Thirty-Two Stories

By Edgar Allan Poe; Stuart Levine et al. | Go to book overview

THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR
Poe professed to be surprised that people believed that his "article" about the strange death of M. Valdemar was true. Don't believe him; he concocted his fraud so carefully that he must have known that some readers would think it a piece of extraordinarily interesting news. This despite the fact that most of the impact of " The Facts . . ." comes from the famous horrid "effect " Poe staged at the end, and that setting up that ending is a major artistic project in the tale.
The topic of mesmerism (hypnosis) was very much in the public eye and Poe's; Mabbott (9, III) quotes factual and apparently factual pieces about an operation performed using mesmerism as an anesthetic, of a life prolonged through mesmerism, and of "spiritual" activity at the time of a death under hypnosis, accounts which Poe clearly knew. In a sense, then, "The Facts . . . is a hoax; certainly Poe hoped that readers would consider it true or at least suspend judgment until they had read most of the story. Besides the widespread fascination with mesmerism, Poe capitalized on several other factors:
The magazines in which he published contained articles as well as stories and generally did not distinguish one from the other through format. It was possible to fool the reader by pretending, as Poe did here, that a story was an article. Indeed, the terms themselves were not yet mutually exclusive; Poe often called a work of fiction an "article."
Interest in science was very high, and literary magazines ran numerous items about science, especially when they touched on issues which had to do with certain philosophical matters. In this story, for instance, the possibility that scientific proof has at last been found of the existence of life after death would have been of great interest, not merely on theological grounds, but also because Romantic artists wanted to believe that there was "something out there" with which the inspired mind was in contact. Many Romantic artists hoped that science was on the verge of discovering the force that unifies the universe, thus giving "inspiration" a physical basis (see note 1, "magnetic"). Many thought that the force would be electrical in nature. Thus one literary magazine, for instance, carried accounts of work of the French researcher Magendie on electrical stimulation of the brain, and others noted in 1837 that Andrew Crosse of the London Electrical Society seemed to have created life through the application of electricity to "silicate of potash," HCI, and iron oxide.
The line between science and pseudoscience was often ill-defined. Phrenology (reading personality and analyzing psychological problems through examination of the shape of the head) and mesmerism (hypnotism) were both taken seriously. When both "sciences" fell into the hands of

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Thirty-Two Stories
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Metzengerstein 1
  • The Duc de L'Omelette 9
  • Ms. Found in a Bottle 16
  • The Assignation 26
  • Shadow 42
  • Silence 48
  • Ligeia 54
  • How to Write a Blackwood Article 68
  • The Fall of the House of Usher 87
  • William Wilson 104
  • The Man of the Crowd 120
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue 130
  • A Descent into the Maelström 159
  • Eleonora 174
  • The Masque of the Red Death 181
  • The Pit and the Pendulum 188
  • The Domain of Arnheim 200
  • The Tell-Tale Heart 216
  • The Gold-Bug 221
  • The Black Cat 248
  • The Purloined Letter 256
  • The Balloon-Hoax 272
  • The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq. 284
  • Some Words with a Mummy 303
  • The Power of Words 318
  • The Imp of the Perverse 323
  • The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar 329
  • The Cask of Amontillado 339
  • Mellonta Tauta 346
  • Hop-Frog 361
  • Von Kempelen and His Discovery 370
  • Bibliography 379
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