The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe is a story that exudes practically every characteristic of Dark Romanticism. It is extremely mysterious, disturbing, and altogether dark. The central idea of the short story is depicted in the relationship between the artwork that the narrator observes and true life itself. Because Poe went through hardships in his own life, most of the characters he wrote went through hardships as well. In this poem, the major hardship the narrator endures is a wound that is entirely unexplained. Like most of Poe’s stories, The Oval Portrait is almost a complete contradiction of the ideas that traditional Romanticism supports. Much like Annabel Lee, this short story is completely dark, unsettling, and puzzling.

In the story, the mysteriously injured narrator is brought into an abandoned home by his valet, who does not want the narrator to have to sleep outside. The valet manages to get into the abandoned area, and prepares for the night (Poe). The place they are staying in was obviously once nice and in good shape, but the once rich decorations and furnishings are decaying. The narrator is semi-delirious, but takes an intense interest in the paintings on the wall of the apartment. He has the valet, Pedro, light the candelabrum and open the curtains so that the narrator can look at the paintings while reading a book he has found on the pillow, which provides information about the paintings. The narrator continues to obverse the paintings and read the book, and when he moves his light he discovers something that he had not seen before. An oval portrait is revealed, a very realistic painting of a young girl. The narrator then reads about the painting in his book and discovers that the young woman married the painter for love, but despised art because she had to compete with it for her husband’s attention. When the woman agrees to model for a portrait, she begins to waste away into the dark. However, her husband is too observed in his work and does not notice. The woman does not complain, but continues to sit for the portrait because of her husband’s passion for art. However, when he was almost finished with the portrait, the painter shuts himself and his wife into the tower apartment so that he could concentrate solely on his work. He does not realize that his young wife is growing less life like as the portrait begins to look more and more realistic. The painter finally finishes, and stares at it, saying, "This is indeed Life itself!". However, when he turns to look at his wife, he realizes that she died right as he completed the portrait (Poe).

The setting and basis of the plot are totally concealed in mystery; many questions go unanswered in the very short story The Oval Portrait. Staying true to the aspects of Dark Romanticism, Poe keeps the classic backgrounds of a Gothic story with dark gloom, desertedness, and loss (“Dark Romanticism”). The painter in the story was extremely dedicated to the arts, to the point where his art took precedence over his own wife, whom he truly loved. The story is not scary and does not contain much spiritualism, but is still part of the Romanticism genre despite lacking those qualities. The young woman was so full of life and loved when she and the painter were married, but as his painting of her became more and more lifelike, the life was drawn out of her (Poe). This eerie quality is definitely an aspect of Dark Romanticism, as well as the mystery that goes along with it. The destruction of loved ones and love in general seems to be a common theme in some of Poe's short stories and poems, but unlike in these other stories, there are no negative emotions or intense sadness.

The hardships and loss that the author, Edgar Allan Poe, experienced in his own life definitely influenced his writing of The Oval Portrait. Poe endured the loss of many of his loved ones throughout his life, and the death of the young bride in the story could relate back to the death of Poe’s wife, Virginia, when she was only twenty four years old (“Poe’s Life). Poe has a theme of loss in his stories, and The Oval Portrait is no different. But unlike many of his other short stories and poems, the death of the young woman was entirely unintentional and was not meant to be overly emotional or sad. Her death seemed to come along naturally with the story and it was so short that the reaction over the woman’s death was never detailed.

Compared to some of Poe’s other works, this story was not as dark. It was still very mysterious and had dark qualities, but it was not scary or sinister. It was simply a tale about two passions that were not able to mesh; the passion that the painter felt for his wife and the passion he felt for his art. But when compared to works of traditional Romanticism like My Love by James Russell Lowell, The Oval Portrait seems very gloomy and upsetting. My Love focus on love and life together and talks about how life and love are both deeply connected, but still different and significant in their own separate ways (Lowell). He compares the woman in his poem, his wife, to aspects of nature, and stays true to the belief that nature and love and life are all beautiful things that should be treasured. Poe places much less emphasis on love in The Oval Portrait and focuses more on the story itself (Poe).

“The Oval Portrait” is really a story within a story. The narrator and the mystery surrounding him and his injury are basically forgotten when the story about the painter and his wife is introduced. Poe was, as usual, influenced by his own life while writing this story, because he also had to find a balance between his wife and his writing, and had to cope with the untimely death of his wife as well. Poe’s typical contrast with the usual aspects of Romanticism continue to set him apart as a writer, and continue to give his stories more depth and feeling behind them.

Works Cited:
“Dark Romanticism: The Ultimate Contradiction.” Variations on a Theme. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.

Lowell, James Russell. “My Love.” Poetry-Archive. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Oval Portrait." Edgar Allan Poe. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.

"Poe's Life." Edgar Allan Poe Museum: Poe's Life, Legacy, and Works: Richmond, Virginia. Web. 9 Dec. 2010.