4th May 2018

Summary of ‘Berenice’

Summary of the story:

Unlike The Tell Tale Heart, in this text we are given the name of the character, and a decent backstory.

Misery is everywhere, it comes in many forms
The wretchedness of the earth exists in many forms also
You can find wretchedness anywhere in anything
From beauty you get ugliness, from peace (contempt, satisfaction, happiness) comes sadness. Evil is a direct consequence of good. With joy comes sorrow, – they are born from each other. Good memories bring sadness because the present is not as good. Agony (pain) comes from good things that are gone – opportunities missed, things lost, death of loved ones. – regret

This paragraph basically introduces Egaeus as a depressed and sad character. He makes some philosophical remarks here as well.

Introduces himself as Egaeus, but neglects to give a family name, suggesting a detachment or resentment toward them.
However then goes on to say that there are no families ‘in all the land’ as honourable or as popular as his
But then says his family is ‘gray’ and ‘gloomy’
Then he says that they are regarded as a ‘race of visionaries’ – alluding to royalty? — has a strange relationship with his family
They have a family mansion, a saloon (fancy room for drinking, eating, socialising etc) dormitories, armoury, antique art gallery and library chamber
Hints that the library has interesting contents but does not explain. “peculiar nature of the libraries contents”
Doesn’t want to talk about what books are actually in the library, he spent his earliest years there reading them. <—– something to remember

Was born in the library, his mother died giving birth to him.
He believes that he has lived before, that his soul is immortal – god complex (GOTHIC TEXT NEVER FAILS TO HAVE SOME KIND OF GOD COMPLEX)
“Convinced myself, I seek not to convince” – doesn’t care if you believe him or not.
He says he has memories of life before this one.
Remembers an ‘aerial form’ – angel? ghost? supernatural being, more god complex
Talks about how his memories of this are unsteady and always changing – need to come back to this.

He was born – likened to being awakened from a long sleep or hibernation reincarnaton
Born into religion and great knowledge
Has an enthusiastic eye for knowledge, spent his boyhood reading and daydreaming.
He has spent his whole life in the family mansion, his life stopped moving as he became an adult, wasn’t going anywhere. His personality was inverted, reversed, he became the opposite of who he used to be. Lived his life in daydream, became detached from his physical life and saw it as visions (like his life was playing on a tape as he watched)

Introduces Berenice

They grew up together, cousins. Royal families would often marry their children to cousins in an attempt to keep the family pure and of entirely royal blood.
They grew up very differently, the opposites of each other. He was an ‘ill child’ and always sad, while she was full of joy and very active — Egaeus was jealous.
She lived in the outdoors, wild and free. While he spent his time confined to the mansion, studying and ‘living within my own heart’ and ‘addicted body and soul to the most intense and painful meditation”- his monomania
Berenice took everything as a game, she ‘lived carelessly’ and gave no thought to the ‘shadows in her path’ or the ‘raven-winged hours’  (the bad parts of life, death, illness)
He recalls what she was, from an otherwise empty and gray mind comes the memories of her, which he describes as loud. At this point he only tells us of what she was before sickness, when she was still beautiful in the ‘early days’.
‘gorgeous yet fantastic beauty’ Sylph – slender and graceful, a Naiad (a creature of extreme beauty, like a mermaid) – exotic creature
Jumps straight into her downfall of ‘mystery and terror’ a ‘tale which should not be told’
Berenice contracted a fatal disease, it came upon her with the swiftness of a storm. ‘The spirit of change swept over her’ the disease changed her mind, habits and character and the worst: it changed her physical appearance.
She was no longer Berenice in his eyes mainly because she now looked sickly, and no longer beautiful. “Alas! the destroyer came and went, and the victim –where was she, I knew her not –or knew her no longer as Berenice.”

Both the moral and physical attributes were completely changed in her he says. As though she has been taken over by something else.
The first disease brought others. The worst was a type of epilepsy that she developed. Which makes her look as though she is dead, but then she quickly recovers. He then talks about how his own disease, monomania and how it quickly advanced. It grew more powerful within him by the hour, and continued to speed up. It dominated his mind.
He talks about philosophy (metaphysics) and how he became absorbed in it because of his disease. Says that he would not be surprised if he is not understood by any reader, he can find no way to properly convey what has happened to his mind to readers. – he separates himself from everyone else Became engrossed ‘in the contemplation of even the most ordinary objects of the universe”

PARAGRAPH SIX This paragraph is Egaeus telling the reader what he is compelled to do because of his monomania.
He sits focused for hours/the better part of a day on the material that a book is made of, or a faint shadow, the flame of a lamp, embers of a fire, the smell of a flower or repeating the same word over and over until it has no meaning.
He sits for long periods of time until he feels as though he is no longer in his body. ‘to lose all sense of physical existence’ he then says that these were the most common and least harmful things that he did because of the disease, which makes me think, what other things did he do that were worse than this?
Some studies have shown that artists and WRITERS famously suffer from monomania
https://www.managementtoday.co.uk/suffering-monomania/article/654580
His actions bid no explanation and even he cannot explain his own actions.

Says that his actions were not provoked by what most of mankind experiences – again, he has separated himself from everyone, as they all have the tendency to wonder about their existence. What Egaeus experienced was not common is what he is trying to say, what happened to him was entirely different to anything the average person experiences. He talks about how even the most imaginative of people lose interest in what he would focus on for hours. Without monomania one does not care about something if it has no true meaning, but in his case, frivolousness is not a deterrent.
He refers to the symptoms of his illness as supernatural. The only parts of his mind which functioned were the “day dreamer” and “the speculative” (things based on theory or opinion rather than knowledge – not rational)

Books fuelled his disease, and were ‘paradoxical’ – strange, absurd, contradictory
Mortuus est Dei filius; credible est quia ineptum est: et sepultus resurrexit; certum est quia impossibile est
– Find a translation for this because it will be important.
He studied this transcript for many weeks, to no avail.

He refers to his situation as that of a famous piece of writing by Ptolemy. In which an ocean crag (a cliff on the coast of an ocean) is indestructible to any amount of physical force, but can be moved by a lily known as an asphodel, (I think that, in Egaeus’ mind, Berenice was the asphodel, and he the cliff, he believed that Berenice could make him human, she was everything he lacked, a zest for life, joy, an eternal youth which she seemed to convey. a beautiful flower which symbolises: regret and remembrance of those who have died, this links to Egaeus’ statements in the beginning of the texts where he talks about how good memories bring agony and he regrets not taking advantage of opportunities that came his way.
“Asphodel is a type of lily and means ‘remembered beyond the tomb’ and ‘my regrets follow you to the grave’ ”
When he becomes focused as a result of the disease he refers to it as painful meditating, he is fully aware of the disease and what it is doing and it is clearly causing him pain, he is locked in a trance.
As he became more mentally weak, and her sad/distressed it caused him more pain. He refers to her state as a ‘wreck’ of her previous life.
He often wonders why this is all happening, why it all went downhill so quickly: he tributes this not to the disease but his own mind, as any other man would.
His monomania started to become obsessed with the changes he was witnessing in Berenice
He says that her personal identity has been distorted, he is saying that her identity, who she is is limited to her physical form and not the mind.

Even when she was beautiful, Egaeus had never loved Berenice.
“feelings with me, had never been of the heart, and my passions always were of the mind.”
He does not experience emotion as a normal person does, he is mind over heart when it comes to his feelings.
He saw Berenice as an otherworldly being, something out of a dream. She was not for him do love, but just to watch and analyse. He found her hard to understand.
He now grows pale whenever he sees her, he grieves for what she once was. When she became ill, Egaeus treated it as if she had died.
Berenice had always loved Egaeus, and ‘in an evil moment’ he asked for her to marry him, links back to how he wanted to use Berenice to make himself human, to be well again. Has he ever actually been healthy?

Egaeus is in the library one day (close to the wedding day) when Berenice enters
“For as Jove, during the winter season, gives twice seven days of warmth, men have called this clement and temperate time the nurse of the beautiful Halcyon —Simonides”

When she enters the room it becomes cold and uncertain
He cannot see her properly, as she is wearing gray clothing, and the light in the library is not very good.
She didn’t speak, nor did he. Egaeus felt chills and was overcome with anxiety. Yet he felt a ‘consuming curiosity’ about her. Berenice has been ‘wasted away’ and there is no visible trace of the Berenice who once was.
He cant stop looking at her face.

Egaeus describes what she looks like, a gaunt, lifeless and tired figure.
“the teeth of the changed Berenice disclosed themselves slowly to my view. Would to God that I had never beheld them, or that, having done so, I had died!”
Berenice’s teeth have been untouched by the illness and Egaeus says that if he had never seen them before, he would have died from astonishment.

“Not a speck on their surface –not a shade on their enamel –not an indenture in their edges…”
He notes that Berenice has left when the door shuts.
The teeth are perfect, they are burned into Egaeus’ memory. All he can see is the teeth, and “then came the full fury of my monomania” he tries to fight it but it has an “irresistible influence” on him. He thinks of nothing else but the teeth
“For these I longed with a frenzied desire. All other matters and all different interests became absorbed in their single contemplation.” They quickly “became the essence” of his “mental life” meaning that his sole purpose in life was the teeth, all he can see in his head are the teeth. He thinks about ever aspect of them, constantly. He says that he imagines that they have a sentient power, they are, essentially: alive. Berenice lives on in the teeth. If Egaeus posses them, he believes that he will be at peace.
Of Mad’selle Salle it has been well said, “que tous ses pas etaient des sentiments,” and of Berenice I more seriously believed que toutes ses dents etaient des idees. Des idees! –ah here was the idiotic thought that destroyed me! Des idees! –ah therefore it was that I coveted them so madly! I felt that their possession could alone ever restore me to peace, in giving me back to reason.  TRANSLATE THIS IT IS VERY IMPORTANT

Night comes and goes, then comes again and Egaeus is still sitting in the chair in the library. He is “buried in meditation” meaning that all he knows is the teeth, all he can do is focus on the teeth.
“still the phantasma of the teeth maintained its terrible ascendancy”
Another hint of the supernatural, as a phantasma is similar to an apparition or ghost-like being.
After a while longer, Egaeus hears a horrible scream. He gets up to investigate. He meets a servant who tells him that Berenice had died in the early morning as the result of a strong epileptic episode, and that her burial is set for the coming night.

Egaeus finds himself back in the library but has no recollection of the events that led him there. As if he has woken from a strange dream. It is midnight so Berenice has been buried. But he doesn’t remember what has happened in between the burial and the present.
He knows that the memory which is missing is horrible, “a fearful page in the record” of his existence. We still do not know what has happened. He attempts to remember an dafter some time, he remembers “the spirit of a departed sound” he remembers a female screaming. He now knows that he has done something bad, but has no idea what.

Beside Egaeus is a lamp and a box, which belonged to the family doctor. he does not know why it is there but it makes him shudder to see it. – His subconscious knows what he has done and is reacting to it accordingly.
Poet Ebn Zaiat: “Dicebant mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas.” Why then, as I perused them, did the hairs of my head erect themselves on end, and the blood of my body become congealed within my veins?”

A servant enters, and says that he heard a scream in the night, and that everyone had gotten up to see what it was, they found a dug up grave and Berenice disfigured, yet still alive.

Egaeus’ garments “muddy and clotted with gore” are covered in blood – Berenice’s. His hands have the imprints of nails dug into them – probably Berenice trying to get him away from her. An then the servant points at a shovel lent on the wall. Egaeus realises what has happened and screams as he grabs the box. He attempts to open it but cannot, it slips out of his hand. Breaking apart on the floor, dental instruments and all 32 of Berenice’s teeth fall out.
He took ALL of her teeth, showing the extent of his need to posses them.

She was still alive when they buried her, which means that when Egaeus took her teeth out she was still alive.

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Category

Writing