The 66th entry on my Classics Club list is a short story entitled The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. Written by Edgar Allen Poe in 1845, the tale begins in rather a distinctive manner: ‘Of course I shall not pretend to consider it any matter for wonder, that the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion. It would have been a miracle had it not – especially under the circumstances’.
The storyline is heavily involved with the way in which the human condition can be altered, an element which so intrigued the captive Victorian audience. Mesmerism, or ‘sleep-waking’, has been focused upon here. In the tale, our narrator, a doctor, gives us what he understands to be the ‘facts’ in the case of his friend, M. Ernest Valdemar, something which he feels has been ‘rendered necessary’.
Valdemar, on his deathbed with varied and serious complaints, and about to expire, is the man who has agreed to be experimented upon. We learn something of his character before the plotline ensues; he is ‘the well-known compiler of the “Bibliotheca Forensica”‘, a man ‘particularly noticeable for the extreme spareness of his person… [and] for the whiteness of his whiskers, in violent contrast to the blackness of his hair – the latter, in consequence, being very generally mistaken for a wig’. Poe goes on to write of the way in which Valdemar’s ‘temperament was markedly nervous, [a fact that] rendered him a good subject for mesmeric experiment’.
In terms of the story’s structure, the whole has been well crafted and the plot points are taut. Poe’s prose is far stronger than the sometimes lacklustre snippets of conversation which ensue, and each sentence has been marvellously penned. The character portrayals have been well built, particularly given the length of the whole. The way in which everything is so heavily entrenched within Victorian society works fantastically. The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar intrigues and interests in equal measure, and is well worth reading if you have a few spare minutes.
You can read the story here.