Art vs. Life


“…she a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee: all light and smiles, and frolicsome as the young fawn; loving and cherishing all things; hating only the Art which was her rival; dreading only the pallet and brushes and other untoward instruments which deprived her of the countenance of her lover.”

The theme of The Oval Portrait is perfectly disguised in the above quote. The painter can choose either his bride or his canvas, but not both. There is a clear relationship between arts and life – rivals. When the painter has chosen to work on his painting for days and nights, his wife was doomed to death. He was once a “passionate, studious and austere” person (Poe 291). However, after he had started to portray this young lady, there was a great difference in his personality. He was still passionate towards arts but he had also become “wild and moody” (Poe 292). This coincides with the worries and fear of the bride: the artwork would take away the love from his husband. The painter did not even realize how the portrait has withered her wife’s beauty and health because he rarely turned away from it.

This makes me think of The Birth Mark, which we read in previous class. In The Birth Mark, the passion for science of Aylmer killed his wife, just like the passion for arts of the painter killed his bride. Both female characters in the story were in subordinate position and manipulated by the male characters. Maybe I should not use the word “manipulated” as both of them were willing to die for their lover’s passion in other stuffs rather than themselves. In The Birth Mark, Georgiana risked her life just to fulfill Aylmer’s desire to experiment on removing her birth mark. In The Oval Portrait, the young bride sat in the dark room and smiled without any complains for countless weeks just to help the painter finish the portrait, no matter how weak and tired she was. Maybe both authors think that selfless love is something praiseworthy but why the victims in both stories are women? This can be a coincidence but I have another view regarding this question. We can see that the relationship between the wives and the husbands were extremely unequal. The wives devoted so much in the relationship while the husbands rarely did. In addition, we can notice that the authors never writes about the husbands appreciated the personality of the wives. Instead, both authors use a lot of words to depict how the husbands were obsessed about the beauty of the wives. In short, there is a possibility that both authors want to mock at the patriarchal society during that period.

Another aspect that I want to discuss here is whether the whole scene in The Oval Portrait was just a delusion of the narrator. He narrated in the beginning of the story that he was “desperately wounded” (Poe 290). He also admitted his “incipient delirium” might have caused him to have great interest towards those paintings.  It is possible that there were no connections between the book and the portrait of the young girl. The book was just a book that recorded the life of a painter and his wife and the portrait was just an ordinary painting that depicted the beauty of a young lady. He made connections between the two because his mental status was too chaotic due to his severe injury and tiredness from his journey. In a nutshell, his interpretation in all the things he saw in the chateau could be different if he was more conscious.

 

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