Originally published in April 1835 in the magazine Southern Literary Messenger, Edgar Allan Poe’s “Morella” is a Gothic horror short story. The magazine was published from 1834 to 1864 and consisted of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, reviews, and historical notes. Publisher and occasional editor Thomas Willis White hired Poe in 1835 as a staff writer and critic.
In some ways, the short story could be considered an early example of a pose poem, a style that would later influence master of horror H.P. Lovecraft. The story itself is about Morella, a highly intelligent but frail young woman whose philosophical pursuits include exploring the nature of identity. Morella from her bed attempts to teach her husband what she has learned from such explorations, but she grows even frailer, all the while struggling with her pregnancy. She dies while giving birth to a baby girl.
As the daughter comes of age, she begins to acquire an uncanny resemblance to her mother. At the age of ten, Morella’s daughter looks so much like her that her father grows frightened. Given the knowledge about identity he acquired from his wife, he has the girl baptized so that all evil may be cleansed. The ritual has the opposite effect, particularly when the priest asks the girl her name, and she replies, “Morella.” The battle for identity, with the daughter calling out, “I am here!” is too great, and the child dies. When the narrator (unnamed, but described as a family friend with the story’s opening line, “With a feeling of deep yet most singular affected I regarded by friend Morella”) takes it upon himself to bury Morella in the family tomb, he finds to trace of the mother within. The short story’s final lines are haunting and eerie:
“But she died; and with my own hands I bore her to the tomb; and I laughed with a long and bitter laugh as I found no traces of the first in the channel where I laid the second. – Morella.”
The key theme behind “Morella” is hinted by Poe’s opening quote for the story by Plato: “Itself, by itself, solely, one everlasting and single.” There is no room for more than one identity, one personality, despite the desire and will to make it so.
In 1962, Roger Corman made the movie Tales of Terror, which features an adaptation of “Morella.” The movie starred Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone. In 1990, Jim Wynorski directed a loose adaptation of “Morella” titled The Haunting of Morella. This movie is much more lurid and involves witchcraft with its theme of reincarnation.