Berenice is a first person narrative by a man named Egaeus. He describes his family as a race of visionaries. As proof of this assertion, he cites the frescoes and tapestries in the family mansion, and especially the contents of its library.
Either because of hereditary propensities or else because of the environment in which he grew to adulthood, Egaeus became a brooding, studious man. He eventually developed an unusual mental trait. Some ordinary object would captivate his mind, and he would focus his attention upon it with an amazing intensity and singleness of purpose, just as a convex lens focuses light rays on a single point.
He had a beautiful cousin named Berenice. She also grew up in the family mansion, but her nature was radically different from that of Egaeus. She was a breath of fresh air. She was agile, graceful, and overflowing with energy, like a sprightly naiad cavorting in a fountain.
Egaeus viewed the beauty of his cousin without emotion. He had an intellectual rather than a passionate nature, so he did not regard her as a being to be loved, but as an interesting abstraction that he liked to analyze.
Unfortunately, Berenice began to suffer a debilitating illness. Her beauty faded, and her emotional outlook deteriorated. Even worse, she began to suffer a species of epilepsy that usually ended in a trance.
Berenice’s sadly altered condition made Egaeus shudder whenever he saw her. Nevertheless, since he knew that she loved him, he wanted to give her some consolation in her distress; so he asked her to marry him.
As the day of their wedding approached, Berenice happened to smile at Egaeus, and his mind focused on her teeth, which immediately became the focus of his intense, abnormal meditation. He tried in vain to resist this monomania. In his mind’s eye, he saw the teeth of Berenice everywhere. In spite of himself, he began to covet these teeth. He felt that only their possession would bring peace to his heart.
His intense contemplation continued till the following day was drawing to a close. Then he heard troubled voices, accompanied by expressions of sorrow. When he investigated, a maidservant sadly informed him that Berenice had died and that they were about to bury her body.
The same day at midnight, Egaeus suddenly found himself sitting in his library. It seemed to him that he had just awakened from a confused and exciting dream. He knew that Berenice had been buried at sunset, but he did not know what had happened since then. He felt that something horrible must have taken place and tried unsuccessfully to remember what it was..
He soon learned the truth. A menial approached. He told his master that the grave of Berenice had been violated and her body had been disfigured. Moreover, she was alive. She had not died, but only suffered a trance that resembled death.
This news, together with other factors, filled him with horror. His garments were bloody, and there was a spade leaning against the wall of the library. In addition, there was a box on the table that had not been there before.
With trepidation, he tried to open the box. It slipped from his hands and fell to the floor, spilling its contents: the teeth of Berenice.
Berenice may be read online. It is presented by PoeStories.