The female death as an aesthetic moment of transformation: Edgar Allan Poe´s "Morella"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2009

13 Pages, Grade: 1,0


List of content


1. The changing I: foreign will and threatening You

2. The female death as an aesthetic moment of transformation

3. Looking for identity: Morella and the motive of look alike


Proof of illustration
Proof of literature


“ The death of a beautiful woman is the really most poetic theme of the world. “ 1 (Edgar Allan Poe)

Edgar Allan Poe was made the way for modern times. Till today his stories constitute as aesthetic horrible grotesque fascination, in which the death of the beautiful woman is often put in the centre of attention. When Poe was once confronted with the reproach to write in the tradition of German Horror Stories, he answered rather calmly: “when in many of my works the horror is the theme, so I argue that these stories did not come from Germany but from the soul. 2

Poe transports the abyss of human subconscious and lets it open a new meta level with the help of dead female projection surface. Death and dilapidation overshadow not just this short story, which I am about to analyses in the following explanation. With “Morella” is Poe able to return suppressed natural needs and instincts in form of a supernatural ‘You’, which cannot be captured neither by the nameless narrator nor the reader.

In this Work I will discuss in what extend the female ‘You’ grows into a threat, which maintains even beyond death. The female death is used in this case as a transformation of the self and as an aesthetic moment. But the focus is to fathom out male identity with the help of a fragmentary female identity. Transformation, metamorphosis and doubling are of major importance for this process.3

As a representative of Black Romanticism Poe opens not only the “Night site of romanticism” for his readers, but also the exemplary illustrates a longing for transcendence in his short stories.4 By removing the figure of Morella in exactly this transcendent place, she cannot be captured by the reader.

So the foreign is imaginated as a threat as well as big attractive secrete and is dressed in the body of a lingering mystic. Morella symbolizes the transcendence that comes from the foreign threatening woman. She absolutely withdraws from her observer and partner and is able to control his life far after her own death in an inexplicable way.

Already Elisabeth Bronfen pointed out the effective connection between femininity, beauty and death and the resulting aesthetic. This is itself an oxymoron, because the woman creates life, so her death must appear to be much more tragic then the male. Poe looks at another important point: “[…] [so] equally it is beyond doubt that the lips best suited to such a topic are those of a bereaved lover. “5

But in my opinion Morella takes a special position under the beautiful corpses of Edgar Allan Poe, because neither the nameless narrator is madly in love with her, nor he mourns for the death of his wife. As well as it stays unsaid, whether Morella is really gone from him with her first passing.

In my following explanations I will specially look at the changing of the male I on the basis of the female You. This change has a priority meaning to finally fathom the figure of Morella in her significance. Doubtless the questions of male and female identity will rise in this attempt. The latter will be more difficult to explain, because the identity of Morella is a combined one and is planed out of the view of the nameless protagonist. He needs the female projection surface to manifest horrors in his own reality and to overcome them. It is unavoidably to come closer to the motive of look alike in those questions.

1. The changing I: foreign will and threatening ´You´

“ Morella ´ s erudition was profound. As I hope to live, her talents of no common order her powers of mind were gigantic. I felt this, and, in many matters, became her pupil. ” 6

Already this quotation makes clear in what kind of relationship the nameless protagonist and Morella are. The relationship of dependence, which will come shortly after, is perceptible right in the beginning of the short story. The knowledge of Morella is very deep and for her husband and students foreign, mysterious and unreachable. Even Pos Ligeia had next to her female appeal an almost male intellect, of which the protagonist was irritated as well as her female behavior.

Morellas body and the appeal, which could be an attraction to the narrator, is not mentioned once, except for describing her pale cold hands and her silent movement. Morella is just Ratio, is disembodied intellect. The Eros is for the bond to this woman of no concern, if one trusts the male first person narrator.

“ [ … ] my soul, from our first meeting, burned with fires it had never before known; but the fires were not of Eros, and bitter and tormenting to my spirit [ … ] I could in no manner define their unusual meaning, or regulate their vague intensity. [ … ] I never spoke of passion, nor thought of love. ”7

The more mysterious is the unreasonable attraction, that leads from this foreign, bodiless, female phenomenon and from which the protagonist cannot withdraw himself. Morella is the personified foreign, whose will lasts through everything even death itself. In the cultural discourse of the occident the woman stands for extremes and, when confronted with a man, especially for the “other”. This Aspect catapults the male I with a multitude of fears and finally traumata, when it gets impossible to fathom the foreign or to withdraw from it. With the bond to such a potential dangerous woman, the psychical order is repealed. The Protagonist of Poe is at Morella’s and her superhuman knowledge’s mercy, which at first he considers to be luck but later realizes as foreign domination, which one need to escape from. Only the death of this woman can free him from his anxiety and dangerous fantasies. Morella is female antagonist and frightens with her own outstanding knowledge, that implies self estrangement and finally the loss of identity at the male I. the irritation of the male I starts with the female ‘You’.8

In the late 18th century one discovered the femininity new as the opposite of masculinity. The femininity gave new safety and rose to a sense developing category. The new discovered femininity embodied male longing for harmony and wholeness.9 But in this supposed raising of the female, lies the degradation of the same.

So the male protagonist of Poe tries to come closer to Morella on a intellectual level (he absolutely deletes the physical level). This attempt fails and he is confronted with it: the all knowing, threatening, female ‘You’, which he cannot capture. During this failing attempt to come closer to Morella, the I of the protagonist need to change as well; it loses support, self and finally identity, too.

The male self needed female imagination to assure itself.

But Morella unties this self absolutely; she embodies too many male features for this time period. Therefore the protagonist behaves very passively towards Morella and lets her have all the command. He accepts her supremacy. He is thrown back into a view, which a helpless child must have towards his mother. And he is deprived of his autonomy and spineless towards the superior will of Morella.


1 Poe, E. A.: „The Philosophy of Composition.“, (1846)

2 See also: Hans Dieter Gelfert : „Edgar Allan Poe.“

3 C.f. Weißmann Orzlowski, E.: „Das Weibliche und die Unmöglichkeit seiner Integration.“, pg. 14

4 Ebd. pg. 19

5 C.f. Bronfen, E.: „Over her dead body.“, pg. 92

6 Poe, E. A.: „Morella. “, c. pg. 222, l. 10 12

7 Ebd. c. pg. 222, l. 2 7

8 C.f. Bastian, N. M.: „Dimensionen des Fremden in der fantastischen Literatur.“, pg. 82

9 C.f. Weißmann Orzlowski, E.: „Das Weibliche und die Unmöglichkeit seiner Integration.“, pg. 25

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The female death as an aesthetic moment of transformation: Edgar Allan Poe´s "Morella"
University of Erfurt
American Shortstories, BA-Anglistik
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Edgar, Allan, Poe´s, Morella
Quote paper
Julia Kulewatz (Author), 2009, The female death as an aesthetic moment of transformation: Edgar Allan Poe´s "Morella", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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