Style and Technique

Ligeia is a woman whom Poe’s readers have often encountered; she is Lenore, whose spirit hovers behind “the silken, sad, uncertain rustling” of the purple curtains in “The Raven”; she is Ulalume, whose spirit calls the narrator to her tomb to live in love-death; she is Annabel Lee in her “sepulchre . . . by the sea”; she is Annie, who has conquered “the fever called ’living.’” She is, just as likely, Poe’s own mother, whose slow death from tuberculosis remained always in the poet’s memory, or Virginia Clemm, Poe’s child bride who died at the age of twenty-three.

Poe’s special gift, which “Ligeia” well illustrates, is his ability to combine these intensely personal motifs with gaudy, arcane, and intentionally cryptic imagery, which he does not require his readers to unravel. To do so, however, is to appreciate the care with which Poe fashioned his works and to see that he did not strive merely for the sensational and the strange.

Places Discussed

Bridal chamber

Bridal chamber. Room in an isolated abbey in the wild English countryside. Following the death of his beloved first wife Ligeia, the narrator restores an ancient English abbey whose gloomy grandeur and remote setting match his own mental and spiritual desolation. Inspired by his opium addiction, he furnishes the abbey in a fantastic style of elaborate furniture, tapestries, wall hangings, and decorations in an attempt to overcome his sorrow. This mixture reaches its zenith in the narrator’s bedroom, high in a turret, where the huge bed has a canopy, and there is a gigantic sarcophagus of black granite from ancient Egypt. The jumbled mixture of exotic furniture and artifacts, and in particular its emphasis on the bizarre and the magical, are reflections of the narrator’s own internal state and a hint of the supernatural events to come.

It is to this bedroom, which the narrator calls his bridal chamber, that he brings his new wife, the Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine. Theirs is a loveless marriage and the narrator feels little sorrow when the Lady Rowena sinks into an illness, declines, and dies. After she is prepared for burial and is lying in the bridal chamber, the narrator sits in an opium-induced stupor watching over Rowena. The room seems to take on a life of its own, with almost imperceptible shadows gliding across the floor and the figures in the tapestries assuming sinister yet not-quite-perceivable patterns. During the night, Rowena revives and the startled narrator rushes to her side only to watch her fade again into death. This process repeats itself in the eerie atmosphere of the room until finally the dead Rowena reveals herself as the reincarnated Ligeia.

Literary Techniques

Poe's descriptive language presents both a source of wonder and a stumbling block for readers. He employs baroque sentences, piled on...

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Ideas for Group Discussions

Two good starting places for the discussion of "Ligeia" are the personality of the narrator and the explanation of what happened. Do readers...

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Social Concerns

Poe's characteristic topics of revived corpses and obsessive grief surely derive from his own psychology, but they also reflect anxieties of...

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Literary Precedents

Poe's art derives from the Gothic tradition, a genre popular in his own time. Critic Julian Symons notes, "The Gothic novelists wanted to...

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Related Titles

Poe wrote often of obsessive love that survives the loved one's death. His famous poem "The Raven" (1845) has as its speaker a man who pines...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Basler, Roy P. “The Interpretation of ‘Ligeia.’” In Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Regan. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967. A psychological study of “Ligeia” that interprets the work as an exploration of the narrator’s rational and nonrational obsession and madness.

Jones, Daryl E. “Poe’s Siren: Character and Meaning in ‘Ligeia.’ ” Studies in Short Fiction 20, no. 1 (Winter, 1983): 33-37. Dismisses critics who interpret “Ligeia” as a straightforward gothic tale or a tale of psychological realism. Instead, explores the title character as a siren, which justifies her...

(The entire section is 229 words.)