I recently read Edgar Allan Poe's short story "Eleonora", a thinly veiled self-portrait in which the protagonist falls in love with his younger cousin, who later dies and leaves him alone. He (the protagonist, not Poe) vows that his love for his cousin will be undying and that he will never love another woman in her place. So far, so unsurprising: this is standard romance fare.

Then, in the final paragraphs of the story, the narrator reveals that, long after the death of Eleonora and his subsequent departure from the valley where they grew up, he falls in love again and marries another woman named Ermengarde, about whom almost nothing is said, except for the implication that Heaven and/or the spirit of Eleonora forgive him for breaking his vow, for reasons unknown.

What is the message being put across by this story? Is the 'moral', if you will, that it's OK to break a vow of eternal love? The story is all about issues which were surely of great emotional importance to the author; is there some hidden meaning in it which isn't immediately clear?

1 Answer 1


Funerals are for the living. Deathbed promises, on the other hand, are for the dying. The story (as you note) is autobiographical, so this issue must have weighed heavily on Poe. His wife was sick, but far from dead, when he wrote this story. The loss of his mother at an early age could also have influenced his predilection for doomed ladies.

The narrator claims to be insane. This is Romantic shorthand for "I'm different from everyone else, nobody understands me, I experience things intensely." Poe takes it a step further because his narrators really are insane, thanks to some horrible experience. He mirrors it by claiming he was sane before but no longer is, while presenting the "sane" part as a dream world.

When his beloved dies, the narrator's outward world changes to reflect his inward world. This is more mirroring, another Romantic trope ("It was a dark and story night"), having the environment respond to the character rather than vice versa. This is when he claims to go insane. He hears murmuring in the wind.

The narrator leaves the valley. This is a sort of rebirth, because mirroring. He may have broken his vow by leaving, and he certainly signals his intention to break it. This he now does. It's worth asking, though, if the vow still binds him, and if not, when it stopped.

The narrator meets and marries another woman. In a horror story, the dead Eleonora would appear and wreak vengeance (a story Poe would eventually write). For now, a disembodied murmuring offers forgiveness and, once he's in heaven, an explanation. The voice mentions Eleonora in the third person and uses a "familiar and sweet voice," which could be the wind's. Of course, he's crazy, so you can't be sure.

There is no way to know what Poe meant to say. There is no way to know what Eleonora herself would have said about the narrator's new love. The only thing you can truly know is how grief and redemption affect you. The real insanity would be to let grief ruin the rest of your life.

  • Hi. Welcome to the site. Could you support this answer with either quotes from the story, or sources about Poe's life, etc. For example, if people come to the site looking for research help, this answer won't be very helpful, because it doesn't explain how you know all this information.
    – user111
    Jul 5, 2017 at 18:08

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