Edgar Poe’s short story The Oval Portrait contains distinct Gothic elements penetrating the setting and the mood of the narration.
From the very first line the reader is invited to “the fancy of Mrs. Radcliffe”, the pioneer of the gothic novel. The image of the remote abandoned chateau is given a tint of mystery and gloom. The antiquity of the interior where the “walls (are) hung with tapestry and bedecked with manifold and multiform armorial trophies” resonates with the modern paintings. The dark setting and shadowy circumstances of the prior events where the narrator acquired the wound provide the impression that the tale has a paranormal twist to it.
The reader’s anticipation of a psychic is sustained by the appearance of a lifelike portrait of a woman in one of the darker nooks of the mysterious room. The narrator reassures himself that he could not have taken the image for a living person but the "maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee” appearing on canvas promises an extraordinary story to tell.
Poe’s tail within a tail delivered in “vague and quaint words” uncovers the tragic events caused by the artist’s fanaticism and reveals more Gothic symbols. This young woman with extraordinary looks is told to have been sitting for the painter in “the dark, high turret-chamber” unsuitable for her beauty, seeing little to no daylight and gaining a classic Gothic paleness to her face.
The astonishing resemblance of the portrait and the unsurpassed talent of the painter seem to be of an eerie nature and with a trace of a daimon (demon). It’s him who is sometimes referred to as genius. It’s his brush that draws the tints of life from the maiden’s cheeks to the canvas finally killing her with the last stroke.
And thus driving the story to its climax in the last lines Poe simply leaves room for the reader’s imagination. [continues]
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