Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

"The Lighthouse" (Edgar Allan Poe, 1849; Cristina Fernández Cubas, 1997): From the "Egocentred" to a "Geocentred" Analysis

Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

"The Lighthouse" (Edgar Allan Poe, 1849; Cristina Fernández Cubas, 1997): From the "Egocentred" to a "Geocentred" Analysis

Article excerpt

When he died in 1849, Edgar Allan Poe left an unfinished text about a nobleman who accepts a position as a lighthouse keeper. In a remote lighthouse, with only the company of a dog, his wish is to be completely isolated from the world and to write a book. Poe's incomplete manuscript, three diary entries (January 1, 2, 3) and an empty heading (January 4) were later found and assigned the title of "The Lighthouse" which has, since then, been accepted as the official title.1

A century and a half later, in 1997, the Spanish publishing house Ediciones Áltera commissioned nine writers to finish Poe's manuscript. Rather than being restricted to the style and themes of its author, their contribution was intended to be a free and personal homage to him. Among them was Cristina Fernández Cubas, one of the most important short story writers in contemporary Spain.2 Her connection with Poe has been acknowledged in various interviews where she has mentioned how his fantastic short stories, in particular the famous "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839), have lingered in her mind since she was a child.3 The impact of this author is indeed traceable in her prose, for instance in her taste for descriptive details to generate uncanny atmospheres, as seen in stories like "La noche de Jezabel" ("Jezabel's Night", 1983) which takes place in a classic setting during a stormy night in a remote house.

The role of narrative spaces to convey the mysterious or macabre in her fiction is fundamental to Fernández Cubas, a feature which is also one of the most distinct characteristics of Poe's prose. Furthermore, the topos of the enclosure and the microcosm - derivative of the Gothic-Romantic tradition - is frequently found in her short stories, as exemplified in the isolated residence of "La ventana del jardín" ("The Window by the Garden", 1980) and the closed nuns' convent of "Mundo" ("World", 1994).4 In addition, it is the literary form of the short story that predominates in her creative output, very often incorporating fantastic elements that disturb the impression of normality. It is precisely her skilful treatment of the supernatural that has made her a key figure of reference for recent generations of Spanish fantastic writers.5 Her creative achievement crystallized with the award of the prestigious Premio Setenil (Setenil Prize) for contemporary Spanish short fiction in 2006, for her compilation of short stories Parientes pobres del diablo (Poor Relatives of the Devil).

In her continuation of "The Lighthouse" ("El faro", 1997),6 the protagonist keeps writing about his experiences in his diary, the only discursive space where the reader learns that he has been abandoned, with no more boats delivering goods or water, as initially promised. Various disturbing events break the monotony of his days, such as the discovery of a fishing net made of white human hair from various people, and the mysterious disappearance of his dog for whom the only trace is a bloody collar. He also records how the number of steps towards the upstairs room in the lighthouse oscillates, as if the construction was progressively sinking. The reliability of the narrator is increasingly brought into question as his madness becomes quite evident towards the end of the story, in particular after the dog has died. In the final entries, he explains that underneath the lighthouse, drinking from the deposit of his water supply and feeding from the sea, are the souls of his predecessors who await him to join them.

The lighthouse as man: the "egocentred" perspective

Mieke Bal, one of the few narratologists who has recognized the potential of space beyond it being just a container of the action, distinguishes between "frame of action" and "thematized space". I borrow this distinction to indicate that, whereas the function of space in many texts can be predominantly situational, in others it becomes "an object of presentation itself". It is then central to the plot as well as to the discourse, insofar as it "influences the fabula, and the fabula becomes subordinate to the presentation of space". …

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