A mesmeric physician taking advantage of his female patient. Colour lithograph, 1852. Printed: British College of Health, London.
The word mesmerism took its root from the name of Franz Anton Mesmer, who was a German physician and astrologist, who discovered what he called magnétisme animal ( animal magnetism) and which others often called mesmerism.
Franz Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 – March 5, 1815) was a German physician with an interest in astronomy, who theorised that there was a natural energetic transference that occurred between all animated and inanimate objects that he called animal magnetism, sometimes later referred to as mesmerism.
The theory attracted a wide following between about 1780 and 1850, and continued to have some influence until the end of the century.
In 1843 the Scottish physician James Braid proposed the term hypnosis for a technique derived from animal magnetism; today this is the usual meaning of mesmerism.
L0034922 Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
In this poem, one of the most famous American poems ever, Poe uses several symbols to take the poem to a higher level.
The most obvious symbol is, of course, the raven itself. When Poe had decided to use a refrain that repeated the word “nevermore,” he found that it would be most effective if he used a non-reasoning creature to utter the word.
It would make little sense to use a human, since the human could reason to answer the questions (Poe, 1850). In “The Raven” it is important that the answers to the questions are already known, to illustrate the self-torture to which the narrator exposes himself.
This way of interpreting signs that do not bear a real meaning, is “one of the most profound impulses of human nature” (Quinn, 1998:441).
Poe also considered a parrot as the bird instead of the raven; however, because of the melancholy tone, and the symbolism of ravens as birds of ill-omen, he found the raven more suitable for the mood in the poem (Poe, 1850). Quoth the Parrot, “Nevermore?”
Another obvious symbol is the bust of Pallas. Why did the raven decide to perch on the goddess of wisdom?
One reason could be, because it would lead the narrator to believe that the raven spoke from wisdom, and was not just repeating its only “stock and store,” and to signify the scholarship of the narrator. Another reason for using “Pallas” in the poem was, according to Poe himself, simply because of the “sonorousness of the word, Pallas, itself” (Poe, 1850).
A less obvious symbol, might be the use of “midnight” in the first verse, and “December” in the second verse. Both midnight and December, symbolize an end of something, and also the anticipation of something new, a change, to happen.
The midnight in December, might very well be New Year’s eve, a date most of us connect with change. This also seems to be what Viktor Rydberg believes when he is translating “The Raven” to Swedish, since he uses the phrase “årets sista natt var inne, ” (“The last night of the year had arrived”). Kenneth Silverman connected the use of December with the death of Edgar’s mother (Silverman, 1992:241), who died in that month; whether this is true or not is, however, not significant to its meaning in the poem.
The chamber in which the narrator is positioned, is used to signify the loneliness of the man, and the sorrow he feels for the loss of Lenore. The room is richly furnished, and reminds the narrator of his lost love, which helps to create an effect of beauty in the poem.
The tempest outside, is used to even more signify the isolation of this man, to show a sharp contrast between the calmness in the chamber and the tempestuous night.
The phrase “from out my heart,” Poe claims, is used, in combination with the answer “Nevermore,” to let the narrator realize that he should not try to seek a moral in what has been previously narrated (Poe, 1850).
Poe had an extensive vocabulary, which is obvious to the readers of both his poetry as well as his fiction.
Sometimes this meant introducing words that were not commonly used. In “The Raven,” the use of ancient and poetic language seems appropriate, since the poem is about a man spending most of his time with books of “forgotten lore.”
“Seraphim,” in the fourteenth verse, “perfumed by an unseen censer / Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled…” is used to illustrate the swift, invisible way a scent spreads in a room. A seraphim is one of the six-winged angels standing in the presence of God.
“Nepenthe,” from the same verse, is a potion, used by ancients to induce forgetfullnes of pain or sorrow.
“Balm in Gilead,” from the following verse, is a soothing ointment made in Gilead, a mountainous region of Palestine east of the Jordan river.
“Aidenn,” from the sixteenth verse, is an Arabic word for Eden or paradise.
“Plutonian,” characteristic of Pluto, the god of the underworld in Roman mythology.
Read more via The Poe Decoder – “The Raven”.
In 1887, intrepid reporter Nellie Bly pretended she was crazy and got herself committed, all to help improve conditions in a New York City mental institution.
The insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island is a human rat-trap. It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out.”
Those words, describing New York City’s most notorious mental institution, were written by journalist Nellie Bly in 1887.
It was no mere armchair observation, because Bly got herself committed to Blackwell’s and wrote a shocking exposé called Ten Days In A Madhouse.
The series of articles became a best-selling book, launching Bly’s career as a world-famous investigative reporter and also helping bring reform to the asylum.
In the late 1880s, New York newspapers were full of chilling tales about brutality and patient abuse at the city’s various mental institutions.
Into the fray came the plucky 23-year Nellie Bly (born Elizabeth Cochrane, she renamed herself after a popular Stephen Foster song).
At a time when most female writers were confined to newspapers’ society pages, she was determined to play with the big boys.
The editor at The World liked Bly’s moxie, and challenged her to come up with an outlandish stunt to attract readers and prove her mettle as a “detective reporter.”
The stylish and petite Bly, who had a perpetual smile, set about her crazy-eye makeover.
She dressed in tattered second-hand clothes. She stopped bathing and brushing her teeth.
And for hours, she practiced looking like a lunatic in front of the mirror. “Faraway expressions look crazy,” she wrote. Soon she was wandering the streets in a daze.
Posing as Nellie Moreno, a Cuban immigrant, she checked herself into a temporary boarding house for women. Within twenty-four hours, her irrational, hostile rants had all of the other residents fearing for their lives.
“It was the greatest night of my life,” Bly later wrote.
The police hauled Bly off, and within a matter of days, she bounced from court to Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric ward.
When she professed to not remembering how she ended up in New York, the chief doctor diagnosed her as “delusional and undoubtedly insane.”
Meanwhile, several of the city’s other newspapers took an interest in what one called the “mysterious waif with the wild, hunted look in her eyes.”
Bly had everyone hoodwinked, and soon enough, she was aboard the “filthy ferry” to Blackwell’s Island.
Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess, is one of the most famous of all historical vampires.
She is perhaps less well-known only than the infamous Vlad Dracula, known also as Tepes (the Impaler) and he – although noted for his savage and very public methods of execution – was no vampire, but has merely been cited as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s fictional Count Dracula.
In fact, the historical Dracula is usually best known as a devout, if savage, Christian warrior and noted for his successful enforcement of the law within the Voevodate of Wallachia.
Elizabeth Bathory on the other hand is renowned as a torturer, an eater of flesh and a bather in blood, and has been cited by prominent vampirologist Raymond McNally in his book Dracula was a Woman (which is currently out of print) as a closer model for Bram Stoker’s creation than Tepes.
Bathory, like Stoker’s Dracula, was a Hungarian of noble blood, whereas Tepes was Romanian; the Voevod, or Prince, of Wallachia when said title was not in the hands of his brother.
Also, although his deeds were bloody, Tepes is never reported to have drunk the blood of his victims, while Elizabeth Bathory is reputed (admittedly with only anecdotal evidence) to have not only drunk but bathed in the blood of young virgin girls.
The truth of whether she was a model for the Count will remain known only to Stoker, but certainly in the years since Dracula was published, the Blood Countess has exercised a powerful fascination on many writers and film-makers.