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Many women return from the dead in Poe’s stories, and Lady Ligeia is the most alluring of them all. Ligeia’s sudden reappearance casts doubt on the mental stability of her husband, the tale’s narrator. Poe does not focus on the narrator’s unreliability but instead develops the character of the dark and brilliant Ligeia. Ligeia’s dark features contrast with those of the narrator’s second wife, the fair-skinned and blonde Lady Rowena. Ligeia does not disappear from the story after her apparent death. In order to watch over her husband and his cold new bride, Ligeia becomes part of the Gothic architecture of the bridal chamber. Poe symbolically translates Ligeia’s dark, haunting physical qualities into the Gothic and grotesque elements of the bedroom, including the eerie gold tapestries that Rowena believes comes alive. Ligeia is not only one of the dead who come alive but also a force that makes physical objects come alive. She uses these forces to doom the narrator’s second marriage, and her manifestations in the architecture of the bedroom, whether real or the product of the narrator and his wife’s imaginations, testify to the power of past emotions to influence the present and the future.
Read about another character who haunts her narrative, Catherine from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Poe's Short Stories!