There are men who radiate a special charm. They attract without wanting to, —one must believe in their personality, and then there is a certain quality which repels. One is not conscious what it consists of, but it is there. They are branded with the brand of Art. So was Oscar Wilde,—so was Edgar Allan Poe.

It's from an essay on Edgar Allan Poe by the German author Hanns Heinz Ewers (translated by Adèle Lewisohn, 1917). I didn't understand the bold part. What do you think the author meant by believing their personality? I also didn't get why he said that they have a special charm in the first sentence and they have a repelling quality in the second? Isn't that contradicting?


2 Answers 2


The phrase "one must believe in their personality" most likely means that one can't resist admiring or approving of that person's behaviour or words (or both, it is hard to tell without more context). At the same time, it is possible that that same person has characteristics that one dislikes.

It is perfectly possible to have contradictory feelings about a person or about something. One example of this type of ambivalence is the term love-hate relationship. Below are a few examples of attraction combined with repulsion from other texts:

  • "As Josie struggles to understand Michael's death and hold onto the true world he shared with her, she finds herself both repelled by and attracted to his pianist mother, Meredith, who holds Josie responsible for her son's torment." ("About the Book Paint It Black: A Novel" on ReadingGroupGuides.com)
  • "I was both attracted to him and repelled by him. He had charisma and lunacy at the same time." (Quoted from the book The 3 Mistakes of My Life on GoodReads.com)
  • "When the narrator meets a support group member named Marla, who is pretending – like he is – to be terminally ill, he is both attracted and repelled: (...)" (Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk, CultureVulture)
  • "From its first appearance in 1818, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein both fascinated and repelled audiences." (Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature: Transformation of a Monster)
  • "Semi-autobiographical, partly inspired by Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma, and set in 1962 in his native Parma, the film is deeply indebted to the French new wave and centres on Fabrizio, a 20-year-old introspective haut bourgeois student both attracted to and repelled by middle-class conformity and revolutionary Marxism." (Philip French: "Before the Revolution – review", The Observer, 10.04.2011)

It is the suspension of disbelief. as described Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria, published in 1817,

It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.

We experience 'suspension'. in experiencing fairy tales, science fiction, romance. At root, we have a reflection the notion of :Cognitive Dissonance: We need to accept the dissonance, and do so unconsciously, even though it is not resolved.

  • 1
    Doesn't "suspension of disbelief" refer to the reader's experience of a literary text? The comment by Hanns Heinz Ewers is about the person Edgar Allen Poe, not about his texts.
    – Tsundoku
    May 10, 2020 at 13:16
  • One can and certainly 'read' a personality. Many a disastrous marriage or business deal is made as a result of overlooking faults, warts, and the like. "Having blinders on", "tunnel vision", "being starry eyed" are different ways of expressing the notion. Another approach, though admittedly, less satisfying, is the concept of cognitive dissonance. May 18, 2020 at 6:49

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