Wide reading: “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” by Edgar Allan Poe

“A garbled or exaggerated account made its way into society, and became the source of many unpleasant misrepresentations; and, very naturally, of a great deal of disbelief.”

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe is a short story that follows a man with a friend named Ernest Valdemar. The narrator had been experimenting with an early form of hypnosis called mesmerism. Mesmerism is induced with magnetism. The narrator wishes to investigate what would happen if someone were to be mesmerised just before death. Valdemar had been told that he had developed tuberculosis and would die soon. The narrator wished to experiment on him and asks for Valdemar’s consent. Valdemar agrees and says he is to expected to die by midnight the following night. The narrator arrives the following night with two nurses and a medical student as witnesses. Valdemar insists again that the experiment was to be carried out quickly. Valdemar is soon mesmerised by the narrator just as two physicians arrive to act as extra witnesses.  A couple days pass and he was alive for a short while but is now recorded as clinically deceased. Valdemar has no pulse. His lips are cold, his skin pale with no visible signs of breathing. Finally the narrator attempts to awake Valdemar from his trance like state. In between trance and wakefulness Valdemar insists he be put back to sleep or woken up swiftly. The narrator brings him out of his trance only for valdemar’s body to rapidly decay into a liquid mass of rotten flesh.

This story completely lacks the presence of gothic protagonist and villain. What could be mistaken for a villain can be ruled out by the willingness of Valdemar to take part in the narrator’s experiment. Whether the narrator believed it was an ethical action is not evil nor good in nature. The jump between trance and wakefulness may have been cruel on Valdemar but again he did agree to the experiment wholeheartedly and in that case accepting the fate of either death or anything in between.

“ For what really occurred, however, it is quite impossible that any human being could have been prepared.” The supernatural element that can be recognised within the text is most definitely the impossibility of preventing decay of the human body beyond death. What is most supernatural about this occurrence is the suspension of the human conscience can prevent the body from decaying. It’s an impossibility as human cells decay because of the lack of better protein to the cells but in this case that the brain is possible of much more than we originally thought it to be capable of. The interesting reaction to Valdemar being taken out of the trance is another utterly supernatural happening. The instant the mind is disengaged from the body it rapidly decays as if his body was time preserved.

“I was thoroughly unnerved, and for an instant remained undecided what to do. At first I made an endeavor to re-compose the patient.” The lack of emotion displayed in the characters almost adds to the mood of the text as it’s such an ethically/morally questionable experiment to carry out and there’s little to no emotion displayed by the narrator as his friend decays in such a gruesome and graphic way. He is to baffled by what he has witnessed to display correct displays of emotion towards the loss of his friend in such a manner.

The Facts in the case of M.Valdemar is a compelling read that really questions some of our own morals and what it would be like to experience such a situation. I was deeply disturbed by the themes displayed in this read and can’t get the image created by the vivid words describing the decay of the body and the chaos of the situation.

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