Peril of the Short Story
This week’s short story is part of Gothic September: “Berenice – A Tale” by Edgar Allan Poe. (According to a note “Berenice” rhymes with “very spicy.”)
I believe this is the first time I’ve read this story or, if I have previously, it was a long time in the past. Egæus, our narrator, tells of his cousin Berenice. As they grew up together, she was always the vital, adventurous one while he was more than content to remain in the library. Indeed, Egæus’ obsessive interests in various subjects often drive him to distraction. Alas, a sickness strikes Berenice and afterward she isn’t the same. Her behavior changes as well as her appearance. Egæus assures us that he was never in love with his cousin, though he knew she was beautiful. After her illness, he finds her repulsive…especially her teeth.
In many ways, this is a quintessential Poe story. Narrator suffering from monomania? Check. Doomed female cousin? Check. Illness with death-like symptoms? Check. Zinger ending? Check. What sets “Berenice” apart is the narrator’s self-awareness (before concluding events) of his obsessions. This is one of Poe’s earlier tales, written in 1835, but I can see how Egæus might lead one day to Dupin.
I had chalked Berenice’s change to general, ill-defined, sudden sickness while reading the story. The rest of my perilous week lead me to wonder about…vampirism!