If you have not already read Louis Bayard’s The Pale Blue Eye (first published in 2003), Netflix’s recent movie-adaptation may sway you to pick it up. Bayard’s fourth mystery is perhaps best known for its characterization of Edgar Allen Poe as an awkward and heartsick cadet at West Point. The story includes elements drawn from Poe’s historical life and histories of the Hudson Valley. Those familiar with Poe’s work will recognize the dappling of literary allusions throughout the story. “The pale blue eye,” for instance, is an intertextual reference to Poe’s, The Tell Tale Heart. And snippets of poetry and narrations akin to those in Poe’s short stories weave through chapters as the mystery unfolds.
Fans of historicals, as well as mysteries, will be pleased with the detail and occult grotesquery of this tale of murder, intrigue, family tragedy, mid-19th century medical-science, and military academy ritual—as well as ritual of a more sinister nature.
The newly released movie boasts a star-studded cast: Christian Bale as Landor, Harry Melling as Poe, as well as Gillian Anderson, Toby Jones, and Timothy Spall. The cinematography amplifies the unsettling nature of the crimes and brings the book to life—lofty shots of the Hudson Valley’s snow and mist-covered mountains are complemented by moody manors, candle-lit hallways, and the stone citadel of West Point at the edge of a shadowy wood. Well worth a watch—once you’ve read the book, of course, to sink more deeply into a finely-crafted story. www.louisbayard.com
Michelle LaFrance is Associate Professor of English at George Mason University. She teaches writing workshops via the Hill Center and other regional community centers. In her free time, she can be found reading, writing, and hiking the region’s forests with two mischievous four-leggeds.