The film The Pale Blue Eye, starring Christian Bale and Harry Melling (as Edgar Allen Poe) is a story that takes place during Poe’s brief tenure at West Point Military Academy in 1830.
The film is based on a novel of the same name by Louis Bayard, written in 2003. It is an entirely fictional account of Poe’s very real sojourn at the Academy. The book was nominated for a number of awards in its day, including the Edgar Allen Poe Awards, popularly known as the Edgars, presented annually by the Mystery Writers of America. Poe died on 7 October 1849 under mysterious circumstances after being found outside a tavern in Baltimore, disheveled and confused, not quite certain of what had happened to him. Historians and literature enthusiasts to this day, conjecture and contemplate the cause of his death.
Poe’s writing was of a Gothic style, filled with macabre and horrific tales. He was a poet, a writer of short stories, and a literary critic. It is the macabre element that author Louis Bayard is paying homage to in his book. The Poe that Bayard represents in his story and the way he is subsequently portrayed in the film by Harry Melling. Harry bears an uncanny resemblance to the actual man, is an outcaste at West Point-one who is never accepted by his peers nor does he make any effort to fit in.
In the story, Poe gets embroiled in the horrific murders of two of his fellow cadets and assists an acclaimed investigator in solving the case. He also falls almost manically in love with the daughter of the head of the Academy, a young woman with an affliction that causes her to have sudden seizures that doctors are certain will imminently kill her. Once the case is solved in a most unexpected way, Poe leaves the Academy to focus on his writing career. The real Poe’s time at the Military Academy is also known to be fraught with difficulty, albeit not at all impacted by murder. He was court martialed after a long list of disciplinary actions following a disagreement with his foster father about money.
He could not resign the Academy and hence sought to be dismissed by breaking every rule and disobeying every order he was given. He was also known to have defrauded his classmates of $170 to finance his writing career. Fiction is not usually the truth but quite often, it does not tarry too far from the truth.
Priya Hajela is the Author of Ladies’ Tailor (Harper Collins India).