"Eleonora" should be contrasted to "Ligeia." The materials Poe used in each are similar: a beloved first wife dies and seems to be reincarnated in a second. Neither husband is a totally trustworthy narrator; readers are given the option of not believing what they are told. "The death of a beautiful woman," which Poe insisted was the most poetical of subjects, and which modern psychologists are likely to see in painfully revealing psychosexual terms, is at the heart of both tales. Each, if we believe the husbands, takes place in a magical universe, a world which is sentient and alive, which responds to and influences the characters, which, indeed, cannot really be differentiated from them. The stories are philosophically consistent with the cosmology which Poe explains in "The Power of Words."
"Ligeia," however, is a dark-hued story. It has to do with the power of the will, with the "large, old decaying city near the Rhine," where the fierce- willed, raven-haired Ligeia studied her kind of transcendentalism. It reminds us that the human will and instinct so admired by Romantic writers could turn ugly: thus Hawthorne warned in The Blithedale Romance, where he showed a transcendental idealist transformed through excessive trust in his will into a dangerous proto-dictator. Nietzsche admired the bright Transcendentalist Emerson, but Romantic notions of will and impulse found horrible fulfillment in Hitler's perversions of Nietzsche. No accident that Hitler's cinematic propagandist called her leaden documentary "Triumph of the Will." There is the smell of sulphur about Ligeia.
"Eleonora," in contrast, remains bright. The emphasis is less on "will" than on "impulse." The narrator-husband is to be forgiven not through any assertion of the will of a superwoman, but because, as he explains it, he could not help loving Ermengarde. Poe sometimes mocked the Transcendentalists' bright faith in the mystical heavenly one-ness of all creation--he asked why Emerson ignored the "infernal two-ness"--but in "Eleonora" he created a sustained prose-poem to the most radiant of Romantic mystical visions. In "Eleonora," nature embodies "the glory of God"; trees do homage to the sun; Eleonora's beauty is nature's; all religions are fragmentary versions of a perennial philosophy which alone is true. Humankind, the heavens, and the earth are a whole, and the wholeness may be revealed to a visionary.
A note of explanation: Poe's wife was his cousin, and his mother died when he was an infant. After the marriage, the Poes did, in fact, live with Virginia's mother. Virginia Poe, his wife, died in 1847, long after the publication of "Eleonora." But the story has nevertheless often been taken as autobiographical, a kind of prose-poem to his love for his young wife who by January 1842 clearly had tuberculosis. Poe's fiancée, Sarah Helen Whitman, was in his mind by 1848. He gave her a copy of the 1845 reprinting of the story (Pollin 5).
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Publication information: Book title: Thirty-Two Stories. Contributors: Edgar Allan Poe - Author, Stuart Levine - Editor, Susan F. Levine - Editor. Publisher: Hackett. Place of publication: Indianapolis. Publication year: 2000. Page number: 174.