Text: Martin Bickman, “Animatopoeia: Morella as Siren of the Self,” Poe Studies, December 1975, Vol. VIII, No. 2, 8:29-32


[page 29:]

Animatopoeia: Morella as
Siren of the Self

University of Colorado

Productive approaches to Poe’s tales can be made through Jungian psychology and through a philosophical framework derived from the entirety of his works (1). This article will suggest through the example of “Morella” that these two approaches can be profitably combined, primarily because Jung’s theory of the development of consciousness is a later, more fully conceptualized version of a basic Romantic pattern of thought. As Henri Ellenberger, a leading historian of psychiatry, points out, “Jung’s analytic psychology, like Freud’s psychoanalysis, is a late off-shoot of Romanticism, but psychoanalysis is also the heir of positivism, scientism, and Darwinism, whereas analytic psychology rejects that heritage and returns to the unaltered sources of psychiatric Romanticism and philosophy of nature” (2).

In Jung’s theory, the psyche begins in a state of undifferentiated unconsciousness, a primordial wholeness that encompasses all opposites. Out of this realm, what Jung calls the “ego” emerges, a structure that serves as the center of consciousness, a core around which a personal identity is constructed. As the ego grows, it tends to separate itself from the rest of the psyche, setting up a barrier between conscious and unconscious and creating other dualities such as subject/object, masculine/feminine, light/ darkness. Although this development is necessary for functioning in everyday reality, it also creates an imbalance in the “self” (the entire psychic unit) and leaves a person divided, with only a fragment of his potential realized. Later in life, this unrealized potential often beckons towards a rejoining of the ego with the rest of the self in a fuller integration of personality. The ego comes to recognize that it is not an autonomous entity but part of a larger unity with which it must establish a working harmony. This process is what Jung calls “individuation,” a move towards being an individual, an undivided whole.

There is a fundamental homology between this developmental process and the pattern of unity-division-reintegration that M. H. Abrams and Northrup Frye see as central to Romantic thought (3). More specifically, Jung’s theory has important congruences with Poe’s Eureka, in which the universe begins as a single “primordial Particle,” an “absolute Unity,” becomes then separated and diffused, but ultimately returns to this “primordial and irrelative [column 2:] One.” The congruences become more immediate towards the end of this work, where what has seemed an objective discussion of the nature of the universe slides into an area of direct psychic experience. In the closing pages, our “Memories” whisper to us that all beings are

conscious, first, of a proper identity; conscious secondly and by faint indeterminate glimpses, of an identity with the Divine Being of whom we speak — of an identity with God. Of the two classes of consciousness, fancy that the former will grow weaker, the latter stronger, during the long succession of ages which must elapse before these myriads of individual Intelligences become blended — when the bright stars become blended — into One. Think that the sense of individual identity will be gradually merged in the general consciousness — that Man, for example ceasing imperceptibly to feel himself Man, will at length attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he shall recognize his existence as that of Jehovah (4).

Although Poe envisions this process as occurring over cosmic sweep of time, this sense of double identity is basic to the condition of each individual. Particularly in the context of the tales and poems, the “general consciousness” of the second identity, the One, tends to become, operationally at least, the unity of the entire psyche, the self. Poe stands at a crucial junction where metaphysics begins to turn into a phenomenology of consciousness, where philosophic conceptions are introjected into the sphere of the individual psyche, and where spiritual aspirations and eroticism are seen as expressions of the same basic movements of mind (5). The feelings delineated in the quotation above, for example, correspond closely to Jung’s description of the felt experience of individuation: “The individuated ego senses itself as an object of an unknown and superordinate subject” (6).

In Poe’s work, a female soul-mate, the “anima” as Jung calls this figure, usually serves as an embodiment of aspects of the self beyond the realm of the ego, since for a man, “what is not I is not masculine, is probably feminine” (7). As other critics have suggested (8), each of the works of Poe in which a woman figures prominently can be read as what Maurice Barres calls “a history of a soul with its two elements, masculine and feminine” (9). In her associations with the unconscious, the feminine often takes on wild, elusive qualities, but she is also the mediatrix for the conscious encounter with the depths. Jung notes this dual nature of the anima: “Although she may be the chaotic urge to life something strangely meaningful clings to her, a secret knowledge or hidden wisdom, which contrasts most curiously with her irrational elfin nature” (p. 30).

As we turn to “Morella,” we can see that the title character’s vague, apocryphal appearance emphasizes her ultimate origin in the narrator’s own psyche. The syntax of the second sentence — “Thrown by accident into her society [page 30:] many years ago, my soul, from our first meeting, burned with fires it had never before known” (I, 27) — encourages the notion that it is specifically the narrator’s “soul” to which Morella presents herself. The “happiness” that Morella brings is associated with both “wonder” and “dream.” The narrator tells us that they met by accident and were fated to marry; according to Jung, psychic events that originate outside the ego are often perceived as happening by accident or by fate. Indeed, the more ego-consciousness is developed at the expense of other areas of the psyche, the more likely one is to encounter apparently autonomous forms thrown up from the unconscious as compensatory mechanisms. The rigidity and lop-sided development of the narrator’s psyche are suggested in the first paragraph by his reaction to the feelings Morella arouses in him: “. . . bitter and tormenting to my spirit was the gradual conviction that I could in no manner define their unusual meaning, or regulate their vague intensity” (I, 27).

His reactions to feelings that are beyond his conscious understanding and control help to explain his ambivalence towards Morella and the one-way nature of their relationship. Morella reaches out to him with love, as the anima seeking recognition and union. The narrator also desires this union to some extent, but for one so out of touch with his unconscious, a venture beyond the ego is fraught with the dangers of psychic upheaval and the overwhelming of the conscious personality. The ecstasy that Morella proffers is always a hairsbreadth away from terror: “And then, hour after hour, would I linger by her side, and dwell upon the music of her voice — until, at length, its melody was tainted with terror, — and there fell a shadow upon my soul — and I grew pale, and shuddered inwardly at those too unearthly tones” (I, 28). The Janus face that Morella presents to the narrator is suggested in her very name. Although T. O. Mabbott has found a historical Morella from whom it is likely Poe took the name (10), the reasons for this choice lie to some extent in the juxtaposition of a root signifying “death” with another found in the names of other Poe women such as Helen, Lenore, Eleonora, suggesting “light.”

This ambivalence and confusion emerge in the way the narrator responds to Morella’s philosophical studies, which he later calls her “wild tales and thrilling theories” (I, 32) — thrilling in the sense of both exciting and terrifying. At first he feels he can engage in these studies without serious consequences; he is a level-headed, commonsensical person who will not fall prey to any perils of mysticism. Yet he is uneasy enough with this notion to qualify it with three conditional clauses in the space of two sentences: “In all this, if I err not, my reason had little to do. My convictions, or I forget myself, were in no manner acted upon by the ideal, nor was any tincture of the mysticism which I read, to be discovered, unless I am greatly mistaken, either in my deeds or in my thoughts” (I, 28). Other references to Morella’s studies reveal an important divergence, already pointed out by Eric Carlson in his brief note to the tale: “the citing of Fichte, Schelling, and Locke provide major clues to the opposed views of identity or selfhood represented by Morella and the narrator” (p. 577). The narrator’s elliptical summary of their studies suggests that either he refuses to accept all of [column 2:] Morella’s teachings or that he misunderstands them in a psychologically revealing way.

The wild Pantheism of Fichte; the modified [Greek text:] xxxxx [:Greek text] of the Pythagoreans; and, above all, the doctrines of Identity as urged by Schelling, were generally the points of discussion presenting the most of beauty to the imaginative Morella. That identity which is termed personal, Mr. Locke, I think, truly defines to consist in the sameness of a rational being. And since by person we understand an intelligent essence having reason, and since there is a consciousness which always accompanies thinking, it is this which makes us all to be that which we call ourselves — t hereby distinguishing us from other beings that think, and giving us our personal identity. But the principium individuationis — the notion of that identity which at death is or is not lost forever, was to me — at all times, a consideration of intense interest; not more from the perplexing and exciting nature of its consequences, than from the marked and agitated manner in which Morella mentioned them (11).

Morella’s interest in Fichte, Schelling, and the Pythagoreans affirms her belief in a larger unity beyond what we think of as our personal identities. As does Eureka, these doctrines view the relationship between an identity with the One and a personal identity as complementary and inverse. Fichte says: “The demand that the I shall become absolute is not a demand for the independence of the I considered as an individual. Individuality implies limitation The individual I becomes absolute only so far as individuality is laid aside” (12). Similarly, the primary meaning of “Identity” in Schelling’s writings is the absolute unity of all opposites, as opposed to the “self-identity” of immediate, personal consciousness. Poe’s awareness of Schelling’s concern with an identity beyond the ego is demonstrated in an early version of “Loss of Breath”: “A rapid change was now taking place in my sensations. The last shadows of connection flitted away from my meditations. A storm — a tempest of ideas, vast, novel, and soul-stirring, bore my spirit like a feather afar off. . . . In a very short time Schelling himself would have been satisfied with my entire loss of self-identity” (I, 360).

Although Morella is primarily interested in this transcendental view of “identity,” the principium individuationis, the personal identity, is “at all times, a consideration of intense interest” to the narrator. He discusses this concept in terms of Locke’s atomistic, rationalistic philosophy, with phrases associated with the ego’s mode of knowing — “the sameness of a rational being,” “intelligent essence having reason,” “a consciousness which always accompanies thinking.” Morella’s sense of a transpersonal identity emerges only in the garbled form of speculations on reincarnation, but even here the narrator seems mainly concerned with the continuance after death of the ego-consciousness to which he is so attached. There is no basis for reincarnation in the philosophies of Fichte, Schelling, or Locke, and the narrator’s focus on [Greek text:] xxxxx [:Greek text], or the Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of souls after death, reveals the selectivity with which he approaches Morella’s teachings. For integral to this doctrine is the hope of eventual release from the cycle of death and rebirth and a reabsorption into the One. This latter aspect of Pythagoreanism was given particular stress by Thomas Taylor, the Neo-platonist whose translations and commentaries on the ancient Greek philosophies were the most widely used in Poe’s America. This rejoining with the original unity is systematically omitted in the narrator’s exposition [page 31:] but lies, as the missing piece of the puzzle, in the epigram of the tale: “Itself, by itself solely, ONE everlastingly, and single” (I, 27). The “marked and agitated manner” in which Morella speaks of the principum individuationis and its possible existence after death may stem from her exasperation in trying to convince the narrator that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in Locke’s philosophy.

The vision Morella offers, of a realm of being beyond the confines of the ego, induces in the narrator a sort of spiritual vertigo: “I met the glance of her meaning eyes, and then my soul sickened and became giddy with the giddiness of one who gazes downward into some dreary and unfathomable abyss” (I, 29-30). The approach-avoidance conflict ultimately becomes unbearable; the narrator turns from Morella completely and wishes for her death. Morella understands the wellsprings of his actions better than her husband, who insulates himself from his own emotions: “She seemed, also, conscious of a cause, to me unknown, for the gradual alienation of my regard” (I, 29). She can, moreover, predict the disastrous consequences of the narrator’s failure of strength and trust: “For the hours of thy happiness are over. . . . thou shalt bear about thee thy shroud on the earth, as do the Moslemin at Mecca” (I, 31) .

Morella as an anima figure cannot be destroyed, only repressed, and this repression will cause a greater disruption in the psyche than any direct confrontation with the unconscious. A symbol released from the unconscious can either be understood and assimilated by the ego or it can be pushed away unfathomed. In the latter case, the symbol can take on qualities of an autonomous splinter psyche, confronting the ego as a hostile foreign body. The birth of Morella’s daughter, who draws her first breath the instant her mother draws her last, signifies this irrevocable splitting-off. Any possibilities for a willing union of equals as epitomized in the marriage relationship have been foreclosed. The first Morella, for example, on her own initiative shuns society and attends only to her husband; the second Morella is deliberately isolated from the outside world by the actions of her father. Although fate bound the narrator at the altar to Morella, an even more inexorable and ominous destiny compels the narrator to adore her daughter. The child’s rapid, unnatural growth into the resemblance of the mother suggests the hydra-headed nature of repression: “For that her smile was like her mother’s I could bear; but then I shuddered at its too perfect identity — that her eyes were like Morella’s I could endure; but then they too often looked down into the depths of my soul with Morella’s own intense and bewildering meaning” (I, 32) . Thus Morella’s lesson of identity returns with a vengeance. What the narrator saw earlier in the “meaning eyes” of the mother, so like an “unfathomable abyss,” he now encounters in the eyes of the daughter — the same “intense and bewildering meaning.” Both pairs of eyes bespeak an identity not only with each other, but between themselves and “the depths of [the narrator’s] soul.” Both contain the lost promise of an identity between the individual and the universe and between the ego and the self.

As the tale moves towards its conclusion, its basic dynamic becomes clear: the more the narrator tries to stay within the existing limits of his own ego, the more the [column 2:] ego structure crumbles under the strain of holding on to its regressive position. As Jung writes: “when a part of the psyche is split off from consciousness it is only apparently inactivated; in actual fact it brings about a possession of the personality with the result that the individual’s aims are falsified in the interests of the split-off part” (13). The narrator becomes less an acting subject and increasingly the object of impulses he perceives as coming from the outside. This condition is reflected in the very syntax of his utterances: “suspicions of a nature fearful and exciting, crept in upon my spirit”; “the ceremony of baptism presented to my mind . . . a present deliverance from the terrors of my destiny” (I, 32, 33). At the baptismal font, where he must finally give a name to his daughter, the “possession” of the narrator becomes complete; he sees all his actions as instigated by unknown, hostile forces.

What prompted me, then, to disturb the memory of the buried dead? What demon urged me to breathe that sound, which, in its very recollection was wont to make ebb the purple blood in torrents from the temples to the heart? What fiend spoke from the recesses of my soul, when, amid those dim aisles, and in the silence of the night, I whispered within the ears of the holy man the syllables — Morella? (1, 33)

With this last word, the narrator not only names his daughter but answers his own questions. Once he has identified his daughter with his wife and both with whatever is possessing him, Morella reaffirms this identification with the words “I am here!” The anima erupts fully and undeniably into consciousness, but the ego is so weak and shattered it has no way of permanently assimilating it, of achieving integration with the unconscious. The trauma is symbolically resolved with the death of the second Morella.

In Morella’s third transmogrification lies a final lesson of identity. Carrying the dead body of his daughter, the narrator finds the corpse of the first Morella missing from the tomb. “Morella,” though, has not completely disappeared, but has become coterminous with the all, with Schelling’s ultimate sense of identity, “the night in which all cats are black.”

And I kept no reckoning of time or place, and the stars of my fate faded from heaven, and therefore the earth grew dark, and its figures passed by me, like flitting shadows, and among them all I beheld only — Morella. The winds of the firmament breathed but one sound within my ears, and the ripples upon the sea murmured evermore — Morella. (1, 34)

The anima no longer exists as a differentiated, crystallized image, but collapses, taking the ego with it, into the unconscious realm from which it emerged. This “wild Pantheism” is a dark, perverse, regressive reflection of the luminous self-awareness that accompanies proper individuation — “when the bright stars become blended into One” as envisioned at the end of Eureka. The passage above forms shadowy parallels with sections in “The Poetic Principle” and “Ligeia.” In the former, Poe describes a psychic transformation presided over by Poetry and Love: “He recognizes the ambrosia which nourishes his soul, in the bright orbs that shine in Heaven — in the volutes of the flower . . . in the star-mirroring depths of lonely wells . . . in the sighing of the night wind — in the repining voice of the forest” (XIV, 290, 291). The narrator of “Ligeia” [page 32:] sees in his wife’s eyes a similar vision, a vision that he too finally shrinks from at the peril of his own sanity (14): “I recognized it, let me repeat, sometimes in the survey of a rapidly-growing vine — in the contemplation of a moth, a butterfly, a chrysalis, a stream of running water. I have felt it in the ocean; in the falling of a meteor. I have felt it in the glances of unusually aged people” (I, 252).

“Morella,” then, is a delineation of the very subtle but very real differences between creative mysticism and psychosis, between individuation and dissolution. D. H. Lawrence was right when he noted that Poe’s great theme was the human mind “in a great continuous convulsion of disintegration” (15). But integral to this theme is a complementary vision of psychic expansion, of an extended and balanced soul that is at one with itself and the universe.



(1) Two effective studies using Jungian psychology are Colin Martindale, “Archetype and Reality in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’” Poe Studies, 5 (1972), 9-11; and Roberta Reeder, “‘The Black Cat’ as a Study in Repression,” Poe Studies, 7 (1974), 20-22. Philosophical approaches include Maurice Beebe, “The Universe of Roderick Usher” in Ivory Towers and Sacred Founts (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1964), pp. 118-128; Barton Levi St. Armand, “Usher Unveiled: Poe and the Metaphysics of Gnosticism,” Poe Studies, 5 (1972), 1-8- and John F. Lynen, The Design of the Present: Essays on Time and Form in American Literature (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1969), pp. 205-271.

(2) The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (New York: Basic Books, 1970), p. 657.

(3) See Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1971); and Frye, A Study of English Romanticism (New York: Random House, 1968).

(4) The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (1902; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1965), XVI, 314-315. All page references to Poe are from this edition.

(5) Much recent Poe criticism has been converging in this direction. See, for example, Robert Shulman, “Poe and the Powers of the Mind,” Journal of English Literary History, 37 (1970), 245-262; David Halliburton, Edgar Allan Poe: A Phenomenological View (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1973); and Lynen cited above.

(6) C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 2nd ea., trans. R. F. C. Hull (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, Bollingen Series XX, 1968), p. 153.

(7) Jung, p. 24.

(8) See the Jungian articles cited above as well as the arrangement of the tales in Introduction to Poe, ed. Eric Carlson (Glenview, Illinois: Scott Foresman, 1967).

(9)Sous l’oeil des barbares, ed. Emile Paul (1911) as quoted in Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie, trans. Daniel Russell (Boston: Beacon Press, 1954), p. 94.

(10) “The Source of the Title of Poe’s ‘Morella,’” Notes and Queries, 172 (1937), 26-27.

(11) I, 28-29. The emendation of “sameness” for “saneness” is adopted here for the reasons given in Halliburton, p. 220.

(12) Johann Gottlieb Fichte, New Exposition of the Sciences of Knowledge, trans. A. E. O. Kioeger (St. Louis: Philosophical Library, 1869), p. 102.

(13) C. G. Jung and C. Kerenyi, Essays on a Science of Mythology, bans R. F. C. Hull (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, Bollingen Series XXII, 1949), p. 83.

(14) For a comparable parallel of the narrators of “Morella” and “Ligeia,” see Eric Carlson, “Poe’s Vision of Man,” in Papers on Poe: Essays in Honor of John Ward Ostrom ed. Richard P. Veler (Springfield, Ohio: Chantry Music Press, i972), pp. 16-17.

(15) Studies in Classic American Literature (1923; rpt. New York: Viking Press, 1964), p. 65.


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