'The Oval Portrait' by Edgar Allen Poe

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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 Appennines, 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. Its walls were hung with tapestry and bedecked with manifold and multiform armorial trophies, together with an unusually great number of very spirited modern paintings in frames of rich golden arabesque. In these paintings, which depended from the walls not only in their main surfaces, but in very many nooks which the bizarre architecture of the chateau rendered necessary- in these paintings my incipient delirium, perhaps, had caused me to take deep interest; so that I bade Pedro to close the heavy shutters of the room- since it was already night- to light the tongues of a tall candelabrum which stood by the head of my bed- and to throw open far and wide the fringed curtains of black velvet which enveloped the bed itself. I wished all this done that I might resign myself, if not to sleep, at least alternately to the contemplation of these pictures, and the perusal of a small volume which had been found upon the pillow, and which purported to criticise and describe them.
Long- long I read- and devoutly, devotedly I gazed. Rapidly and gloriously the hours flew by and the deep midnight came. The position of the candelabrum displeased me, and outreaching my hand with difficulty, rather than disturb my slumbering valet, I placed it so as to throw its rays more fully upon the book.
But the action produced an effect altogether unanticipated. The rays of the numerous candles (for there were many) now fell within a niche of the room which had hitherto been thrown into deep shade by one of the bed-posts. I thus saw in vivid light a picture all unnoticed before. It was the portrait of a young girl just ripening into womanhood. I glanced at the painting hurriedly, and then closed my eyes. Why I did this was not at first apparent even to my own perception. But while my lids remained thus shut, I ran over in my mind my reason for so shutting them. It was an impulsive movement to gain time for thought- to make sure that my vision had not deceived me- to calm and subdue my fancy for a more sober and more certain gaze. In a very few moments I again looked fixedly at the painting.
That I now saw aright I could not and would not doubt; for the first flashing of the candles upon that canvas had seemed to dissipate the dreamy stupor which was stealing over my senses, and to startle me at once into waking life.
The portrait, I have already said, was that of a young girl. It was a mere head and shoulders, done in what is technically termed a vignette manner; much in the style of the favorite heads of Sully. The arms, the bosom, and even the ends of the radiant hair melted imperceptibly into the vague yet deep shadow which formed the back-ground of the whole. The frame was oval, richly gilded and filigreed in Moresque. As a thing of art nothing could be more admirable than the painting itself. But it could have been neither the execution of the work, nor the immortal beauty of the countenance, which had so suddenly and so vehemently moved me. Least of all, could it have been that my fancy, shaken from its half slumber, had mistaken the head for that of a living person. I saw at once that the peculiarities of the design, of the vignetting, and of the frame, must have instantly dispelled such idea- must have prevented even its momentary entertainment. Thinking earnestly upon these points, I remained, for an hour perhaps, half sitting, half reclining, with my vision riveted upon the portrait. At length, satisfied with the true secret of its effect, I fell back within the bed. I had found the spell of the picture in an absolute life-likeliness of expression, which, at first startling, finally confounded, subdued, and appalled me. With deep and reverent awe I replaced the candelabrum in its former position. The cause of my deep agitation being thus shut from view, I sought eagerly the volume which discussed the paintings and their histories. Turning to the number which designated the oval portrait, I there read the vague and quaint words which follow:
"She was a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee. And evil was the hour when she saw, and loved, and wedded the painter. He, passionate, studious, austere, and having already a bride in his Art; she a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee; all light and smiles, and frolicsome as the young fawn; loving and cherishing all things; hating only the Art which was her rival; dreading only the pallet and brushes and other untoward instruments which deprived her of the countenance of her lover. It was thus a terrible thing for this lady to hear the painter speak of his desire to pourtray even his young bride. But she was humble and obedient, and sat meekly for many weeks in the dark, high turret-chamber where the light dripped upon the pale canvas only from overhead. But he, the painter, took glory in his work, which went on from hour to hour, and from day to day. And be was a passionate, and wild, and moody man, who became lost in reveries; so that he would not see that the light which fell so ghastly in that lone turret withered the health and the spirits of his bride, who pined visibly to all but him. Yet she smiled on and still on, uncomplainingly, because she saw that the painter (who had high renown) took a fervid and burning pleasure in his task, and wrought day and night to depict her who so loved him, yet who grew daily more dispirited and weak. And in sooth some who beheld the portrait spoke of its resemblance in low words, as of a mighty marvel, and a proof not less of the power of the painter than of his deep love for her whom he depicted so surpassingly well. But at length, as the labor drew nearer to its conclusion, there were admitted none into the turret; for the painter had grown wild with the ardor of his work, and turned his eyes from canvas merely, even to regard the countenance of his wife. And he would not see that the tints which he spread upon the canvas were drawn from the cheeks of her who sate beside him. And when many weeks bad passed, and but little remained to do, save one brush upon the mouth and one tint upon the eye, the spirit of the lady again flickered up as the flame within the socket of the lamp. And then the brush was given, and then the tint was placed; and, for one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice, 'This is indeed Life itself!' turned suddenly to regard his beloved:- She was dead!

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allen Poe: A Masterpiece of Gothic Literature

When it comes to Gothic literature, few writers can match the brilliance of Edgar Allen Poe. One of his most famous short stories, "The Oval Portrait," is a haunting exploration of art, love, and death. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we'll delve deep into the text to uncover its themes, symbols, and meanings. Strap in, dear reader, because this is going to be one wild ride!

Summary of the Story

Before we dive into the meat of the story, let's first summarize the plot for those who may not have read it. "The Oval Portrait" tells the story of a young man who seeks shelter from a storm in an abandoned chateau in the Apennines. As he explores the dusty rooms, he discovers a portrait of a beautiful woman. The painting is so lifelike that he feels as though the woman is watching him. He becomes obsessed with learning the story behind the painting and spends the night reading a book he finds in the room.

The book tells the story of a painter who was so obsessed with capturing the beauty of his wife that he neglected her in the process. He painted her day and night, until she grew sick and died. The last stroke of the brush on the painting was also the last breath of the woman. The young man realizes that the portrait he saw was of the painter's wife and that the woman's ghost haunts the room. As he leaves the chateau, he realizes that he too has been captured by the power of the art.


At its core, "The Oval Portrait" is a meditation on the nature of art and the sacrifices that artists make in their pursuit of beauty. The painter in the story is so consumed by his desire to capture the essence of his wife that he neglects her in life, ultimately causing her death. The story raises important questions about the price we pay for our artistic pursuits. Is it worth sacrificing our relationships and our own well-being for the sake of art?

Another theme that runs throughout the story is the power of art to capture the essence of life. The painter in the story is so skilled that his portrait of his wife is almost indistinguishable from life. The young man who discovers the portrait is captivated by its lifelike quality, and even feels as though the woman is watching him. This raises questions about the power of art to transcend reality and capture something deeper and more profound.


One of the most important symbols in the story is the oval portrait itself. The portrait represents the ultimate artistic achievement of the painter, but it also represents the death of his wife. The painting captures the essence of the woman so perfectly that it is almost as though she is still alive, but it also serves as a reminder of the painter's neglect and the tragic consequences of his obsession.

The chateau itself is also an important symbol. It represents the decay and isolation that often accompany artistic pursuits. The painter has secluded himself in the chateau in order to focus on his work, but this isolation ultimately leads to his downfall. The young man who discovers the chateau is also drawn into its isolation and becomes captivated by the power of the art within.

Literary Techniques

As one would expect from a master of Gothic literature, Poe employs a wide range of literary techniques in "The Oval Portrait" to create a haunting and immersive atmosphere. One of the most notable techniques is the use of vivid imagery to create a sense of unease and foreboding. The descriptions of the abandoned chateau and the lifelike portrait are so vivid that the reader feels as though they are standing in the room themselves.

Another important literary technique that Poe employs is the use of repetition. Throughout the story, he repeats certain phrases and ideas in order to create a sense of rhythm and reinforce the themes of the story. For example, the phrase "therein was written" is repeated several times throughout the story to emphasize the importance of the book that the young man finds in the room.


So what does "The Oval Portrait" mean? Like many of Poe's works, the story is open to multiple interpretations. One possible interpretation is that the story is a warning about the dangers of artistic obsession. The painter's desire to capture his wife's beauty ultimately leads to her death and his own downfall. The story could be seen as a cautionary tale about the price we pay for our artistic pursuits.

Another interpretation is that the story is a meditation on the power of art to transcend reality. The painter's portrait is so lifelike that it is almost indistinguishable from life itself. The young man who discovers the portrait is captivated by its lifelike quality and feels as though the woman is watching him. This could be seen as a commentary on the power of art to capture something deeper and more profound than mere reality.


In conclusion, "The Oval Portrait" is a masterpiece of Gothic literature that explores important themes of art, love, and death. Through vivid imagery, repetition, and powerful symbolism, Poe creates a haunting and immersive atmosphere that draws the reader in and captivates them. The story is open to multiple interpretations, but it ultimately raises important questions about the price we pay for our artistic pursuits and the power of art to capture something deeper and more profound than mere reality. If you haven't read "The Oval Portrait" yet, I highly recommend that you do so. It's a work of art in its own right.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Oval Portrait: A Masterpiece of Gothic Literature

Edgar Allan Poe, the master of Gothic literature, is known for his dark and mysterious tales that explore the depths of human psyche. One of his most famous works, "The Oval Portrait," is a haunting tale that explores the themes of love, art, and mortality. In this article, we will delve into the story's plot, characters, and symbolism to understand why it is considered a classic of Gothic literature.

Plot Summary

"The Oval Portrait" is a short story that tells the tale of a young artist who becomes obsessed with painting the portrait of his beautiful wife. The couple lives in a secluded castle, and the artist spends all his time painting the portrait, neglecting his wife's needs and desires. As the painting nears completion, the artist realizes that he has captured his wife's soul in the portrait, and she has died in the process. The story ends with the artist's realization that his love for his wife was too late, and he is left alone with the haunting portrait.


The story's main character is the unnamed artist who becomes obsessed with painting his wife's portrait. He is described as a passionate and talented artist who is consumed by his work. He neglects his wife's needs and desires, and his obsession with the portrait ultimately leads to her death. The artist is a tragic figure who realizes too late the true value of his wife's love.

The artist's wife is also an important character in the story, although she is not given a name. She is described as a beautiful and delicate woman who is devoted to her husband. She is patient with his obsession and supports him in his work, even though it means neglecting her own needs. Her love for her husband is pure and selfless, and it is ultimately her sacrifice that allows him to complete the portrait.


"The Oval Portrait" is rich in symbolism, and every element of the story has a deeper meaning. The most obvious symbol is the portrait itself, which represents the artist's obsession with capturing his wife's beauty. The portrait is described as having a life-like quality, and it is so realistic that it seems to have captured the soul of the subject. This symbolizes the artist's desire to possess his wife's beauty and his inability to see her as a living, breathing person.

The castle in which the couple lives is also symbolic. It is described as being old and decaying, with a sense of foreboding and danger. This symbolizes the artist's isolation from the outside world and his descent into madness. The castle represents the artist's inner world, where he is consumed by his obsession and cut off from reality.

The theme of mortality is also present in the story. The artist's wife dies in the process of creating the portrait, and her death symbolizes the fleeting nature of beauty and life. The artist's realization that he has lost his wife forever is a reminder that life is short and that we should cherish the people we love while we still have them.


"The Oval Portrait" is a masterpiece of Gothic literature that explores the themes of love, art, and mortality. The story's plot, characters, and symbolism all work together to create a haunting and unforgettable tale. The artist's obsession with capturing his wife's beauty and his ultimate realization that he has lost her forever is a powerful reminder of the importance of love and the fleeting nature of life. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Oval Portrait" is a classic of Gothic literature that continues to captivate readers to this day.

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