The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson tells the horrifying story of Edgar Allan Poe's ''The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.'' We will learn about the story and its historical context, and the interesting vocabulary Poe uses.

Experimental Medicine and its Horrific Implications

Edgar Allan Poe's The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar was published in 1845 in an issue of the monthly magazine American Review. The magazine had a political slant, and distributed a variety of material, not just fiction. Poe's story ran among a dozen others. Valdemar appeared in the December issue of the magazine, after a lead story about Whig Party politics.

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar is a particularly horrifying tale, full of descriptions about the grotesque, death, and terrible disease.

The Mesmerist

In Poe's story, an unidentified doctor who dabbles in mesmerism recounts his attempts to keep a patient alive through his powers of hypnotism. Mesmerism is a pseudo-scientific belief in the subconscious powers related to electricity and magnetism that spread throughout the 19th century. The movement overlapped with a renewed belief in the supernatural and misconceptions about new technology. Practitioners, called mesmerists, were thought to have curative powers. Vestiges of mesmerism can still be found today in the form of psychics, psychic surgery, and hypnotism.

A Mesmerist at Work

The narrator begins by noting: ''no person had as yet been mesmerized in 'articulo mortis'''. Here, Poe drops in the Latin term for 'during or at the moment of death'. His use of complex words and technical terms increases the credibility of the narrator, as well as the author. Readers are meant to think that the narrator has gone to medical school, is versed in its language, and is a competent doctor.

The mesmerist comes to the bedside of M. Valdemar (short for Mister Ernest Valdemar), as he lays dying from Tuberculosis (psthisis). Valdemar is emaciated, with sickly pale skin and hair as dark as night. Eager to begin his experiment, the mesmerist lulls Valdemar into a hypnotic trance. In a matter of hours, Valdemar falls under his spell. Using the techniques of mesmerism, he transfixes his man at the moment of death and is able to keep him alive under hypnosis. Then, ''At  five  minutes  before  eleven  I  perceived  unequivocal  signs  of  the  mesmeric  influence.''

''The general appearance was certainly not that of death'', notes the mesmerist. But the condition could not continue long. The patient devolves quickly. His breathing slows and his words turn into syllabification. Valdemar can't complete full sentences, only utter single or multiple syllables at once. With one final breath, Valdemar utters his last words: ''For God's sake! --- quick! --- quick! --- put me to sleep --- or, quick! --- waken me! --- quick! --- I say to you that I am dead!''

The Mesmerist hypnotizes Valdemar

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