(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mr. Linley has had an obsessive fascination with microscopic investigations from the time he was ten years old. Beneath the microscope, he sees a world akin to Alf layla wa-layla (fifteenth century; The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, 1706-1708) in which the dull veil of ordinary existence that hangs across the world seems to roll away and to lay bare a land of enchantments; like many of the narrators in the stories of Poe, he feels elevated above all other men, seeing the world in a more profound way. However, as is also typical of Poe characters, it is not a scientific thirst that drives the protagonist but rather the pure enjoyment of a poet lost in the enchanted gardens and fantastic foliage of a world of imaginative wonders. The world he seeks is the world of aesthetic, not material, reality.

When the narrator grows up, he has little real interest in anything but his microscopic investigations. Because he has a considerable amount of money, as is often the case in such stories, he sets up a laboratory in New York City and begins to teach himself to become an expert microscopist. Throughout his studies and experiments, however, he feels frustrated by the limitations of his instruments. He imagines depths beyond that which his microscopes can reveal, and he dreams of discovering a perfect lens that will allow him to see what no man has ever seen. After months spent in a futile search for such a lens, quite coincidentally, as again is often the case in such fantasies, a young neighbor drops by and tells him of his visit to Madame Vulpes, a spirit medium who has related to him secrets that only magic could provide. The young man is a Jew, which supplies the stereotype of mysterious occult connections, as well as the stereotype of a peddler with mysterious objects in his possession. Hoping that Madame Vulpes...

(The entire section is 752 words.)