In a Smile of Peculiar Meaning: Edgar Allan Poe’s “Berenice”

Detail, 1916 Illustration by Harry Clarke for Edgar Allan Poe’s Berenice, from Tales of Mystery and Imagination

In 1835, the Southern Literary Messenger published a short story so shocking, so graphic and ghastly, that outraged letters poured into the office of editor Thomas W. White. Written by a relatively unknown Edgar Allan Poe, the story, Berenice, tells of Egaeus, a young man of family and wealth who is stricken by an obsessive disorder known to 19th-century psychiatry as monomania, a pathological fixation on some specific item. In the case of Egaeus, this fixation centered horribly on the gleaming teeth of his cousin and fiancée, Berenice, a porcelain rictus staring out from an ill and wasted visage.

“God of heaven! — is it possible? Is it my brain that reels — or was it indeed the finger of the enshrouded dead that stirred in the white cerement that bound it? Frozen with unutterable awe I slowly raised my eyes to the countenance of the corpse. There had been a band around the jaws, but, I know not how, it was broken asunder. The livid lips were wreathed into a species of smile, and, through the enveloping gloom, once again there glared upon me in too palpable reality, the white and glistening, and ghastly teeth of Berenice. I sprang convulsively from the bed, and, uttering no word, rushed forth a maniac from that apartment of triple horror, and mystery, and death.”

You can read this horrifying tale in its original, unedited 1835 version – published just months before Poe married his own cousin, Virginia – at The Edgar Allan Poe Society, but for those of us who can just never really get enough of the venerable Vincent Price, enjoy this 1975 recording of him reading Berenice in all its grim glory.

Considered one of Poe’s most gruesome works, it is no surprise that Berenice has inspired generations of horror artists to adapt and recreate the tale in ink and paint. Peruse the links and gallery below for a collection of chilling interpretations by a century’s worth of fearfully talented graphic artists:

  • Berenice, adapted by Rich Margopoulos with art by Isidre Monés, 1947.
  • Dark Horse Presents #16, Berenice, Richard Corben, September 2012.
  • Eerie No. 11, Berenice, Archie Goodwin and Jerry Grandenetti, September 1967.
  • Jack Bertram, Berenice: Edgar Allen Poe.
  • Omar Hirsig, Berenice, 2009.
  • 1916 Illustration by Harry Clarke for Edgar Allan Poe’s Berenice, from Tales of Mystery and Imagination.
  • Berenice, created by Nelson Evergreen, for Graphic Classics’s 2011 collection of Poe adaptations.

“On the table beside me burned a lamp, and near it lay a little box of ebony. It was a box of no remarkable character, and I had seen it frequently before, it being the property of the family physician, but how came it there upon my table, and why did I shudder in regarding it?”

Related Posts:

Man on Haunted Hill: The Venerable Vincent Price

Some Sepulchre, Remote, Alone: The Legend of Castle Dracula

Friday Night Features: “The Tell Tale Heart” Short Film

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Categories: History (Haunted and Otherwise)

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10 replies

  1. Amazing work. His writing, ahhh

  2. Ohhhhhh thank you for the artwork. What a wonderful variety of styles and interpretations. Berenice always creeped me out (as only Poe can do.)

  3. Reblogged this on West Coast Review and commented:
    Poe, great illustrations and the blog “The Year of Halloween.” You can’t go wrong with that great combination. Check it out and enjoy the fun.

    If you aren’t following “The Year of Halloween” do yourself a favor and FOLLOW. You’ll be glad you did.

  4. The artwork is so cool. I am partial to black and white ink drawings like the one at the top of your post just like I am partial to b&w photos. I have never read this story before so now obviously I must.

  5. This is a good one. Never read that story before. TMYK!

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