"Ligeia" is a short story by the American horror writer Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published in the September 18, 1838 edition of the American Museum magazine. Five other slightly modified versions of the story were published during Poe's lifetime. The poem "The Conqueror Worm", which had previously been published separately in 1843, was first included in the text of "Ligeia" which was printed in The New York World newspaper on February 15, 1845.
Ligeia is the name of the narrator's late wife, a beautiful, strong willed and highly intelligent woman whom he loved deeply and who loved him in return. After her death, the narrator leaves his home in continental Europe and settles in England. He also becomes a frequent opium user. He marries again, although he really does not care for his second wife, Lady Rowena, at all. Lady Rowena also appears to die. However, on the night following her death, she seems to come back to life several times, only to fall dead again each time. The narrator eventually begins to doubt if the spirit which is returning to the dead woman's body is truly that of Rowena.
Films loosely based on "Ligeia" were released in 1964 and 2009.
The unnamed narrator and his wife Ligeia live together somewhere in Europe, near to the Rhine river. In some ways, Ligeia remains a mystery to the narrator. He knows very little about her family and never finds out what her surname was before she married him. The narrator considers Ligeia to be extremely beautiful. Although her appearance does not correspond to any classical notion of beauty, he cannot call her beauty "strange" either because he cannot find any physical faults in her. Ligeia is very tall, she has pale skin, very dark hair and very large dark eyes. The narrator considers Ligeia to be the most highly educated and knowledgeable person that he has ever met. She is also very strong willed.
Ligeia becomes seriously ill. The narrator sees that Ligeia will not live long. He is somewhat surprised that his intelligent wife does not accept that she cannot escape death. Instead, she continues to fight her illness until the very end. On the night that she dies, Ligeia and the narrator recite a poem which Ligeia has written, "The Conqueror Worm", which is about the inevitability of death. When she comes to the end of the poem, Ligeia asks why the strong willed should not be able to resist death. She dies immediately afterwards.
After Ligeia's death, the narrator becomes a habitual user of opium. He leaves his home near the Rhine and settles in a former abbey in a remote region of England. Although he makes no alterations to the abbey's exterior, he has the building's interior refurbished and gaudily decorated, there are four ancient Egyptian sarcophagi in his bedroom. He meets and marries Lady Rowena Trevanion of Tremaine. The fair-haired, blue-eyed Rowena is physically very different from Ligeia. The narrator is aware that Rowena does not like him very much. He is not bothered by that, however, because he despises her. He continues to think constantly of Ligeia, often in drug-fueled daydreams.
Rowena also becomes seriously ill. In her feverish state, she insists that she can see and hear things in her bedroom of which the narrator is largely unaware, although he eventually thinks that he may have caught a glimpse of the shadow of a ghost.
After her death, Rowena's body is prepared for burial but remains in the bedroom which she had shared with the narrator. At night, the narrator sees signs that Rowena is still alive. However, after a short while, she appears to be more dead than she had looked before. Several times that night, Rowena appears to come back to life temporarily, before returning to look more like a corpse than she had done previously. The narrator starts to wonder if the spirit which is returning to the body is really that of Rowena. Just before dawn, the body stands up. The narrator notices that the body is taller than Rowena was in life. When he sees her black hair, he knows that the woman who is standing before him is not Rowena but Ligeia who has come back from the dead.
"Ligeia" was loosely adapted as the 1964 American-British horror film The Tomb of Ligeia, the last of eight films directed by Roger Corman which were inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. It stars Vincent Price in the role of Verden Fell (roughly equivalent to the unnamed narrator from Poe's story) and Elizabeth Shepherd in the twin roles of Lady Rowena Trevanion and Ligeia. Although Verden Fell mourns the loss of Ligeia, he is also troubled by her vow that she would never die and believes that she may not be truly dead. The former abbey where Verden and Rowena live sems to be haunted by the ghost of Ligeia. It is suggested that a black cat (probably a reference to another story by Poe) may be possessed by Ligeia's spirit. Verden eventually realizes that he has to confront Ligeia's ghost head on in order to preserve his sanity.
Another film loosely based on the story was released in 2009. Ligeia, later renamed The Tomb, was directed by Michael Staninger. It stars Sofya Skya as Ligeia and Wes Bentley as Jonathan Merrick (a character who is roughly equivalent to the narrator in the original tale). Jonathan Merrick is a successful author and a lecturer at an American university. He becomes fascinated by Ligeia, a foreign graduate student who tempts him away from his fiancée Rowena. Ligeia is artificially extending her life by stealing other people's souls. She and Jonathan move to a mansion on the shores of the Black Sea where Jonathan slowly descends into madness.