Edgar Allen Poe is known as both the master of the short story and the master of horror. In his stories, he appeals to the psychological element of the reader to instill a sense of terror that is unreachable through mere physical descriptions. His life is characterized by a series of disconnects as he was first orphaned and then failed to reach an understanding with his foster parents before attempting to launch out on his own. He is also famous for having married, at age 27, his cousin Virginia, a girl of only 13 who died at a relatively young age. Poe is reported to have had numerous poor personal habits as well, such as gambling, drinking, and opium use, all of which served to alienate him from his foster father. Despite this, he managed to find early success as a writer in terms of finding a means to publish his first book of poems at the age of 19 and was writing short stories by age 23, but he never achieved the kind of financial success he felt he was entitled to. In perfecting the art of the short story, Poe said “If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression” (Mowery, 1997). His demons came through in his writing as he consistently featured many of the same themes of sorrow and loss. Examining works such as the short stories “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “Ligeia” reveals much of Poe’s character through the form of his anima.
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Before this discussion can take place, one must have a clear understanding of what is meant by this term. The term came into existence with Carl Jung’s work on dream analysis as a means of better understanding the psyche. According to Ackroyd (2005), “the Anima is the personification of all feminine psychological tendencies within a man, the archetypal feminine symbolism within a man’s unconscious.” In other words, it is the feminine within the male self that lies hidden, perhaps buried under a mountain of stereotypical conceptions of what it means to be a man versus what it means to be a woman. Regardless of how ‘male’ or ‘macho’ the individual might be, there is a hint of the feminine within him that characterizes the ‘softer’ ideals most commonly associated with the female. It is the part of the man that is capable of crying when things are bad, that enjoys cooking, or is able to nurture a hurt child. To understand this concept a little better, it might help to understand that there is an equal and opposite conception referred to as the Animus. The Animus is described in nearly exact opposite terms as the masculine tendencies that reside within the female unconscious. However, these concepts are slightly different in their expression. “In dreams Jung said that the Animus is more likely to be personified by multiple male figures, while the anima is frequently a single female” (Ackroyd, 2005). These elements are considered necessary for either gender as a means of providing the bridge to understanding between the sexes. If men are to gain any understanding of women, they can only do so through the understanding of their own innate feminine tendencies through the anima. Likewise, women can only understand men through the Animus within them as their own masculine tendencies become better understood. In writing his stories, Poe seems to have been constantly in search of an understanding of his inner feminine through characters such as Ligeia and Madeline.
In “Ligeia,” the figure of Ligeia herself symbolizes the concept of an idolatrous love that is pushed into the realm of obsession, illustrating Poe’s constant yet elusive attempts to define himself. That this character is herself a captivating mystery is illustrated in the narrator’s own admission that he knew very little of his wife. “I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia … I have never known the paternal name of her who was my friend and my betrothed” (23). In making this admission of her mysterious origins, Poe reveals the degree to which his own murky beginnings alienated him from himself. According to Mike Campbell (2007), the name provided by the character was one given to one of the Sirens of Greek myth. According to legend, these sirens always lead men to their doom through the sound of their voices as they sing. Perhaps Poe had a sense that pursuing this internal feminine would lead him into madness. This is emphasized by the way in which Ligeia is described as she takes on almost superhuman qualities. Physically, she reminds us of the ancient Greek statues of feminine perfection, possessing the alabaster skin similar to marble, the larger than ordinary eyes, and the “dear music of her low, sweet voice” (24). The clue that she is an anima character for Poe is reflected in the degree of her education and intelligence which place her beyond the ordinary scope of ordinary women during this time period even as her incredible inner passion belies the outward calm of a well-bred lady. “Like one of those angelic women, cut from the romantic poems, Ligeia is the epitome of physical beauty and cunning intelligence. A true ‘femme fatale’ whom Poe mystifies” (de Mancelos, 1997). However, the love represented by Ligeia is not the soft, motherly love of a companion but is instead a passion-filled possessive love as Poe desired to possess himself.
The character of Ligeia dies from some wasting illness but is not permitted to pass away entirely. Poe uses his characteristic madness as a means of illustrating how this character becomes a part of the narrator’s being, illustrating almost perfectly the concept of the anima in his representation. This occurs as he worships the figure before him, which “passed into my spirit, there dwelling as in a shrine” (26). It becomes obvious in the telling of Ligeia’s death that she had a similar connection to her husband, “For long hours, detaining my hand, would she pour out her before me the overflowing of a heart whose more than passionate devotion amounted to idolatry” (29). Rather than a true person, then, Ligeia emerges as the anima for Poe at the same time that he establishes himself as the animus. This is made apparent as the character becomes capable of sustaining a will strong enough to circumvent death and find a means of returning to the object of its affection. This strength of affection leads directly to the final scene, in which Ligeia is perceived to have reanimated and transformed the body of Rowena to that of Ligeia. It is “the vengeance of the former wife over the second one. An improbable and exquisite punishment … by which Ligeia enters and possesses Rowena’s body, to impose herself on her husband” (de Mancelos, 1997). This gives the sense of the anima again as Ligeia exists within the mind rather than actually walking around in her own skin.
This character is highly comparable to the female character revealed in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Like Ligeia, Madeline is described as the second half of the main character, this time the host Roderick. Although she hasn’t yet been seen in the story, Roderick indicates her importance to his being when he tells the narrator, “her decease … would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient race of the Ushers” (47) even as it is indicated that she has been Roderick’s only companion for years. However, like Ligeia, Madeline is also the victim of a mysterious wasting illness that is certain to end her life in a matter of days. The connection between Madeline and Roderick is made explicit in the general similarities of their features as it is revealed that the two had been twins, again suggesting the concept of anima and animus as one cannot exist without the other. However, Madeline dies while Roderick still lives much like the narrator in Ligeia is forced to continue living without the beloved wife that had become such an integral part of his soul. While the narrator remains largely unaware of what is occurring in the lady’s tomb during the next few days, Roderick seems to have been sharply aware that his sister, who has died in physical form, is somehow still not dead at all. As the narrator begins to hear strange noises during his final night at the house, he finally begins to hear the words that Roderick is uttering: “Not hear it? – yes, I hear it, and have heart it. Long – long – long – many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it – yet I dared not – oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am! – I dared not – I dared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb! … I now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin” (60). As Madeline finally enters into the room fully, at the same time finally entering into the story fully, she appears in the doorway with “blood upon her white robes and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame” (60). Only after she has fallen upon her brother and “bore him to the floor a corpse” (60) is she finally able to rest in peace, pulling the rest of the House of Usher down with her into the tarn on which it stands.
It is in the nature of their relationship that Roderick and Madeline are different from the narrator and Ligeia. While both men are obsessed with their respective ladies, perfectly aware that they cannot survive without them, the narrator of Ligeia seems finally at peace thanks to his reunion with his first wife while Roderick is taken to his death. The narrator of Ligeia is able to gain sustenance and happiness from his first wife for as long as she is healthy and well, but Roderick seems to lose strength in the presence of his sister as if she is draining the life force from him. In fact, “The Fall of the House of Usher” has often been interpreted as a vampire story in which Madeline feeds off of her brother until he is no longer strong enough to support her needs. In addition, Ligeia is a visible creature, described in all her beauty and natural graces, including her unusual features of education and willfulness while Madeline is little more than a background idea through much of the story. Her first appearance is as a ghostlike wraith moving through a distant room in the shadows upon the first night of the narrator’s arrival and then she takes to her deathbed, not to appear again until the day of her burial. Supernatural efforts are involved in both girls’ deaths as Ligeia seems to unleash unseen shadows through the room the narrator once shared with her that become substantial enough to drop some liquid into Rowena’s drink that presumably enables Ligeia to return. Madeline is entombed within an unusually fortified resting place and, although she was buried following a wasting disease and, according to Roderick, begins with feeble movements inside her coffin, she somehow gains the necessary strength to throw off her encasements and come after her brother without having received any sustenance or even air in the intervening days since she was buried. In both cases, neither the supernatural female nor the man with whom she is most closely associated is able to find any peace until they are reunited in some way – one for life and the other in death.
In both of these female characters, Poe reveals his anima. She is obsessive and relentless in her pursuit of knowledge and a sense of connection. When denied, she is angry and vengeful, such as Madeline who was denied her masculine side but cannot be denied. This is exactly what Jung indicated was the tendency of the anima/animus. When it is denied, it manages to express itself in unexpected and sometimes unpleasant ways that can be frightening or can serve to devour the soul in its unfulfilled desires. Yet when she is permitted to integrate, Poe illustrates his fear that she will completely overcome as Ligeia is first named for the Greek sirens that purposely lured sailors to their doom and then proves to be more intelligent and to have higher education than the narrator himself. In this, she is just as threatening as the mysterious Madeline. Through these characters, Poe also acknowledges that the anima is supernatural in that it cannot be killed unless her death is also accompanied by the death of the man. His pursuit of the anima is thus his pursuit of these women as he attempts to find a deeper understanding of himself and a sense of fulfillment and connection to the world that had somehow evaded him.
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