I have never known in woman—but where breathes the man who has traversed, and successfully, all the wide areas of moral, physical, and mathematical science? I saw not then what I now clearly perceive, that the acquisitions of Ligeia were gigantic, were astounding…

Don’t know about you, girls, but I kinda hate her already. So it came as something of a relief to me to learn that she was not long for this world…

Ligeia grew ill. The wild eyes blazed with a too—too glorious effulgence; the pale fingers became of the transparent waxen hue of the grave; and the blue veins upon the lofty forehead swelled and sank impetuously with the tides of the gentle emotion. I saw that she must die…

But Ligeia isn’t going to give up so easily. Can her superior, gigantic, astounding will not somehow allow her to cheat death? She cries out…

“O God! O Divine Father!—shall these things be undeviatingly so?—shall this Conqueror be not once conquered? Are we not part and parcel in Thee? Who—who knoweth the mysteries of the will with its vigor? Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.”

… and dies.

Or does she?

Illustration by Harry Clarke

* * * * *

This is so Poe-ish, it’s almost like a parody of Poe! It has all his favourite things – unreliable, possibly deranged narrator, Gothic setting in spooky old Cornwall, high melodrama, exalted passion, Classical references and quotes from philosophers, and not one but two beautiful dead women! (Or are they??) And I wasn’t at all sure that Ligeia was real – she seems almost as if she has been created in one of those opium dreams that Poe is so fond of, a figment of the narrator’s deranged imagination. Poe is so full of horror tropes it’s easy to forget he invented most of them. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I must admit I felt it ended on a kind of cliff-hanger… I was desperate to know what happened next! But in a way that was even more chilling because it left it up to my imagination…

If you’d like to terrify your own imagination, here’s a link

(The porpy reckons that if this sets the standard for this year,
he’s not so sure he wants to come out of hibernation after all…)

Fretful Porpentine rating:   😮 😮 😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:            😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

* * * * *

NB For the benefit of new readers since it’s the porpy’s first appearance for the season, the fretful porpentine reference comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

So the Fretful Porpentine rating is for the scariness factor, whereas the Overall story rating is for the story’s quality.

48 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe

  1. So glad to see the porpy emerging from hibernation! That is a great picture. I always enjoy these posts, even though I’m much too much of a coward to read anything with a Fretful Porpentine rating of five. It does seem a bit suspicious, as you point out, that he can’t remember even basic details about this supposed love of his life…

    Liked by 1 person

    • He was glad to get out of his box till we started reading this! 🦔 Haha, but remember I’m a wuss, so a 5-FP story for me is probably pretty mild for real horror fans! Poe is great – everything is so over the top and his deranged narrators are always so completely deranged!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I didn’t like horror stories either until a few years ago – in fact, I started this feature to try and see what other people saw in them, and then I got hooked! Now they’re an essential part of my autumn reading.


    • The porpy is glad to be out of his box! For some reason I hadn’t read this one before, but it has leapt straight onto my favourites list too. Poe is so wonderfully over the top! 😀


  2. Poe certainly knew how to do ‘eerie,’ didn’t he, FictionFan? I can see why the porpy reacted as he did (and great to see him again!). I loved your commentary! Spot on and so witty, too. I’m still stuck on how the guy didn’t know his wife’s surname…of course, the cocaine explains a lot, doesn’t it? In any case, what a creepy story!

    Liked by 1 person

    • He certainly did! He’s so over the top but that works really well in horror – and I’m sure his fascination for beautiful dead women would keep psychiatrists busy for years… 😉 I always think he should be used as an anti-drugs campaign – all these opium-soaked deranged narrators should be enough to put anyone off!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Spooky season seems to have crept up on us this year – it feels like only a couple of months since the porpy went into hibernation! I love Poe – he’s so wonderfully over the top! All those beautiful dead women… 😱

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I first read this story at an impressionable age (13). It took me to strange places. I should read it again. Definitely a classic. Poe didn’t waste time in setting up the situation, just plunged the reader into strangeness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, I think I was grown up before I came across Poe – just as well too! He’s so wonderfully over the top and all those dead women – the stuff of nightmares, for sure! I loved this one – straight to the favourites list. 😱

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Welcome back, Porpy!! And FF, I do love your asides on this story. I haven’t read it yet, but it does seem the sort of thing I should read, to get into the Halloween spirit and all, you know.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice to see Porpy again, he seems to have quite the fan club on here. Even from the snipets you shared, I was wondering whether the wife was real at all or just an idea triggered by too much of the hard stuff. I guess Poe was the father of gothic horror, so probably did indeed invent many of the tropes which have now become cliches.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, the porpy definitely thinks he’s the star of the show anyway! 😉 I often find myself wondering if Poe’s mad narrators are just mad and opium-soaked and none of the beautiful dead women ever existed outside their imagination. Poe is so wonderfully over the top and really still sets the standard for this kind of melodramatic horror!


    • The porpy is glad to be out of his box again! I hadn’t come across this story before for some reason, so maybe it’s not in one of the major collections. But it’s definitely one of my favourites now! 😱 Hope all’s well and your fuzzy mind clears soon!


    • Haha, Poe is so wonderfully over the top he always makes me laugh at the same time as he’s scaring my socks off – gotta love all that exalted passion! Ligeia was one of those women who was definitely improved by death, I felt… 😉😱

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What’s not to love about Poe?! When I got my first smart phone, I downloaded an app that has his entire collection in it. I’ll have to go read this!

    I enjoy doing spooky reading in September/October (the RIP reading challenge is great fun!) and started mine off with The House of a Hundred Whispers by Graham Masterton. I think it might frighten porpy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve still read surprisingly little Poe beyond the really well known ones. I love him but don’t think I could read lots of him all at once – my hair would turn even greyer! 😱 The porpy and I read a Graham Masterton novel a few years ago and enjoyed it, but for some reason we seem to have got stuck in vintage horror now – it’s been ages since I read any contemporary stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. ‘Gothic setting in spooky old Cornwall…’ I ought to read this, I really should…. But if it terrified you and Porpy what might it do to me? 😨 I think I will work up to it gently. I hope Porpy has recovered from his fright now. Can’t have him hiding in his box all season!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This whole anthology is set in Cornwall, so the porpy and I may find other Cornish gems too! I’m very, very brave of course, but the porpy is a wuss, so I’m sure you could cope with a 5-FP story! 😱 He’s calmed down again from this one, but we’re just about to read another before bed… 🦔

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, thank you! The porpy is glad to be out of his box again. 🦔 I love Poe – he’s so wonderfully over the top! Though I worry about all those beautiful dead women he imagined… 😱


  8. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m frequently not captured by horror, and read little of it outside your story links. I loved your tongue-in-cheek responses, they brought smiles of enjoyment, so thanks for that 🙂While I appreciated Poe’s lushness of writing, I didn’t find myself immersed in the horror – maybe it’s the spring sunshine outside 😉

    Liked by 1 person

      • Ha, yes, he does go over the top pretty badly sometimes and he could do with a good editor in some of those descriptive passages – I usually end up hating his women by the time he has praised them to the skies for six solid pages! He kinda reminds me of Lovecraft in that sense, although Lovecraft is even worse – never use one adjective when four can do! But I find the more I read of this style the more I enjoy it, mostly because it makes me laugh, and I do have fun mocking it… 😉

        Liked by 1 person

    • I find it takes a little while to get tuned into his overblown style, but it’s worth the effort. He really does create some fantastic horror images that become embedded in your mind – usually related to beautiful dead women, I must admit – and have become standards of horror in both writing and films. The master!


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