Edgar Allan Poe's Short Stories in Biographical Lights
The biographical background of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as the knowledge of some historical and cultural facts of his time, can reveal additional details on his writings and, therefore, contribute to the biographical interpretation of his works. In particular, a profound analysis of his short stories evidences a crucial impact of personal, social and literary problems on the author’s choice of popular themes and development of his style.
One of Poe’s writings that can be closely related to his personal life is his short story “The Oval Portrait” initially published in 1942. As a matter of fact, this is one of his shortest stories that is traditionally set in a gothic castle. A narrator is an injured refuged young man who spends his free time admiring beautiful paintings on the wall of a castle’s room. Suddenly, he discovers a portrait of a strikingly beautiful woman in an oval frame, whose story is revealed in an ancient paper volume found upon a pillow. As it appears, the young lady was a beloved wife of an eccentric, art-addicted painter for whom she patiently postured for weeks. The artist was so much involved in his work that he did not notice his wife disease and her fading health: “She was a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee. And evil was the hour when she saw, and loved, and wedded the painter. He, passionate, studious, austere, and having already a bride in his Art” (Poe).
Importantly, in this short story, Poe recurred to an allusion to the disease of his own wife, Virginia Clemm, his cousin, whom he married when she was 13 years old. The couple had spent 11 years together 11 until Virginia’s early death in 1946. Virginia was suffering from tuberculosis, incurable at that period of time, and her premature death was also caused by this particular disease. Virginia had influenced many of Poe’s works, and her traits, as well as physical weakness, are clearly observable in “The Oval Portrait”. Thus, finally, at the moment when the woman’s portrait in the short story was ready and went for a perfect lifelike copy, the young bride herself was dead. Generally, the novel is based on complicated relations between art and life (Meyers 290). In particular, Poe argues that seen as mere addiction and rivalry to real life, art leads to nothing but tragedy or death remaining, therefore, an artificial copy of lifelikeness: “the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice, 'This is indeed Life itself!' turned suddenly to regard his beloved: – She was dead!” (Poe).
In a point of fact, Poe was deeply influenced by the disease of his beloved wife and an instant presentiment of her early death, which is why his writings are abundant of dark, mournful themes. This fact …