Ligeia was first published in the Baltimore American Museum magazine, on September 18, 1838. The story was revised a few times throughout its publication history. It is included in Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), in Phantasy Pieces (1842), and Tales by Edgar Allan Poe (1845). The poem The Conqueror Worm, published by Poe in January 1843, was first incorporated into the text (as a poem composed by Ligeia) in the February 15, 1845, issue of the New York New World. The poem is set in a theater where the audience is composed of angels, and the actors are mimes who are controlled by formless creatures. Suddenly, a blood-red thing appears upon the stage, chasing and devouring the mimes. When the curtain fall down the title of the play is revealed: ‘Man’ and the protagonist is death, ‘The Conqueror Worm’.
Ligeia was generally well received by critics, and Poe himself stated that “Ligeia is undoubtedly the best story I have written” and that “the loftiest kind [of tale] is that of the highest imagination and for this reason only Ligeia may be called my best tale.” H. P. Lovecraft, in Supernatural Horror in Literature, claimed that “it is in two of the less openly poetic tales, “Ligeia” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”—especially the latter—that one finds those very summits of artistry whereby Poe takes his place at the head of fictional miniaturists. Simple and straightforward in plot, both of these tales owe their supreme magic to the cunning development which appears in the selection and collocation of every least incident. “Ligeia” tells of a first wife of lofty and mysterious origin, who after death returns through a preternatural force of will to take possession of the body of a second wife; imposing even her physical appearance on the temporary reanimated corpse of her victim at the last moment. Despite a suspicion of prolixity and top-heaviness, the narrative reaches its terrific climax with relentless power.”
Read by Anthony D.P. Mann, and score by Chris Bozzone. Available now from Cadabra Records.