Type of Work: .......“The Oval Portrait" is a short story with Gothic overtones. It is a revision of an earlier Poe story, "Life in Death," published inGrahams Magazine in April 1842. Poe improved the story and published the new version, "The Oval Portrait," for the first time in the April 26, 1845, issue of The Broadway Journal.
Setting:.......The time is the first half of the nineteenth century. The place is a chateau in the Apennines, a mountain range in central Italy.
Characters:Narrator- Wounded man who takes refuge with his valet in an abandoned chateau in Italy. As he settles into an apartment, he believes he is beginning to develop symptoms of delirium as a result of his injury. Pedro- Narrators valet. Woman in the Portrait- Young wife who dies when her husband neglects her. Painter- Famous artist and husband of the woman in the portrait. He is so obsessed with his work that he ignores his wife. When painting her portrait, he sees her as an object to be captured on canvas, not as a woman who yearns for his love.
Point of View:.......The narrator tells the story in first- person point of view. However, when presenting the history of the oval portrait, he quotes directly from a book that he finds in the apartment of the chateau. The quotation begins with these words: "She was a maiden of rarest beauty. . . ." The rest of the story consists entirely of a continuation of the quotation.
The Narrators Wound:.......The "Oval Portrait" provides no details about the narrators wound. However, in the first version of the story, entitled “Life in Death,” Poe wrote in the opening paragraph that the narrator had suffered the wound in a confrontation with bandits. In addition, he wrote that the narrator swallowed opium to alleviate the fever caused by the wound. In the revised final version of the story, he deleted the opening paragraph, apparently believing that the narrators use of opium would destroy his credibility, rendering his tale as the product of opium-induced intoxication.
Climax:.......The climax occurs when the account in the book reveals that the lifelike portrait of the young lady is absorbing her vitality.
Themes:Obsession.......The artist becomes so engrossed in his work that he completely ignores his wife. Pining for his love, she dies.Fatal Love.......Like a moth attracted to a flame, the young lady is attracted to an artist who burns with passion. But his passion is for his work, not for her. Nevertheless, she remains at his side—in the glow of his fire, as it were—and dies.Submissiveness.......The book the narrator reads says the young lady “was humble and obedient, and sat meekly [for the painting] for many weeks in the dark, high turret-chamber.” Even though her husband regards her as a mere object—like a bowl of fruit or a flower—“she smiled on and still on, uncomplainingly.” ,
Figures of Speech:Following are examples of figures of speech in the story:The chateau . . . was one of those piles of commingled gloomand grandeur: Alliteration.manifold and multiform armorial trophies: Alliteration.tongues of a tall candelabrum: Metaphor comparing candle wicks to tongues.she a maiden of rarest beauty . . . and frolicsome as the young fawn: Simile comparing the young lady to a fawn.And in sooth some who beheld the portrait spoke of its resemblance in low words, as of a mighty marvel, and a proof not less of the power of the painter than of his deep love for her whom he depicted so surpassingly well: Irony, in that observers believe the painting testifies to the artists love for his wife.the spirit of the lady again flickered up as the flame within the socket of the lamp: Simile comparing the ladys spirit to a flame.
Vocabulary and Allusions:arabesque: Symmetrical pattern of intertwining lines in the style of architecture in Arab countries. The pattern may resemble flowers, leaves, animals, or other familiar objects. filigreed: Adorned with wire of gold, silver, or another metal that is twisted to form a pattern resembling lace. gilded: Overlaid with a thin layer of gold. Moresque: In the style of the Moors, nomadic Muslims of North Africa. When they occupied Spain, they constructed buildings with complex tracery. Sully: Thomas Sully (1783-1872), a London-born American painter of elegant portraits. Among his subjects was Englands Queen Victoria (1819-1901), who reigned from 1937 to 1901. turret: Small tower built into a wall of a castle or another edifice, such as a mansion. Its roof is cone-shaped. vignette: Painted portrait or photograph without a border. The outer parts of the image gradually fade into the background. The painting of the young lady in "The Oval Portrait" is a vignette. The narrator says of the portrait, "The arms, the bosom, and even the ends of the radiant hair melted imperceptibly into the vague yet deep shadow which formed the back-ground of the whole."