The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

Poe, Edgar Allan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

  • Date of entry: Feb-22-1999
  • Last revised: Aug-21-2006


A doctor has become fascinated by mesmerism. He is curious to see what would happen to an individual put under hypnosis while dying. Would it stave off death? Would dying make hypnosis impossible? A friend agrees to be the subject of this experiment.

Seven months later, the doctor is called to the dying man’s bedside. As the patient’s breath and heartbeat slow, the doctor successfully hypnotizes him. The dying man feels no pain and responds to questions without rising from his trance. He asks the doctor not to wake him, but to let him die without pain. The next day, the patient’s eyes roll upward, his cheeks lose their color, and his mouth falls open. The man is apparently dead.

As they prepare him for burial, however, the tongue begins to vibrate and a minute later, answers the question the doctor put to the patient just before his death. "Yes; - no; - I have been sleeping - and now - now - I am dead," says the corpse. The amazed doctors leave the patient in exactly the same state for seven months. Finally, they resolve to wake him. As he begins to wake, the doctor asks what the patient’s wishes are. The dead man cries out that he is dead and must be awakened. The doctor wakes him and the corpse immediately falls apart into "a nearly liquid mass of loathsome - of detestable putridity."


Mesmerism was very popular in America and Europe when Poe was writing. (See also Poe’s story, A Tale of the Ragged Mountains, annotated in this database.) Doctors experimented with it as an alternative to chloroform for surgical anesthesia; their patients felt no pain.

When Poe’s story was printed, many readers believed it was factual. It took Poe several years fully to clear the matter up. The story still stands, as an eerie portrayal of the mind’s control over the body. Its very realism exemplifies Poe’s belief that such fantasies are in a sense real. They reflect a different reality than the one captured by science.


First published: 1845

Primary Source

Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vol. III


Harvard Univ. Press

Place Published

Cambridge, Mass.




Thomas Ollive Mabbott