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The Oval Portrait from Edgar Allan Poe


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I am currently reading a cultural theory book (I need to read for university). The book itself is pretty interesting, going way back explaining how cultural theory evolved over the years and introduces several keywords like "liberal humanism", "structuralism" and "post-structuralism". To show the meaning and differences of all those theories, the books also contain some texts. I particularly liked one of those text and I would like to share it with you. It is called "The oval portrait" from Edgar Allan Poe:

"The chateau into which my valet had ventured to make forcible entrance, rather than permit me, in my desperately wounded condition, to pass a night in the open air, was one of those piles of commingled gloom and grandeur which have so long frowned among the Apennines, not less in fact than in the fancy of Mrs. Radcliffe. To all appearance it had been temporarily and very lately abandoned. We established ourselves in one of the smallest and least sumptuously furnished apartments. It lay in a remote turret of the building. Its decorations were rich, yet tattered and antique...."

That's all? of course not: please click on the following link to get on the page where you can read the whole short story!


What are your thoughts about the story? (generally speaking or also linguistically)

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The sentences were a bit too long and wordy for my liking, but I understand that the era in which Poe wrote, that type of writing style was prevalent. I got a chance to skim over the annotated bibliography, and noted a statement which indicated the "tense interaction between symbols, images, and words." I thought that phrase perfectly summed up what Poe was attempting to do in "The Oval Portrait." Poe is attempting to capture the vivid and powerful communicative medium like a portrait but fails to do so. This reflects the painter attempting to capture the soul and essence of his subject, his wife, through his paintings but struggles to do her justice as he paints her portrait. When he's almost successful, she immediately dies.

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Thanks for sharing this with us!  I really like the works of Edgar Allen Poe and this story -- which I had not read before -- reminds me of how much I enjoy his prose style.  It just begs to be read aloud, as it is so theatrical, in the best sense; creating mystery and suspense.

This one is new to me.  The language is so rich and sensuous that you just keep reading and reading and when it ends, it's chilling as it's so abrupt.  And, as the annotations show, there are so many ways to interpret it.  I think it reveals the high price that artists pay.  They are not understood in society and often are treated as outcasts.  Sometimes they themselves do not understand why and how they are driven.  This is an extreme case, of course, showing the power of art, and how it is so all consuming and yes, also destructive. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Classic Poe. I've always liked this story and the fact that it rarely shows up in collections of best Poe stories is absolutely baffling. (Another one is System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether, the story has a song after!! Print it more often.)

Poe has always been the 'let them think' kind of a writer who occasionally doesn't tell the complete story to elevate them. This one with its ending is one of those stories.

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