4. I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia.
The narrator opens “Ligeia” by confessing certain gaps in his memory of his beloved first wife. The narrator’s scant memory contrasts with the plot of the tale itself, which ultimately portrays Ligeia as one of Poe’s most enduring revenants, or women who return from the grave. While the narrator claims to have forgotten the specific circumstances in which he met Ligeia, the tale proceeds to establish Ligeia as an unforgettable presence. When the lady Rowena, the narrator’s second wife, becomes mysteriously ill in the second month of their marriage, the narrator has to fend off his memories of Ligeia. The tale affirms Ligeia’s power in contrast to the narrator’s claims of feeble memory. It thereby distinguishes “Ligeia” from Poe’s other first-person Gothic narrations by shifting attention from the narrator’s unreliability to the motif of the woman who return from the dead. While the plot highlights the irony of the narrator’s opening words, Poe does not make the narrator’s contradictions the centerpiece of the narrative’s interest.
Ligeia’s obscure origins, as portrayed in this quotation, contribute to her Gothic status as a revenant. She possesses a certain Gothic allure because she seems to come from nowhere and to be free from the laws of nature that govern both the narrator and Rowena. Ligeia’s mysterious return in the tale’s final scene effectively reenacts the narrator’s opening remark about her sudden and mysterious appearance in his life. In this sense, while the tale undermines the narrator’s claims of feeble memory, his initial remark also foreshadows Ligeia’s Gothic return. She comes from nowhere in the tale’s eerie conclusion just as she originally presents herself to the narrator as his beloved wife without a past.