Ligeia, Morella, and Annabel Lee: The Women of Poe

Reading Edgar Allan Poe is like a fever dream. And the more that I read from the Master of the Macabre, the more I realize that he had a very complicated relationship with women. It could possibly be that most of the women he loved (both platonically and romantically) sickened and died. It could be just the dark and feverish nature of his mind. But, regardless of the reason behind it, I find that the women in most of Poe’s stories appear to be greatly loved (almost to the point of obsession), are beautiful, but sickly, tend to die from some sort of mysterious illness or wasting disease, and have something horrible come from their deaths. As with anything relating to Poe, continue on at your own risk…in a well-lit room, with a trusted friend to keep you company.

As a quick aside, this list does not necessarily include all of the women in Poe. I’ve read a lot of his stories and poems, but not everything, so I’m sure that something is missing. If you enjoyed this list, why not keep reading and see if you can find any other instances of Poe’s beloved women?

All of the titles listed below can be found in the collection The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, although you can also find some of them on as ebooks and digital audiobooks through Hoopla and Overdrive, as well as on sites such as Project Gutenberg.

Lenore (“The Raven”)

Let’s start with my favorite piece by Poe: “The Raven”. This long poem tells of a nameless man who is sick at heart, following the death of his beloved, Lenore. We don’t really know much about the circumstances of their relationship (Were they married? Did he love her from afar?) or even how she died. But, when a raven comes into the man’s room and answers each question he puts to it with “Nevermore,” the narrator becomes extremely agitated. Especially when the questions reference Lenore. Even though Lenore does not have a physical presence in this story, nevertheless, she haunts and fills the page.

Morella (“Morella”)

Without giving too much away in this story, “Morella” is the story of another unnamed narrator who falls in love with a beautiful and incredibly intelligent, well-read woman named Morella. Morella is devoted to reading and spends most of her time pouring over books and teaching their secrets to her husband. But, like most of the women on this list, her health starts to decline, and our narrator becomes desperate and frightened and obsessed with her impending death.

Ligeia (“Ligeia”)

Ligeia’s husband is obscenely devoted to her. Disturbingly, he cannot quite recall where he met her, what her family name was, or anything of her past. But, he can say that she was incredibly beautiful, through strange and emaciated, with dark hair and eyes. Like Morella, Ligeia is incredibly intelligent with a voracious appetite for knowledge. And during the course of their marriage, she starts to share occult wisdom with her husband. But, what makes the story so terrible is what happens after Ligeia dies.

The Artist’s Wife (“The Oval Portrait”)

An injured man is escorted into an abandoned mansion by his valet. There, he discovers a bedroom filled with paintings, and one in the corner, especially attracts his attention, as it features a young woman of exceptional beauty. This consumes his attention for at least an hour. Finally, he moves his candle, leaving her in darkness, and consults an old book that details the history of each of the paintings in the room. There, he learns the truth of the woman in “the oval portrait”.

Madeline Usher (“Fall of the House of Usher”)

Our narrator goes to visit an old school friend, Roderick Usher, who is in very poor health. Roderick and his twin sister Madeline are both in various states of illness, with Madeline wandering about the house like a ghost and Roderick in a state of perpetual anxiety, his nerves shredded to ribbons. Madeline dies within a few days of the narrator’s arrival and is buried in a secret family vault, to keep her away from the prying eyes of doctors who want to study her mysterious illness. But, after the burial, Roderick’s mental state begins to deteriorate at an alarming rate, and he becomes convinced that he has buried his sister alive.

Berenice (“Berenice”)

The scholar, Egaeus suffers from monomania, which makes him fixate on things to the point of obsession. He’s engaged to be married to the beautiful Berenice, but she suffers from a terrible wasting disease that, among other symptoms, causes cataleptic fits. Egaeus’s monomania grows increasingly worse, and one day, a passing smile from his beloved drives him to the point of near madness, and he cannot stop obsessing about her teeth.

Annabel Lee (“Annabel Lee”)

In this short poem, the narrator talks of how when he was young, he lived in a “kingdom by the sea” with his beautiful beloved, Annabel Lee. Considering the length (or lack thereof) of this poem, I won’t say much else about it. It’s a quick read.

Eleonora (“Eleonora”)

Living with his aunt and cousins in “The Valley of Many-Colored Grass,” the narrator talks of how he and his cousin, Eleonora fell in love with each other. Of course, Eleonora becomes terribly sick. Unlike most of the stories on this list, “Eleonora” does not have a completely horrifying ending, but I’ll leave the readers to discover it for themselves.

Eulalie (“Eulalie”)

And let’s wrap up this list on a positive note. This fairly short poem is a story of love. Love to the fair Eulalie, who unlike almost every other woman on this list does not get sick and die, is not somehow creepy, and does not leave the author in a state of near madness. In fact, this final piece is a sweet love poem, which is surprising for Poe, but nevertheless beautiful.

Erin

I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.