The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

Hi, I have to to have two sources of critiques and reviews on "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. It would be greatly appreciated if someone can help. Thanks! Janice Thomas

-- Anonymous, November 16, 2000



Edgar Allan Poe's story, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" was first printed in December of 1845 in the American Review with the title "The Facts of M. Valdemar's Case". It was reprinted on December 20, 1845 in the New York Broadway Journal with its current title. The story was likely written in New York for Poe had moved there in April 1844 and by October of that year, he had become the owner of the Broadway Journal and, at last, had full control of a magazine, but one deeply in financial trouble.

The story illustrates, to some degree, Poe's active imagination and originality. Edgar maintained an eager interest in hypnotism, referred to during this period as mesmerism, and once wrote an essay on the subject. Not particularly a well understood by anyone of the time, mesmerism was also of public interest and it is said that public, even private, demonstrations were conducted with regularity. Add to this that Poe felt that the boundary between life and death was vague and ambiguous, it does not require a strain of reasoning to see that he recognized this as an interesting theme for a fictional account. That is to say an account of arresting the progress of death by hypnotizing a dying subject prior to his final dissolution.

The narrator introduces his connection to M. Valdemar as a subject he had hypnotized more than once before with little effect. However, the impending death of Valdemar being the stimulus for the narrator's strange offer to experiment with arresting death's progress, Valdemar chooses to accept and promises to notify the narrator some twenty four hours before his anticipated death. He does so and the hypnosis is successful and the two attending physicians concur that the patient is fully under the influence of hypnosis.

He is left in this state for some hours when, again, the narrator attempts to communicate with the dying man. He asks if Valdemar is asleep and receives an affirmative answer with a command to be allowed to die in his trance. Asked if he is in pain, he responds, "No Pain - I am dying." At sunrise, the returning physician is astounded that Valdemar still lives and requests the narrator to question him again. After several minutes, the faint reply is heard, "Yes; still asleep - dying."

Again, the narrator speaks to him but receives no reply. At this point Valdemar's form physically takes on a new appearance and seems to transition suddenly from near death to final expiration. Close examination reveals no hint of life remaining and he is presumed dead. Suddenly, from his rigid form and out of his slack open jaw, a sound of hideous intonation is heard to at last reply, "Yes! - no; - I have been sleeping - and now - now - I am dead." Shocked and horrified, the physicians and the narrator attempt to identify some flicker of life with no result. Additional questions are put to him with no reply. An attempt to draw blood from his arm is unsuccessful. The narrator and physicians replace the fleeing nurses and leave with plans to return in the afternoon. Upon their return they find that his condition is unchanged and they resolve to return daily to check on him, content in their collective belief that the experiment has been successful.

For several months this continues until, at length, they determine to attempt to awaken him from his trance. Following several attempts, the same hideous voice is heard to plead desperately, "For God's sake! -quick!-quick!-put me to sleep- or quick!-waken me!-quick! I say to you that I am dead!" Unnerved, the narrator scrambles to awaken him and all those present anticipate the patient to become conscious. As the narrator accomplishes the appropriate mesmeric passes, the trance is removed and all those in attendance watch as, in the space of a minute, the entire body of M. Valdemar decomposes into a "liquid mass of loathsome - of detestable putridity." Ewww, man!

Of particular appeal is the plausibility of the story. With the exception of the actions and condition of Valdemar himself, the setting, its conditions and other characters mentioned in the story are possible. In his book, "Edgar Allan Poe - A Critical Biography" Arthur H. Quinn makes the point that this very plausibility disarms the reader's sense of critical reasoning and, for some readers, allows the temporary acceptance of fantasy as fact. So, we have three factors that add to the interest and appeal of this tale. First, there is the public's poor understanding for the basis of mesmerism, its cause and effects; the gullibility of the public in general; and, finally, Poe's fanciful use of incidental truths to embellish fantasy.

Of particular interest, this tale was taken seriously in England and was reprinted in London as a pamphlet in 1846 with the title "Mesmerism "in Articulo Mortis". An Astounding and Horrifying Narrative Showing the Extraordinary Power of Mesmerism in Arresting the Progress of Death". It sold for three pence.


-- Anonymous, November 20, 2000

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