O.Wilde, Preface to 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'

The artist is the creator of beautiful things. (...)
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. (...)

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything. (...)
All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself...

O. Wilde (1854-1900),
Preface to 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Black Cat, E.A. Poe (I)


For the most wild yet most homely narrative
which I am about to pen,
I neither expect nor solicit belief.

Mad indeed would I be to expect it,
in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence.
Yet, mad am I not –
and very surely do I not dream.

to-morrow I die,
and today I would unburden my soul…

From my infancy
I was noted for the docility and humanity
of my disposition…
I was especially fond of animals…

I married early,
and was happy to find in my wife a disposition
not uncongenial with my own…
We had birds, gold-fish, a fine dog,
rabbits, a small monkey,

and a cat.

This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal,
 entirely black,
and sagacious to an astonishing degree…
in speaking of his intelligence,
my wife…
made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion
which regarded all black cats as
witches in disguise…

– this was the cat’s name –
was my favourite pet and playmate
I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever
I went about the house.
It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him
from following me through the streets.

Our friendship lasted, in this manner,
for several years,
during which my general temperament and character
– though the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance  -
had (I blush to confess it) experienced
a radical alteration for the worse.

I grew,
day by day,
more moody,
more irritable,
more regardless of the feelings of others.
I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my wife.
At length, I even offered her personal violence.
My pets, of course, were made to feel
the change in my disposition…
For Pluto,
I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me
from maltreating him…

my disease grew upon me
– for what disease is like  Alcohol! –
and at length… even Pluto began to experience
the effects of my ill temper…

The Black Cat, E.A. Poe (II)



One night, returning home,
much intoxicated…
I fancied … the cat avoided my presence.
I seized him, when…
he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth.

My original soul seemed,
at once,
to take its flight from my body…

I took from my waistcoat-pocket a penknife,
opened it,
grasped the poor beast by the throat,
and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket!

I blush,
I burn,
I shudder,
while I pen the damnable atrocity.

When reason returned with the morning…
I experienced a sentiment half of horror,
half of remorse,
for the crime of which I had been guilty;
but it was, at best,
a feeble and equivocal feeling,
and the soul remained

I again plunged into excess,
and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed...

… and then  came,
as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow,
the spirit of PERVERSENESS.

Of this spirit
philosophy takes no account.
I am not more sure
that my soul lives,
than I am
that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses
of the human heart –
one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments,
which give direction to
the character of Man.

It was this unfathomable longing of the soul
to vex itself
-         to offer violence to its own nature –
-         to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only –
that urged me to continue and finally
to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon
the unoffending brute.

One morning,
in cold blood,
I slipped a noose about its neck and
hung it
to the limb of a tree;
-         hung it
with the tears streaming from my eyes,
and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; -
hung it
because I knew that it had loved me,
and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; -
hung it
because I knew that in so doing I was committing…
a deadly sin that would so
jeopardize my immortal soul…

On the night… this most cruel deed was done…
the whole house was blazing…
the destruction was complete…
The walls, with one exception, had fallen in.
This exception was…
a compartment wall…

I approached and saw,
as if graven in bas-relief upon the white surface,
the figure of a gigantic

… there was a rope about the animal’s neck…

The Black Cat, E.A. Poe (III)



For months I could not rid myself
of the phantasm of the cat; and…
there came back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed,
but was not,
I went so far as to regret the loss of the animal,
and to look about me…
for another pet of the same species…

One night as I sat,
in a den of more than infamy,
my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object…

… it was a black cat
-         a very large one –
fully as large as Pluto,
and closely resembling him in every respect
but one…

this cat had a large, although indefinite splotch of white,
covering nearly the whole region of the breast.

He… appeared delighted with my notice.

This, then
was the creature of which I was in search…
when it reached the house
it domesticated itself at once,
and became immediately a great favourite
with my wife.

For my own part,
I soon found a dislike to it arising within me…
… its evident fondness for myself
rather disgusted and annoyed me…

I avoided the creature…
what added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast,
was the discovery… that,
like Pluto,
it had also been deprived of one of its eyes.

With my aversion to this cat, however,
its partiality for myself seemed to increase…

I am almost ashamed to own…
that the terror and horror with which the animal inspired me,
had been heightened by …
the character of the mark of the white hair…
this mark…
… had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness
of outline…

it was now the representation of an object
that I shudder to name…
the image
of a hideous -
of a ghastly thing –
of the GALLOWS ! –

oh, mournful and terrible engine
of Horror and of Crime –
of Agony and of Death!

The Black Cat, E.A. Poe (IV)


Alas! Neither by day nor by night
knew I the blessing of rest any more!
During the former the creature left me no moment alone,
and in the latter I started
hourly from dreams of unutterable fear
to find the hot breath of
the thing upon my face…
… an incarnate nightmare…
… incumbent eternally upon my heart!

… the feeble remnant of the good within me succumbed…
The moodiness of my usual temper increased
to hatred of all things and of all mankind…
… my uncomplaining wife… was the most usual
and the most patient of sufferers.

One day…
I aimed a blow at the animal…
… but this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife.
Goaded by the interference into a rage
more than demoniacal,
I withdrew my arm from her grasp
and buried the axe in her brain.

She fell dead upon the spot without a groan.

This hideous murder accomplished,
I set myself forthwith…
to the task of concealing the body.

Many projects entered my mind…

… I thought of cutting the corpse into minute fragments
and destroying them by fire…
… I resolved to dig a grave for it in the floor of the cellar…
… I deliberated about casting it in a well in the yard…
… about packing it in a box… and…
… getting a porter to take it from the house…

Finally I determined to wall it up in the cellar,
as the monks of the Middle Ages
are recorded to have walled up their victims…

By means of a crowbar I easily dislodged the bricks,
having carefully deposited the body against the inner wall…
I relaid the whole structure as it originally stood.

When I had finished,
I felt satisfied that all was right…

My next step was to look for the beast which had been
the cause of so much wretchedness,
for I had, at length,
firmly resolved to put it to death…

… it did not make its appearance during the night;
and thus for one night, at least,
since its introduction into the house,
I soundly and tranquilly slept;
even with the burden of murder upon my soul.

The second and the third day passed,
and still my tormentor came not.

Once again I breathed like a freeman.
The monster,
in terror,
had fled the premises for ever!

My happiness was supreme!
The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little.

Some few inquiries had been made,
these had been readily answered.
Even a search had been instituted –
of course nothing was to be discovered.

The Black Cat, E.A. Poe (V)


Upon the fourth day of the assassination,
a party of the police came, very unexpectedly,
into the house…

… I felt no embarrassment whatever…

… they descended into the cellar…
… I quivered not in a muscle…

… the police were thoroughly satisfied
and prepared to depart.

The glee at my heart was too strong to be restrained.
I burned to say if but one word,
by way of triumph,
and to render doubly sure their assurance
of my guiltlessness.

‘Gentlemen… I delight to have allayed your suspicions…
By the bye, gentlemen, this –
this is a very well-constructed house…
I may say an excellently well-constructed house.
These walls – are you going gentlemen? –
these walls are solidly put together’

And here,

through the mere frenzy of bravado,
I rapped heavily with a cane…
upon the very portion of the brickwork
behind which stood the corpse
of the wife of my bosom…

But may God shield and deliver me
from the fangs
of the Arch-Fiend!

… I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! –

By a cry,
at first muffled and broken,
like the sobbing of a child,
and then quickly swelling into
a long,
and continuous scream,
utterly anomalous and inhuman

-         a howl –

a wailing shriek,
half of horror and half of triumph,
such as might have arisen only out of hell,
conjointly from the throats
of the damned in their agony
of the demons that exult in the damnation.

Of my own thoughts is folly to speak.

Swooning, I staggered to the opposite wall.
For one instant the party… remained motionless…

In the next
a dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall.

It fell bodily.

The corpse… stood erect…
… upon its head,
with the red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire,
sat the hideous beast
whose craft had seduced me into murder,
and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman.

I had walled the monster up within the tomb.