Text: Joseph Andriano, “Archetypal Projection in ‘Ligeia’: A Post-Jungian Reading,” Poe Studies / Dark Romanticism, December 1986, Vol. XIX, No. 2, 19:27-31


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Archetypal Projection in “Ligeia”: A Post-Jungian Reading

University of Southwestern Louisiana

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In romantic fiction, when a female daemon haunts a male protagonist, she usually charms him into a state of fascination Byron and De Quincey called anympholepsy.”(1) Carl Jung, later identifying this mental condition as Uanima possession,” claimed that the phenomenon pervaded literature.(2) Authors like E.T.A. Hoffmann, Theophile Gautier, and especially Edgar Allan Poe created memorably bizarre nympholeptic narrators enthralled by various belles dames sans merci Poe’s “Ligeia” is in the same tradition as Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann, Gautier’s La morte amoureuse, and Irving’s “Adventure of the German Student”: a tradition of psychologically sophisticated Gothic tales that attempted to explore the feminized unconscious beneath a masculine consciousness — a soul (anima) beneath a spirit. In every tale, the feminine element within the male is an inner force projected onto an inanimate other — a doll or a corpse.

David Saliba and Bettina Knapp have already identified Ligeia as an anima figure, but Saliba reduces Poe’s text to a aformulaic achievement,“(3) while the traditional Jungian Knapp simply begs questions.(4) More convincing is Martin Bickman’s aamplification” of the text through Jungian theory.(5) Unlike Knapp, for whom analytical psychology is a religion, Bickman aplead[s] agnosticism about the actual existence of the collective unconscious and its archetypes.“(6) The reading offered below is based on a similar premise: the anima is not assumed to be a signified Given, whose noumenal center is a pool called The Collective Unconscious; the archetype is treated instead as a signifier whose meaning comes first from interaction with (and difference from) other signifiers in the text, and second from connotations and associations the reader brings to bear on the text.(7) Most readers know, for example, that Ligeia is the Greek name of a siren,(8) giving her a mythological dimension that is further reinforced by her association in the text with Ashtophet (Astarte). Furthermore, as will be shown, Ligeia becomes an archetypal figure through Poe’s continual reference [column 2:] to the siren/goddess as the narrator’s breath and spirit.

Critical perceptions of the haunting Ligeia seem at first glance completely contradictory. Is she aprimarily sensual,” Uthe perfection of erotic dreaming” ?(9) Or is she the nonerotic muse, Aphrodite Urania,(10) athe personification of intellect and . . . of will,” dwelling in athe realm of epistemology, not of sex“?(11) Is she a bonafide revenant, a real ghost?(12) Or did she never really exist at all except in the narrator’s mind?(13) Is she a psychological vampire/succubus?(14) Or is she just a woman murdered by an insane narrator?(15) Or perhaps Marie Bonaparte was correct in identifying Ligeia as Poe’s mother Elizabeth.(16) Such critical disagreements suggest that a number of signified concepts may underly the signifier “Ligeia.” Critical texts rename her variously as “Lilith,” “numen,” amuse,” “siren,” “Elizabeth“ — signifiers which, along with the apparently conflicting interpretations they represent, may be reconciled in one sign: anima, the feminine unconscious soul of man.

There is no need to say that Bennett and Halliburton (the nonerotic camp) are right while Basler and Porte (the sexual readers) are wrong: anima theory allows for Ligeia to be both muse and siren. Aphrodite Urania and Aphrodite Dionea are not two different goddesses: they are two aspects of the same goddess. Porte did not have to rationalize Ligeia’s aethereality” into a verbal coverup of her essential sexuality.(17) The narrator’s marriage to Ligeia is a marriage of contraries between spirit and body. This archetypal harmony is shattered, however, by the narrator’s Platonic dualism, which idealizes Spirit and corrupts Body. As Jay explains, the feminine appears in aLigeia” as athe corpse of the sublime.“(18)

Identifying Ligeia as an anima figure, then, helps synthesize various antithetical aspects of the [page 28:] text. But what, precisely, is entailed in the identification? As Bickman reminds us, the seemingly innocuous phrase afor my soul” in Poe’s first sentence relates Ligeia to athe narrator’s own psyche.“(19) After the lady dies, Poe is more explicit: aNow, then, did my spirit fully and freely burn with more than all the fires of her own.“(20) Ligeia is the afierce energy” (315) that animates the narrator’s spirit: an energy that manifests itself often in the text in the act of breathing. After the first wife’s death, Ligeia still exists as aalmost inarticulate breathings” in the tapestries (324); and later, just before the narrator first projects her into Rowena, he finds himself abreathing with greater freedom” (326). As soon as he takes those breaths, aa thousand memories of Ligeia” rush upon him. Only when Ligeia animates the dead Rowena does the narrator feel his own soul to be aawakened within” him (326-7). Ligeia is the narrator’s own soul — an inhalation of breath — as well as the projecting force — an exhalation. He hears a sigh (surely his own), and Rowena’s corpse is animated once again (327).

When the narrator is finally successful at completely projecting his soul into Rowena, the resultant travesty — an animated corpse — terrifies him; he shrieks aloud. Perhaps he has finally realized what he has done: killed a body so that he can give it the aproper” soul. In any case, we do not know what happens to him at the end. He is not frightened to death like Roderick Usher; he lives to tell his tale, though probably, like Irving’s Wolfgang in aAdventure of the German Student,” from the madhouse. Having suffered memory-loss (perhaps as a result of the terrifying vision), he is largely dominated by the unconscious as he writes, reconstructing his first wife, whose name he does not remember, out of archetypal material. He tells us that her first name was Ligeia, but his memory is afeeble from much suffering” (310). He forgets atopics of deep moment” (321). For all we know, Ligeia may not be the real name of his first wife.(21) What he has done is to discover (or perhaps invent) his own soul by giving it a name.

Whoever his first wife areally” was, she exists in the text only as a cipher, a blank screen. The narrator erects, out of his wife, the statue of a goddess (ashe placed her marble hand upon my shoulder“ — 311). She is a colossus, dominating him completely: aa majesty so divine! — the skin rivalling the purest ivory, the commanding extent and repose, the gentle prominence of the regions above the temples” (312). Whatever his wife was in mundane reality, he has now magnified her into [column 2:] the colossal icon of Astarte (aAshtophet“ — 311), the Great Goddess, in the shadow of whose ainfinite supremacy” he trembles.

Consider how little we know about the first wife, once we sift through the narrator’s archetypal magnifications. She is apparently a transcendentalist whose wisdom and learning the narrator had hitherto anever known in woman” (315). “The acquisitions of Ligeia were gigantic . . . yet I was sufficiently aware of her infinite supremacy to resign myself with a childlike confidence to her guidance” (316). In spite of a strong will to live, she grows sick and dies. He claims that she loves him almost to the point of idolatry (317), but he does not return her love while she lives. In fact, he is quite ambivalent. His idolatry begins only when she dies. And her so-called idolatry is often aviolently a prey to the tumultuous vultures of stern passion” (315) — to which he would become alerted by her eyes, which adelighted and appalled” him. Such ambivalence suggests a mother complex; the narrator’s first wife plays a amore than womanly” role (317); she plays a motherly role.

After the narrator tells of her illness and death, we discover one reason why he marries his first wife. “I had no lack of what the world calls wealth. Ligeia had brought me more, far more than ordinarily falls to the lot of mortals” (320). We know that at first he does not love the woman herself: her love for him has been aall unworthily bestowed” (317). He never loves her as a wife, but as a mother who takes care of him, provides for him both materially and intellectually. This inference does not, however, lead a Jungian reader to Bonaparte’s conclusion. Whether or not Ligeia is an image of Poe’s own mother is irrelevant to the text. But the imagery does suggest a mother figure: when the first wife dies, the narrator, missing her motherly love and catalyzed by opium (320), transforms her into the Great Mother. Ligeia is the narrator’s wife viewed with atelescopic scrutiny” (314). Her magnified brightness makes him feel the same sentiments as when he sees a “butterfly, a chrysalis, a stream of running water . . . the ocean, a meteor” (314). The wife, upon reflection and refraction, becomes not only anima but anima mundi As world soul, she is both soul-bride and Great Mother. aShe takes up all the breathing space,” as Halliburton brilliantly puts it.(22) Indeed it is she, as anima mundi, who abreathes fitfully / the music of the spheres” (318).

Ligeia, then, is not only the anima but also the mother-archetype (or imago) within the narrator. [page 29:] Poe had, as Shulman suggests, a agenuine understanding of unconscious processes“(23) — processes shared by many men, not just those who (like Poe) lost their mothers at an early age. “Ligeia” traces the unconscious process whereby a man projects upon a woman the qualities not only of his own mother but also of his inherited sense of maternity. The paternal archetype is completely negated in the story. aI have never known,” the narrator claims, athe paternal name of her who was my friend and my betrothed” (311). Again, the reader must question this claim, for the narrator has apparently repressed the paternal and elevated the maternal with his hyperbolic language.

Perhaps the atumultuous vultures” of Ligeia’s astern passion” become too much for the narrator, and he kills his first wife as Matheson suggests. In any case, her motherly love is withdrawn, and the narrator feels like aa child groping benighted” (316). The only way he can get her back is childishly to deny the reality of death. Her will to live is actually his will to immortalize, to deify. Archetypal images seethe chaotically within him, but now he has no screen, no feminine figure, on whom to project them. He has become one of the amere puppets” in Ligeia’s poem, aAt bidding of vast formless things” (318). The colossal archetypes are in abeyance until he can find a surrogate for Ligeia. Their existence is implied in the love/death chamber he creates, in the agigantic sarcophagus,” athe lofty walls, gigantic in height,” the aarabesque figures,” and athe ghastly forms which belong to the superstition of the Norman, or arise in the guilty slumbers of the monk” (322). The awind behind the draperies” is his soulbreath, waiting to breathe life again, to incarnate Ligeia in a new form, aa hideous and uneasy animation” (322).

He marries the first woman he can. She does not have to look like his wife; she is to be a screen. That he may plan to kill her, as Basler and Thompson suggest,(24) is implied by his remark about Rowena’s relatives: he wonders how they ever could have let her apass the threshold of an apartment so bedecked” (321). But Rowena’s ambiguous, unquiet death should not simply be literalized as a murder. The narrator’s first wife has died, and with her death the mother-archetype has receded to unconsciousness, where she now exists inside him as athe fierce moodiness of [his] temper” (323) directed at the hapless Rowena. Her identity is progressively denied until she becomes a screen on which he is finally able to project the archetype. She grows into Ligeia, from woman to goddess — [column 2:] just as the first wife did. But the mother-goddess in her final form appears now as Medusa: the narrator is achilled . . . into stone” (329). This time, the negative pole of the archetype appears, the black-eyed Medusa, to remind the man that by relentlessly projecting his own Ideal of the Feminine onto woman, he is not loving, he is killing; he is erasing her identity, just as his very narration erased the identity of the first wife, replacing it with “Ligeia.“(25)

As an anima-figure, Ligeia leads the narrator into “a world of mythopoeic experience.“(26) Following Erich Neumann, Bickman sees her as a Jungian atransformative” archetype, who guides the narrator into “an animistic . . . mythical consciousness” (74). Moreover, Bickman reminds us that the anima has the “potential for psychic growth”; it is the weakness of the male ego that prevents “a creative reintegration” of unconscious anima with consciousness.(27) But what makes the ego so weak? One cannot ignore the elementary/static feminine archetype while examining the transformative.(28) The anima is what animates the mother-archetype, making the statue breathe. In the case of a man who has achieved some kind of integration, the transformative anima is completely free of the static mother archetype, but Poe’s narrators rarely if ever achieve such a break; their animae are weighted down, as it were, by the primitive monoliths of the Great Mother. Ligeia could be a light and airy sylph, but the narrator’s nympholepsy prevents her liberation. With much of Mother Earth in her, she remains a colossal statue.(29) Since she is both anima and mother-archetype, she is adouble and changeable” (314), like the star in Lyra to which she is compared. She is bright and burning with afierce energy,” but then she is dim, aduller than Saturnian lead” (316).

The narrator’s ego-disintegration, then, is not, as Bickman argues, a result of his rejection and repression of the anima; it is the result of his inability to dissociate mother-archetype from anima. In other words, woman is for him a matrix, a mold out of which he casts and shapes — a blank page on which he writes his text, “Ligeia.”

This renaming of woman into archetype is not necessarily the behavior of a psychopath. The narrator’s obsession is representative of the male ego as it tries desperately to deal with “the irruption of the other in the self.“(30) If a man fails to incorporate any of his unconscious femininity into consciousness, or if the anima is still burdened with [page 30:] maternal aspects, the closest he can come to true integration is a travesty: an animated corpse. In aLigeia,” this corpse is not the sign of necrophilia; it is the sign of the static archetype. RowenaLigeia is a grotesque image of the Ideal Feminine as Poe’s culture defined it: either the passive dollbride which the man animates and which therefore drains him of life, or the amore than womanly” mother to whose stern guidance he submits.31 In either case, he remains a victim of his own Ideal, a hopeless nympholeptic.



1. - See the OED (1933 ed., vol. 7). Nympholepsy was defined as “a state of rapture supposed to be inspired by nymphs; hence, an ecstasy or frenzy of emotion especially inspired by something unattainable.”

2. - For example, in The Collected Works of C.G. Jung (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1953), IX, part 1, pp. 26-30. Jung’s examples come mostly from popular literature (e.g., Rider Haggard’s She) because such authors have less conscious control over their material; less authorial manipulation, he supposed, leads to a vision closer to the actual Archetype an sieh. One need not accept this untenable assumption, however, to apply some of Jung’s ideas. For a complete discussion of this issue, see the Introduction to my dissertation, “Our Ladies of Darkness: Jungian Readings of the Female Daemon in Gothic Fiction” (Washington State Univ., 1986), pp. 5-28. For abstract, see DAI, 47 (Dec., 1986): 2150A.

3. - David Saliba, A Peychology of Fear: The Nightmare Formula of Edgar Allan Poe (Washington, D.C.: Univ. Press of America, 1980), pp. 145, 152, 161.

4. - Bettina Knapp, Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Ungar, 1984), pp. 131-134. Her discussion of ULigeia” is perhaps the most obvious example of the kind of reductionism that has given Jungian criticism a bad reputation, especially among neo-Freudian critics like Morton Kaplan and Robert Kloss, in The Unspoken Motioe: A Guide to Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism (New York: The Free Press, 1973), pp. 184f, 294-299.

5. - Martin Bickman, The Unsounded Centre: Jungian Studies in American Romanticism (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1980), p. 16. Bickman’s approach is pragmatic rather than dogmatic: Jung’s symbology equips the reader with Uanalogies” that ailluminate” Romantic texts (p. 149), since Jungian theory is “another formulation. . . of the confluence of traditions that shaped Americall Romanticism” (p. 5). [column 2:]

6. - Bickman, p. 149. His “mythodology” may therefore be construed as “post-Jungian,” in the sense explored by Andrew Samuels, Jung and the Post-Jungians (Boston & London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985). Bickman (p. 148) invites other writers to further amplify and illuminate texts with Jungian symbols. The present essay is, in part, an answer to this invitation.

7. - Cf. Eric Gould’s post-structuralist remarks about archetypalism in Mythical Intentions in Modern Literature (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 1033. A post-Jungian reading accepts Gould’s idea that the Collective Unconscious is (like the individual unconscious in Lacan’s famous statement) structured as a language. Such a treatment of archetypes in aLigeia” is meant to complement the work of David Halliburton, Edgar Allan Poe: A Phenomenological View (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1973); Gregory S. Jay, “Poe: Writing and the Unconscious,” Bucknell Review, 28 (1983), 144-169; and Michael Williams, “The Charnel Character to the Figure’: Language and Interpretation in the Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe” (Diss.: Washington State Univ., 1985).

8 - See Daryle E. Jones, “Poe’s Siren: Character and Meaning in ‘Ligeia,‘” Studies in Short Fiction, 20 (1983), 33-77; cf. H.J. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology (New York: Dutton, 1959), p. 253, and Milton’s Comus, 1. 880.

9 - Roy P. Basler, “The Interpretation of ‘Ligeia‘” (1944), rpt. in Critics on Poe, ed. David B. Kesterson (Coral Gables, Fla.: Univ. of Miami Press, 1973), p. 89; Joel Porte, The Romance in America: Studies in Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne and James (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1969), p. 71.

10 - Maurice J. Bennett, “The Meaning of Art: Poe’s ‘Ligeia’ as Metafiction,” Poe Studies, 14 (June 1981), 4.

11 - Halliburton, pp. 209, 207.

12 - John Lauber, a‘Ligeia’ and Its Critics: A Plea for Literalism,” Studies in Short Fiction, 4 (1966), 28-32; cf. James Schroeter, “A Misreading of Poe’s ‘Ligeia,‘” PMLA, 76 (1961), 397-406.

13 - James W. Gargano, “foe’s ‘Ligeia’: Dream and Destruction,” College English, 23 (1962), 335-342; cf. Floyd Stovall, “The Conscious Art of Edgar Allan Poe,” College English, 24 (1963), 417-424.

14 - G. R. Thompson, Poe’s Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1973), p. 87; cf. James B. Twitchell, The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1973), p. 63.

15 - Terence J. Matheson, UThe Multiple Murders in ‘Ligeia’: A New Look at Poe’s Narrator,” Canadian Review of American Studies, 13 (Winter 1982), 279289.

16 - Marie Bonaparte, The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation, trans. by John Rodker (London: Imago Publ. Co., 1949), pp. 224-225.

17 - Porte, p. 71.

18 - Jay, p. 163.

19 - Bickman, p. 74.

20 - Works, II, 323. All subsequent page references [page 31:] to “Ligeian will be incorporated in the text.

21 - Mabbott (Works, II, 331, n. 1) also realizes this, but he thinks it is Ligeia herself who does not reveal her real name. It is more likely that the narrator, in mythologizing his wife, represses her real name in favor of the siren’s. Perhaps her name was Rebecca, since one of Poe’s sources was the story of Rebecca and Rowena in Scott’s Ivanhoe (Works, II, 306). “Ligeia” completely erases Rebecca, and then effaces Rowena.

22 - Halliburton, p. 218.

23 - Robert Shulman, “Poe and the Powers of the Mind,” ELH, 57 (1970), 245.

24 - Basler, p. 90; Thompson, p. 81.

25 - This erasure or pre-empting of female identity parallels Cynthia Jordan’s idesa in “Poe’s Revision: The Recovery of the Second Story,” American Literature, 59 (March 1987), 1-19. See especially p. 2: “Poe was . . . prolific in creating images of violently silenced women . . . . ” The archetypal perspective of my essay complements her conclusion: u. . . the loss of ‘women’ throughout [Poe’s] writings represents a halving of ‘man’s’ soul” (p. 19). [column 2:]

26 - Bickman, p. 74.

27 - Bickman, pp. 79, 66

28 - The “static” mother-archetype is the first manifestation of femininity in the male psyche. See Jung, Collected Works, IX, part 2, p. 26. Jung makes it cle” that the male’s close association of transformative anima with static mother-imago is what makes the latter Udangerously powerful.” Cf. Henri Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (New York: Basic Books, 1970), p. 708; and Erich Neumann, The Great Mother (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1963), pp. 53-34.

29 - Mabbott (Works, II, 331, n. 3, and 332, n. 7) calls our attention to other statuary imagery in the description of Ligeia. Poe alludes to a statue of Aphrodite and to the Venus de Medici.

30 - Jay, p. 149

31 - See Martha Vicinus, UThe Perfect Victorian Lady,” Introduction to Suffer and Be Still: Womcn in thc Victorian Age (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1972): “The perfect lady as an ideal of femininity” was supposed to be totally submissive to men and responsive to her uinnate maternal instincts” (pp. ix-x).


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[S:0 - PSDR, 1980]