American Romanticism in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia”
by Feross Aboukhadijeh, 12th grade
The American Romantic period was essentially a Renaissance of American literature. “It was a Renaissance in the sense of a flowering, excitement over human possibilities, and a high regard for individual ego” (English). American romantics were influenced by the literary eras that came before them, and their writings were a distinct reaction against the ideology of these previous eras. In this sense, American Romanticism grew from “. . . the rhetoric of salvation, guilt, and providential visions of Puritanism, the wilderness reaches of this continent, and the fiery rhetoric of freedom and equality . . .” as they eagerly developed their own unique style of writing (English). American romantic authors had a strong sense of national identity and pride in being American. For this reason, American authors during this time had a distinct desire to develop their own unique character separate from British literature. In order to accomplish this goal, the poet Edgar Allan Poe was defiant and individualistic in his writing; and this explains the remarkable creativity found throughout his work. One short story in particular, “Ligeia,” which Poe published in 1838, demonstrates all the major aspects of the American Romantic revolution: rejection of classicism, fervent idealism, and unusual remoteness regarding time and space.
The story of “Ligeia” follows an unknown narrator and his wife Ligeia, who is a beautiful, mysterious, and intelligent character. Ligeia dies, and she mutters passages from an odd poem entitled “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. Rowena is the stereotypical woman, a classical example of what women were supposed to be during the era. Interestingly, 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. Throughout the entirety of the story, Poe provides the reader with countless examples of his bias towards romantic ideals and his mastery of American Romantic literature.
The most obvious aspect of American Romanticism in this short story is the rejection of classicism. During the romantic period, America was thriving economically and the focus of most people’s lives was on economic and material success. The Romantic Revolution that took place in 19th-century America was a revolt against the economic realities of the day and the theories of Locke and Franklin. American romantics sought to break away from traditional literary forms; they did not agree with the commonly accepted principals of “classicism” and “formality” as being indicators of literary merit. On the contrary, these romantics believed that “inspiration, enthusiasm, and emotion” mattered much more than outdated standards of merit that required conforming to a set of rules. The world is emotional and organic, not mechanical or rational. “Good literature should have heart, not rules . . .” (English). This explains why 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” (Lombardi). 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 superiority of Ligeia’s beauty because it does not conform 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” (Lombardi). Poe undoubtedly sees flaws in the narrator’s second wife because she fits the mold too easily. And 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 entirety of the story, these odd appearance traits are objects of reverie for the narrator, and he makes clear to point this out repeatedly. Poe rejects classical values and welcomes the supernatural through the vivid descriptions of Ligeia’s uncanny beauty. (Deter)
Poe also manages to display another key trait of American Romantics—fervent idealism—in this morbid and frightening tale. Idealism was embraced by American romantic writers because they firmly believed in the lofty goals of democracy, even though at many times these goals were never realized. In this sense, American romantics were optimists. They were champions of individualism and believed firmly in the possibilities of humankind and man’s good nature. This optimism can be seen in the narrator’s account of his wife’s reincarnation in the body of another woman. Although the narrator’s story appears sincere and is certainly not lacking in detail, he is a self-proclaimed opium addict, which makes him an unreliable narrator. However, the romantic optimism of Poe is apparent because upon seeing Rowena rise from the dead, he assumes that it is Ligeia that has actually come back from the dead in Rowena’s body, however unlikely. This exaggerated optimism could have been caused by Ligeia’s knowledge of “metaphysical investigation,” knowledge described as “. . . wisdom too divinely precious to not be forbidden.” (Lombardi). In this sense, the narrator’s opium addiction can be seen as a form of optimism—even idealism. Indeed the narrator even admits this optimism to himself: “. . . in the excitement of my opium dreams, I would call aloud upon her name, during the silences of the night . . . as if . . . I could restore her to the pathway she had abandoned . . . upon the earth.” (Lombardi). Of course, these dreams are nothing more than hallucinations and false hopes caused by the opium drug. Still, they contain embedded within them a sense of “optimism against all odds.” Nowhere is this clearer than Ligeia’s assertion that “Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will” (Lombardi). This implies that Ligeia’s return from death could actually be literal, and that a strong will can actually keep someone alive. This type of extreme optimism—stubborn idealism—like keeping someone alive by sheer will of force, is typical of American romantic authors.
The last trait of the American Romantic period which Poe demonstrates in the short story “Ligeia” is an unusual remoteness regarding time and space. During the 19th century, American romantic writers were trying to disconnect themselves from past literary styles; writers often added a “theme of unusual remoteness regarding time and space” to make this disconnect literal and obvious to the reader (Deter). In “Ligeia,” Poe accomplishes this by making the narrator lose track of time. The narrator cannot even remember how he knows his wife or when or where they met: “I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia.” (Deter). He doesn’t even know his beloved wife’s last name. Ligeia has completely taken control of the narrator’s mind and altered his perception of time and events. In this sense, she is supernatural and can control time, at least for the opium-addicted narrator, anyway. Furthermore, Ligeia’s identity has no clear-cut beginning (since we don’t know when or how she met the narrator) or end (since she never really dies in the mind of the narrator). Additionally, we don’t know how Ligeia is able to manipulate time and space to come back to life in the body of another woman. It appears that under the influence of drugs, the narrator epitomizes romantic idealism. He takes no note of time when observing Ligeia’s revival: “It might have been midnight, or perhaps earlier, or later, for I had taken no note of time, when a sob, low, gentle, but very distinct, startled me from my revery (sp) . . .” (Lombardi). Without a sense of time, space, or reality, the narrator’s first-hand account is questionable at best, but serves its mysterious and misleading purpose. It’s this sort of innovation and defiance of other 18th-century writer’s philosophies that makes Poe a romantic.
“The world of Poe’s tales is a nightmarish universe. You cross wasted lands, silent, forsaken landscapes where both life and waters stagnate” (Asselineau). However, surprisingly, Poe demonstrates many characteristics of American romantic writers. For one, his stories constantly challenge classic authority, a cornerstone of the American Romantic Movement. His eerie idealism and uncertain description of time and space also tag him as a prime example of a romantic American author. For these reasons, Edgar Allan Poe will forever be remembered as a leader of the American Romantic Movement and one of the greatest authors to ever live.
Asselineau, Roger. “Edgar Allan Poe.” American Writers. Ed. Leonard Unger. Vol. 3. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972. 409-32. Resource on famous American writers, arranged alphabetically.
Deter, Floramaria. “Romanticism & the Supernatural in Edgar Allan Poe’s Ligeia.” About.com. 2007. About, Inc.12 Nov. 2007 <http://classiclit.about.com/od/poeedgarallan/a/aa_eapoeligeia.htm>. Analysis of Romanticism in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia”
English.Dept. home page. 18 Aug. 2001. Virginia Commonwealth U.6 Nov. 2007 <http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm>. ENGLISH 372: American Romanticism, Fall 2002. Information on American Romanticism.
Lombardi, Esther. “Legeia - Edgar Allan Poe.” About.com. 2007. About, Inc.12 Nov. 2007 <http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/eapoe/bl-eapoe-ligeia.htm>. The full work “Legeia” by Edgar Allan Poe republished in online format by About.com.
Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "Sample Author Analysis Essay - "Edgar Allan Poe"" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 17 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/english/sample-essays/author-analysis-edgar-allan-poe/>.
They say that there are the writers a separate universe in which they can produce, create their work. An ordinary person is not given the opportunity to know the deep writer’s life, but even every day we see a new crowd of people who stand in line for a new book. Everyone expects a miracle, take a new book with the hope that something wonderful, inexplicably beautiful, willing to drown in a completely different world, a world of fantasies and dreams, which appears to the reader in the next bought book in the various forms: essays, novels, stories, poem.
Today we are going to talk about the famous essay writers. ESSAY (fran. Essai) it is the literary form of small prose text, which express emphasize the author’s individuality. In relief, to the story, the writer’s essay’s facility is to communicate or interpret, but not ever a picture or a histrionic retelling of any life position. The work reaches its purpose through the outright copyright approvals, which do not take the perpetration of no one fictional personage or the plot of a binder. Nevertheless, there is not any hardly absolute difference between different types of essays and short stories. The main essay’s feature is its brevity, it usually takes from ten up to twenty pages.
There are a great amount of interesting, fascinating works, essays, literary works, which were written by the great world famous authors and writers. More than three centuries ago, the first essay was published at first. Now, we can find a lot of essays in libraries or have an easy possibility to order by the Internet miscellanea of works written by well-known authors from all the world from different centuries. Ever since ancient times, essays were published in magazines, books, were grouped by theme, genre, years, and the authors. Details included a variety of genres, among which are comedy, non-fiction, romance, instructive, historical facts, life stories, and current events. There are many authors and essays (detailed list you can read below), and it was difficult to identify the most important and well-known essayists of all time.
The list, about which I have mentioned earlier, includes writers from different backgrounds and periods of history. Some of they are still currently continuing to write. Because this fact, it is nothing surprising in the fact that essay remains a popular literary format. And the authors, who can quickly, briefly, concisely and interesting tell the story will always be on top. Edusson, the Essay Writing Service company, selected essayists, but not essays. Because, the best essays are only personal, authorial and deep engaged with author’s issues, internal feelings and ideas.
James Baldwin (1924-1987)
Baldwin grew up in a family of his stepfather, a priest, where he was the eldest of nine children. His own father, Baldwin have never known and was very suffered from that, which was reflected in some of his works (“Tell me when the train left”, “Go Tell it on the Mountain”, “Giovanni’s Room” and others. After Bronx high school graduating, Baldwin moved to Greenwich Village, where he began his literary career.
Greenwich Village has always been considered one of the most deprived New York areas, caused a wave of optimism in Baldwin’s source, who started to write about his views and understandings of what is happening around him. His first journalistic articles, essays were imbued with the spirit of racism denial which was prevailing in America at that times. That negative attitude makes young writer move Paris.
Baldwin felt like he caught a breath of fresh air in France, have been saving there from the racist and homophobic America of 40-th. XX century. His main works were written on the banks of the Seine, and there Baldwin have spent the most of his life, producing his creations among which are next well-known essays:
- James Baldwin and his popular essays published in 1956 “Notes of a Native Son” essays;
- James Baldwin and his book of interesting essays named “The Devil Finds Work” which was presented to the mass in 1976;
- James Baldwin and his “The Evidence of Things Not Seen” (essays; 1985);
- James Baldwin and his list of essays created in the romantic atmosphere of 85th with the strange name “The Price of the Ticket”;
Norman Mailer (1923-2007)
Norman Mailer was born in New Jersey in the Jewish immigrants family. He was the first child in the family, and after him, there was also two children - a brother and sister. Norman grew up in New York, and in 1939 decided to become a student of Harvard university, where he have fallen in love with literary activity. His first story was published at the age of 18, in 1941. The University of Harvard received young author the university magazine award. Among the entire set of his works we would like to highlight the most famous essays:
- Norman Mailer and his New York book of essays called in the world as “The Presidential Papers”;
- Norman Mailer and his second New York creation which is known by the loud name “Cannibals and Christians”;
- Norman Mailer and his “Pieces and Pontifications” in which the author opens the deep world of Little Boston’s Life.
Susan Sontag (1933-2004)
Susan Sontag was born in New York, 16 January 1933 year. Since her childhood, the friends of hers were always only booked. In 1952 Sontag’s family have moved to Boston where Sontag passed entry exams to Harvard University. There young writer studied English literature and received a Master of Philosophy in 1954. While have been studying at Oxford in 1955-1957, she has faced with the sexism challenge, and because of this soon moved to Paris. From that time she was actively engaged in the French cinema, philosophy and wrote a lot. Among her essay collection we can emphasize the nest ones: “Against Interpretation”, “Where the Stress Falls”, “Regarding the Pain of Others Styles of Radical Will”.
Joan Didion (1934-present)
Joan Didion was born and grew up in Sacramento, California. She was just a five-year-old little girl when she have begun to write her first string. She read everything she could get into her hands while the parents were not home. In 1956, she graduated from the University of Berkeley and got their Bachelor Degree in Arts and English language. Within her senior years, Joan won the first place in an essay writing inworld-known Vogue magazine. She created own first work which was named “Run” and issued in 1963 has been working there in Vogue. Among her essays work we want to mention the next ones:
- Joan Didion and her “Joan Didion” essays works;
- Joan Didion and her “Salvador”;
- Joan Didion and her essays about Earth planet called “After Henry” (twelve geographical essays);
Annie Dillard (1945-present)
Annie Dillard was born in 1945 and is already alive to present us a lot of her magnificent works. Anni is an American author. She was always well-known for her clear story prose in both nonfiction/fiction, poetry, essays, literary criticism and etc. Among her essays Edusson want to emphasize the next ones:
- “Education stone”, the book of short nonfiction essays;
- “Life on the rocks”, the book of 14 essays: Total Eclipse, In the Jungle, The Deer at Providencia, A Field of Silence, On a Hill Far Away, God in the Doorway, Mirage's, Aces and Eights);
Robert Atwan (1940- present)
Robert Atwan was born in 1940, November 2, in New Jersey. He graduated from 2 universities: Seton Hall and Rutgers. He is known as one of the best American essay writers. Among the entire set of his works we highlighted the most famous ones:
- “Great Moments in Literary Baseball”, on the basis of the first game of the season;
- “Poems and Essays”, essays about Autumn and Winter (Snowy essays);
Edward Hoagland (1932- present)
Edward Hoagland is an American writer, who was born in 1932, in New York. Since his childhood, he was fond of writing, literature and from that time, he decided to become a novelist, essayist. He has a huge number of essays, the whole list of which you can find here, and we will mention in our article just a little part of it:
- “The Big Cats”, written in 1961;
- “Why this Extra Violence” in April;
- “The Soul of the Tiger” written when he has fallen in love for the first time;
- “Big Frog, Very Small Pond”, unknown data;
- “A World Worth Saving and Christmas Observed”, written in 1989;
- “Two Kinds of People” which was published just in Europe;
- “Last Call”, 2010, a very interesting one;
- “On Friendship”, which he wrote in 2013, when he was already a deep old man.
David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)
David Foster Wallace was born in 1968 in the USA.He has graduated the little-known college, where he studied philosophy, there got a degree in English language and literature. For many years, he experienced severe bouts of depression.
in June 2007, according to the doctor recommendations David stopped taking medication. Depression particularly increased In the last months of his life. On September 12, 2008, he committed suicide.There some of this essays:
- David Foster and his essay “Television and U.S. Fiction”, (an interesting and comic essays book);
- David Foster and his essays book named “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley”;
- David Foster and his “A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again” and “Consider the Lobster”, which were both published in 2005;
- David Foster and his “Both Flesh and Not” unknown date of publication.
So we see, that the concept “essay” goes beyond the simple students essays writing in college. The best and well-known writers from all over the world created a lot of essays to share with readers their ideas and feelings. Continue to read and study the world of famous essay writers, and perhaps, in one day you will have the chance to become a popular essayist too.
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