"Berenice" is a short horror story by the American author Edgar Allan Poe. It first appeared in print in the March 1835 issue of the Richmond, Virginia magazine Southern Literary Messenger. It was published again in Poe's 1840 anthology Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. A censored version of the story appeared in the Broadway Journal, a New York City newspaper that was owned by Edgar Allan Poe at the time, in 1845.
The story concerns a man who becomes obsessed with the teeth of his dying fiancée.
There have been several adaptations of the story to other media.
The story's narrator states that his first name is Egaeus. He refuses to reveal his surname but says that he comes from an aristocratic family. Egaeus has a female cousin named Berenice. As children, Egaeus and Berenice are very different. Berenice is very active and energetic. She enjoys being outdoors and has few worries. Egaeus is a sickly child. He spends most of his time reading in the library of his father's mansion and he is of a gloomy disposition.
Berenice contracts a disease that ultimately proves fatal for her. One of the symptoms of the disease is catalepsy. Berenice's disease causes her appearance and behavior to alter greatly. At around the same time, Egaeus begins to suffer from a mental disorder which makes him become fixated for long periods of time on a single minor or trivial thing. Although he admits to never having loved Berenice, Egaeus asks her to marry him. She accepts.
One winter afternoon, Egaeus is sitting in the library when he looks up and notices that Berenice is standing in front of him. As a result of the disease that she is suffering from, the once beautiful Berenice now looks extremely thin and pale. Her once jet black hair has turned yellow and the light has gone out of her eyes. She parts her thin lips in a smile. Egaeus notices her teeth. He immediately becomes obsessed with those teeth. He spends several hours thinking about them. The next thing Egaeus knows, Berenice has left the room and evening has come.
Egaeus remains in the library thinking about Berenice's teeth for an entire day. When evening comes again, he is brought out of his reverie by the sound of sad voices from outside the room. A maid informs Egaeus that Berenice has died and that a grave has already been dug for her.
Egaeus finds himself sitting in the library again. He knows that Berenice has been buried but he has no memory of her funeral. He has a vague sense of horror and a faint memory of a woman shrieking. He knows that he has done something terrible but does not know what it was. Egaeus notices a nondescript little box on the table nest to him. Egaeus shudders when he sees the box but does not know why.
A servant comes into the library. He tells Egaeus that a scream was heard that led to the discovery that Berenice's grave had been opened. He adds that Berenice was found to be still alive. The servant points out that Egaeus' clothes are covered in mud and blood and that that there are scratches made by human fingernails on his hands. Egaeus notices that there is a spade leaning against one of the library's walls. Horrified, Egaeus leaps to his feet and struggles to open the little box. The box falls from his hands and breaks open. Berenice's teeth are scattered across the floor.
The French director Eric Rohmer directed and starred in a 1954 black and white short film based on the story entitled Bérénice. A low budget American film called Berenice, loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's story, was released direct-to-video in 2004. The movie, directed by Geoffrey Ciani, has a cast made up of largely inexperienced amateur actors.
"Berenice" was loosely adapted as an episode of the American radio series CBS Radio Mystery Theater. The episode first aired on January 9, 1975.
The famous American horror actor Vincent Price reads the Edgar Allan Poe stories "Berenice", "The Imp of the Perverse" and "Morella" on the 1975 spoken word album The Imp of the Perverse and Other Tales.
The 1996 video game The Dark Eye is inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe stories "The Cask of Amontillado", "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "Berenice". Players can experience the story of "Berenice" from the point of view of either Berenice or Egaeus.
- Other works of Edgar Allan Poe that deal with someone being buried alive:
- Other works of Edgar Allan Poe that deal with the death of a young woman:
- Other works of Edgar Allan Poe in which teeth figure prominently:
- The original version of "Berenice" that appeared in Southern Literary Messenger in 1835 includes four paragraphs that describe how Egaeus goes to see Berenice before she is buried. He realizes that she is still alive because her fingers move and she smiles. Those four paragraphs were removed when the story was published again in Broadway Journal in 1845.