notes on e. a. poe’s the oval portrait


In the short story The Oval Portrait (1842) Edgar Allan Poe mentions the name and work by Ann Radcliff. In the introduction. The idea of a mysterious portrait which hides a secret is one of the most common topic of the horror literature, together with the themes of the double, of life and death of the dichotomy between art and life. The tale is about an injured narrator who refuges with his valet Pedro into an abandoned manor in the Apennines. There he sees beautiful paintings and finds out a booklet which explains them and their stories. A painting in particular strikes his imagination and rises his curiosity for its “absolute life-likeliness of expression”. Then he looks through the book to read about the canvas the picture was painted by an eccentric artist, the sitter is his young wife. While depicting it he grows obsessed to the point that he pays no attention to the woman he was painting. When the work is finished he exclaims, “This is indeed Life itself!” and looks at his wife who is dead: her spirit is in the life-like painting.

The central idea of the story resides in the confusing relationship between art and life. In “The Oval Portrait”, art and the addiction to it are ultimately depicted as killers, responsible for the young bride’s death. In this context, one can synonymously equate art with death, whereas the relationship between art and life is consequently considered as a rivalry. It takes Poe’s theory that poetry as art is the rhythmical creation of beauty, and that the most poetical topic in the world is the death of a beautiful woman (see “The Philosophy of Composition”). “The Oval Portrait” suggests that the woman’s beauty condemns her to death.[1]
Poe suggests in the tale that art can reveal the artist’s guilt or evil and that the artist feeds on and may even destroy the life he has modeled into art.[2]

In the short story The Oval Portrait (1842) Edgar Allan Poe mentions the name and work by Ann Radcliff. In the introduction. The idea of a mysterious portrait which hides a secret is one of the most common topic of the horror literature, together with the themes of the double, of life and death of the dichotomy between art and life. The tale is about an injured narrator who refuges with his valet Pedro into an abandoned manor in the Apennines. There he sees beautiful paintings and finds out a booklet which explains them and their stories. A painting in particular strikes his imagination and rises his curiosity for its “absolute life-likeliness of expression”. Then he looks through the book to read about the canvas the picture was painted by an eccentric artist, the sitter is his young wife. While depicting it he grows obsessed to the point that he pays no attention to the woman he was painting. When the work is finished he exclaims, “This is indeed Life itself!” and looks at his wife who is dead: her spirit is in the life-like painting.;

 

PLOT: While spending the night in an abandoned castle, the protagonist sets his eyes on the intense portrait of a young girl. From a book which describes the paintings in the room he learns about her tragic fate.
The tale begins with an injured narrator seeking refuge in an abandoned mansion in the Apennines, with no explanation for his wound. He spends his time admiring the works of art decorating the strangely-shaped room and perusing a volume which “purported to criticize and describe” the paintings. He eventually discovers a painting which shocks him with its extreme realism, which he refers to as “absolute life-likeliness of expression.” He spends a moment (“for an hour, perhaps,” the reader is told) in silent awe of it until he cannot bear to look any more, then consults the book for an explanation. The remainder of the story is a selection from this book discussing how the painting was created — a story within a story. The book explains that the picture was painted by an eccentric artist depicting his young wife, but that he grew obsessed with the painting to the point that he neglected the woman he was painting. When he finishes the painting he is appalled at his own work, and exclaims, “This is indeed Life itself!” Then he turns to see his bride, and discovers that she has died.

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