Thursday, December 9, 2021

Edgar Allan Poe and his Relationship with Women


Edgar Allan Poe

Poe’s attitude about women greatly mirrored his real life with them. He was faced with tragedy over and over again when it came to women. Poe’s morose attitude probably came from his life as a man with bad luck with the feminine type, starting with the betrayal of his fiancé Elmira, the death of his mother and adoptive mother, then the death of his young wife Virginia. This does not even complete the list of hardships he faced with women, but they founded what I would call a bittersweet affection for them as well as a deep resonating pessimistic outlook on what, to him, would inevitably end in the tragic death of the female character in nearly all of his works featuring or even merely mentioning females.

Poe’s stories encapsulated the female character in a guise of tragic, ethereal, unattainability. In his most famous poem, “The Raven”, the angelic Lenore is pined over and lamented by the tortured narrator. She is unattainable because death has stolen her, but the narrator does not speak ill of her even though she left him in this tormented state. He speaks of her beauty and her almost angelic nature. “The Raven” is the quintessential Poe poem that recounts his love and respect for the women in his life as well as their tragic demise which destroyed him.

Annabel Lee” is similar in the way Poe describes the female character. She and the narrator share a sweet, short romance in which the narrator describes her in a way that is almost fantastical and mythical. It is the story of two young lovers in their kingdom by the sea enjoying each other is sweet revere until Annabel Lee is killed by the cold, implying perhaps that she died of pneumonia or consumption which closely mirrors the death of Poe’s own young bride, Virginia. The fairy tale atmosphere is quickly shattered by the bleak cold hand of death once more taking away the narrator’s angel. Once again, the image of Poe’s woman character of that of a perfect, happy thing is shattered.

Hop-Frog”, a play I had the pleasure of seeing recently at Poe’s Evermore in Mount Hope, PA, is a story about a cruel king who humiliates the main character, Hop-Frog, a court jester who is a deformed dwarf. Though the female character, Trippetta is also a dwarf, she is described as beautiful and not malformed and of a caring and sweet nature. She is not central to this story, but she is the inspiration for the climatic ending in which Hop-Frog tricks the king into allowing himself to be burned to death as revenge for striking Trippetta and the two run off together. It is one of Poe’s rare “happy” endings, happy in that Trippetta does not sink into death, though the life she and Hop-Frog have led up until the ending had plenty of tragic implications. This story emulates from the strong love Hop-Frog has for his angelic beauty, Trippetta – a love so strong he kills to protect it.

Bridal Ballad”, a less popular work of Poe’s, uncharacteristically comes from the female’s point of view. It describes a bride as she prepares to wed a rich lord, though she expresses doubt about the marriage and admits to loving a man who has died in battle. She continues to try and convince herself she is happy, but even after the marriage cannot continue to pretend and will no longer be happy in her life. In this poem, the man is the nearly angelic presence for the narrator. It as if Poe’s attitude about this particular woman is that she too is wracked with sadness though she pretends through the positivity that is supposed to surround a wedding. Poe seems to admit that even though he has had the habit of placing women on a pedestal in his works, that even they can make dreadful mistakes that will inevitably destroy them emotionally. Poe thinks of women as emotionally and physically fragile beings that should be protected and made to be as happy as possible, but that even a rich lord cannot always do that.

In retrospect, Poe’s attitude about women is mostly a positive one despite the outward impression one gets from reading his dark work. In nearly all his works featuring them, they are the objects of desire, the protectors of the heart, the angels, the unattainable and most pure of creatures. Often times they are lamented, worshipped, wanted, and grieved over by the lowly narrator or main character of the story who we can say emulates Poe himself. They are pained creatures who often seek to make the men in their lives happy, even at the expense of their own happiness. The narrator often has some kind of flaw – physical like in “Hop-Frog” or mental as in “The Raven”, which makes him unworthy of the love he receives from his woman. As if to punish him for loving something which he does not deserve, the narrators are often mentally tortured by the memories of the women they once upon a time ago, could not live without. Love itself is both an enemy and a redeeming factor in Poe’s work, almost entirely stemming from the woman herself. Poe greatly respected and loved the women in his life, but he did not feel worthy of them in the long run.

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