Poe’s tales have distinctive Gothic parts that had been principally born from the disturbing episode that follows. The tropes of hypersensitivity, losing ladies, psychosis-blighted genius, untimely burial, monomaniac fixations, and grotesque, psychologically-poignant violence hint again to “Berenice” (seems like “barren-icy”). “Berenice” is the grandmother of the Poe Grotesquerie: it formulates his darkish Romantic imaginative and prescient by creating themes and motifs which, whereas not unique largely, are orchestrated in a tremendously progressive live performance of psychological terror, obsession, and decay. “Berenice” is a meditation on the wrestle between the delinquent introspection of the mind and the gregarious sensuality of the physique. The 2 extremes are destined to attempt for dominance, Poe suggests, and as soon as an higher hand is achieved, solely full and absolute possession will fulfill the will to personal.
“Berenice” begins harmlessly sufficient — though these conversant in Poe will instantly sense the approaching sense of doom. Egaeus (a uncommon Poe narrator with a reputation, which suggests “protect” in Greek) is a dismal man with a dismal life, dwelling in a dismal mansion together with his vivacious cousin, Berenice. As you’ll be able to inform, Berenice is the one shiny spot in Egaeus’ life: she is his polar reverse along with her extraversion, optimism, and pleasure, and he views her with religious awe and admiration. However Egaeus has an issue: he has a monomaniacal fetish for enamel. And Berenice’s enamel are impossibly excellent — their whiteness and symmetry defy mortal requirements and completely signify Berenice’s standing as a religious Very best in her cousin’s thoughts.
Deeply obsessed, he fights a need to carry the enamel and think about them from all angles. Sadly, he learns that she has a losing illness and would possibly no stay lengthy. In what he calls “an evil second,” he proposes to her they usually grow to be engaged. One morning, within the gray gentle of daybreak, he sees Berenice emerge from the murk, vulgarly remodeled by her sickness: she had grown taller, thinner, paler; her hair has even turned from blond to black; her face is cadaverous and waxy and her eyes are giant and lifeless. However her enamel are untouched: she flashes a blinding smile that stuns him hopelessly. However — as with Ligeia, Morella, Annabel Lee, Lenore, Ulalume, Madeline, and extra — feminine spirituality can’t fend off masculine mortality: the physique alone can’t help the spirit, and the flesh is overwhelmed with dying. Berenice dies earlier than their marriage ceremony day and Egaeus pays homage to her coffin as she lies in state. In a steadily censored passage, he friends at her corpse solely to observe the “furious lips wreath right into a species of smile,” revealing that she should nonetheless be alive, and exposing her imperishable enamel.
Later that night time Egaeus wakes up from a stupor coated in mud and gore, discovering a field on the desk beside him and a grimy shovel leaning in opposition to the wall. His servant approaches him nervously with the information that the contemporary grave has been robbed, that the corpse has been violated, and — most distressing of all — that Berenice has been discovered mutilated however alive. Shaking from horror, Egaeus reaches over to the field. He appears conscious of what’s inside, however is terrified to look. In his concern he drops the field which shatters on the bottom, revealing a handful of dental surgical procedure devices and thirty-two excellent, freshly-pulled enamel…
Abuse and misogyny abound in Poe’s tales (although not in his life), however few are as nuanced and sinister as “Berenice.” “The Black Cat” is a grim meditation on substance abuse, however “Berenice” is a wordless battle conflated with excessive malice and resentment unparalleled in Poe’s marvelous oeuvre. The express brutality is dealt with with such refined gentility that the final sentence flutters throughout the web page like a strand of cobweb earlier than the total heinousness of its content material is known. Such grotesque tales weren’t solely unknown to Anglophonic literature – consider the bride’s severed head in Washington Irving’s “Journey of the German Scholar” – however they had been reserved largely for sensational reasonably than literary publications. Poe delves far past the simplistic morals of ghastly horror tales, homicide ballads, and revenge tragedies (with their shared “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword” ethical visions) by coming into the realm of psychological reasonably than emotional resentment.
The need to extract and possess Berenice’s enamel just isn’t rational and even ironic, however a fabrication of the unconscious – a completely symbolic act. No mistreatment has been suffered by Egaeus, no adulterous heartbreak and even unrequited love – she has not bit him, or used his toothbrush, or eaten his leftovers. His motives are psychotic (L.B. Griffin referred to as them explicitly schizophrenic) with out conscience or logic. However, removed from meaningless, his actions and impulses are engorged with which means – psychological reasonably than rational. Obsessive about Berenice’s sensual physicality, Egaeus – who represents the mind, the idealizing creativeness – is incapable of accepting her mortality and seeks to extract her most idealized ingredient – her excellent enamel. An act of avoidance, he makes an attempt to disclaim the connection between Berenice-the-Very best and Berenice-the-Mortal. His effort is in useless, and the grisly revelation underscores the impossibility of extracting spirituality from mortality, or essence from kind: the 2 are insoluble, and any try and divorce them in Poe’s works ends in a brutal illustration of their fusion. Like E.T.A. Hoffmann (“The Sandman”), he paves the way in which for psychoanalytical theorists like Freud, Adler, and Jung by diverting from the paved highways of commonplace ethical horror onto the uncharted and chaotic wastelands of human psychology.
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