Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Diamond Lens,” a scientific fantasy, was very popular in the mid-nineteenth century. This work situates author Fitz-James O’Brien somewhere between Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce in the development of such imaginative quasi-scientific fantasies, although O’Brien is not as profound in his use of genre as either of those writers. O’Brien wrote a clever and interesting story about moving beyond the realm of external reality into a world of absolute beauty and mad obsession, a theme that certainly places him in the Poe-Bierce tradition, but “The Diamond Lens” never goes beyond the surface gloss of the slick magazine writing of the time.

The basic theme of “The Diamond Lens” begins to reveal itself only in the last quarter of the story, when the protagonist discovers the beautiful creature in the drop of water under the microscope. It is a typical Romantic theme, predominant in the early part of the nineteenth century and sustained in the century’s closing decades by the influence of Poe’s work on the Aesthetes. “The Diamond Lens” focuses on the difference between the realm of actual, perceptible physical reality and that realm of a more profound reality that is a projection of the human imagination. The issue is the fineness of the perceiving eye, based on the assumption that there is a realm of reality beneath or beyond that of the everyday physical world that partakes of the spiritual and is thus the truest.


(The entire section is 468 words.)