31 pages 1 hour read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Oval Portrait

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1842

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Literary Context: The Inspirations for and Impact of “The Oval Portrait”

Edgar Allan Poe’s work is a part of the American Gothic Romantic tradition. Romanticism, a style of art and literature that flourished from the late 1700s well into the 1800s, was originally a European movement focused on glorifying nature, emotion, and imagination. Gothic Romanticism, which grew out of this tradition, focuses on the macabre and on the more troubling aspects of emotion and imagination. It is characterized by eerie, isolated settings, foreboding atmospheres, and morbid and sensational plots. For this reason, Gothic Romanticism is also sometimes referred to as “Dark” Romanticism. These dark elements can be clearly seen in “The Oval Portrait.” The abandoned chateau with its strange architecture and tattered decor is an isolated and unsettling environment, and the morbid story the narrator reads while he is there is touched by a hint of the supernatural. Poe even nods to one of the founders of Gothic Romanticism, English novelist Ann Radcliffe, early in “The Oval Portrait” when he has the narrator mention that the chateau resembles a setting in one of her works.

The story is part of a group of Poe’s works that Poe himself referred to as “arabesques.