Friday, August 24, 2012

The Oval Portrait 2012

As a reward for having dutifully written four analytical essays, I chose to do something creative for the fifth submission. I was very pleased that I was able to include the images! The WYSIWYG editor for the submissions form box does not have an "insert image" link, but it does let you enter HTML - and sure enough, it let me type in the img tags. So, the images are included, too!

I had so much fun doing this - so much more fun than I would have had writing an essay. I first became acquainted with "The Oval Portrait" because there is a chapter dedicated to Poe's story in The Portrait of the Lover, a wonderful book written by Maurizio Bettini (Italian classicist and author of so many fascinating books and articles), which I translated into English back when I was in graduate school (the Italian title is Il ritratto dell'amante). The book is a collection of folklore and legends related to "the portrait of the lover" and the way that lovers and their images both complete one another but can also compete with one another. Highly recommended!

"I don't know, Paul. The ultrasound, it's kind of ... blurry."

"No, Linda, really - it's the perfect Twitter avatar."

"But she's not even born yet."

"She's coming; I can feel it," Linda screamed as she reached for her husband's hand, but Paul had his hands full with the video camera.

"Look this way, honey! Perfect! I'm using the MiFi to stream the video live. Smile, honey!"

Linda screamed again. And the baby was born. Paul rushed home to edit the video and upload it to YouTube. By the time Linda and the baby came home, the video had over four million hits.

Everyone said Baby Girl was of the rarest beauty, not a happier baby in the world. But her dad... well, no one really knew what to think. Over ten thousand pictures at Flickr, all those videos at the Baby Girl YouTube channel...

"Paul, honey, don't you think that's enough?" Linda was starting to get worried.


The baby was crying, "Waah! Waah" Linda turned to Paul and said, "I told you the light from the webcam was making her upset. We don't need a webcam in the nursery."

But Paul didn't hear anything, not the baby crying, not his wife's words. He was busy tweeting from his iPhone.

"Paul, oh my god, come here, Paul! Something's wrong with the baby!"

"Just a second!" Paul shouted back from his home office. "Just a second... I just need to update her Facebook status. Wow, this Timeline thing is great." He went running into the nursery, carrying his iPad. "This Timeline is Life itself!"

Then he saw Linda, weeping over their dead child.


: In Poe's "The Oval Portrait," the artist drains his wife's life by painting her portrait. This cyberdad drains the life from his baby as he creates her Facebook Timeline.

Works Cited.
Poe, Edgar Allan (1842). "The Oval Portrait."

Anon. "Cute Angel Baby" image.
Pullara, Sam. Fetus sonogram. Wikipedia.
Surfraser. Live Childbirth video at YouTube.


  1. Thank you, Elisa! I think the Internet is a fabulous space, but there are some people who go overboard. I figure that's like what Poe is showing us too - not all portrait painters suck the lives out of their subjects, thank goodness! :-)

  2. Loved your post, Laura. It reminded me of a horrifying, but nonetheless true and poignant news item about a Korean couple who became so obsessed with raising their virtual baby that they neglected their real baby, who starved to death. I'm sorry about how depressing this story is, but is your (thankfully fictional) story has a strong link to it, so I thought you'd be interested in learning about it.

    I never thought of the Korean couple's tale as a contemporary version of The Oval Portrait, but I think nothing could be more apt – grim as it is to consider such a sad, true story in literary terms.

    Here is a news article talking about it:

    1. Oh my gosh, that is so awful! I felt bad even writing that the baby died in the story, but of course the Poe story is meant to be shocking, too, so the baby had to die in the story. The idea that a real little person died from neglect like that, any kind of neglect, is heartbreaking. I wonder what Poe would have thought of all the virtual worlds we are making. It's beautiful and terrifying at the same time, a combination I am sure Poe would understand very well!



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.