The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

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Illustration by Harry Clarke, 1919

"The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published in 1845. The tale tells of a dying, mesmerized man whose body disintegrates once the trance is lifted. Poe was inspired to write the tale after reading a description of an operation performed upon a mesmerized patient. The tale has a great deal of gore, leading to the speculation that Poe had studied medical texts. "Valdemar" has been adapted to the movies and to radio drama.

Plot[change | change source]

The narrator mesmerizes an ill friend, M. Valdemar. Valdemar reports first that he is dying and then that he is dead. The narrator leaves him in a mesmeric state for seven months. During this time Valdemar is without pulse, heartbeat, or breath. His skin is cold and pale. Finally, the narrator tries to wake him. Valdemar's swollen black tongue begs to be returned to sleep or to be fully wakened. He shouts "dead! dead!" repeatedly. The narrator takes Valdemar out of the trance and his body immediately disintegrates into a "nearly liquid mass of loathsome—of detestable putrescence."

Publication history[change | change source]

Poe was inspired to write Valdemar after reading a letter about an operation on a mesmerized patient.[1] The tale was published in December 1845 in two different New York journals.[2] One used the title "The Facts in M. Valdemar's Case".[3] In England, the tale was published first as "Mesmerism in Articulo Mortis" and later as "The Last Days of M. Valdemar".[4]

Style[change | change source]

Poe employs detailed descriptions and high levels of gore in "Valdemar". He may have studied medical texts.[5] Valdemar's eyes at one point leak a "profuse outflowing of a yellowish ichor", for example. The tale's imagery is summed up in the final lines: "...his whole frame at once — within the space of a single minute, or even less, shrunk—crumbled—absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome—of detestable putrescence." The disgusting imagery probably inspired later fiction including that of H. P. Lovecraft.[6] Those final lines make up one of the most powerfully effective moments in Poe's work, incorporating shock, disgust, and uneasiness into one moment.[7] This ending shows that attempts to appropriate power over death will have hideous results[8] and, therefore, ultimately will be unsuccessful.[9]

Adaptations[change | change source]

Movie adaptations include a segment in Roger Corman's Tales of Terror (1962) and George A. Romero's Two Evil Eyes (1990). "Edgar Allan Poe's Valdemar" (2000) was a dramatic adaptation for National Public Radio.

References[change | change source]

  1. Thomas, Dwight & David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809–1849. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1987: 498. ISBN 0816187347
  2. Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York City: Checkmark Books, 2001: 85. ISBN 081604161X
  3. Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998: 470. ISBN 0801857309
  4. Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998: 516. ISBN 0801857309
  5. Stashower, Daniel. The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder. New York: Dutton, 2006: 275. ISBN 052594981X
  6. Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York City: Harper Perennial, 1991: 294. ISBN 0060923318
  7. Elmer, Jonathan. "Terminate or Liquidate? Poe Sensationalism, and the Sentimental Tradition" collected in The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Shawn Rosenheim and Stephen Rachman. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995: 116. ISBN 0801850258
  8. Selley, April. "Poe and the Will" as collected in Poe and His Times: The Artist and His Milieu, edited by Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV. Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, Inc., 1990: 97. ISBN 0961644923
  9. Hutchisson, James M. Poe. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005: 158. ISBN 1-57806-721-9

Other websites[change | change source]