Quando apparve per la prima volta, sul «Graham’s Magazine» dell’aprile 1842, questo racconto si intitolava “Life in Death”.
Nello stesso anno Poe, in un suo sommario manoscritto, ne cambiò il titolo in “The Oval Portrait”. E con questo stesso titolo il racconto fu ripubblicato il 26 aprile 1845 sul «Broadway Journal».
Il brano eliminato da Poe nella versione definitiva
Quando il racconto apparve sul «Broadway Journal» con il titolo “The Oval Portrait”, Poe apportò diverse modifiche. Eliminò la citazione iniziale:
Egli è vivo e parlerebbe se non osservasse la rigola del silentio.
Inscription beneath an Italian picture of St. Bruno.
E eliminò anche un intero paragrafo, oltre ad altre piccole modifiche. Ma il brano iniziale, di quasi 500 parole, fu totalmente cancellato.
MY fever had been excessive and of long duration. All the remedies attainable in this wild Appennine [[Apennine]] region had been exhausted to no purpose. My valet and sole attendant in the lonely chateau, was too nervous and too grossly unskilful to venture upon letting blood — of which indeed I had already lost too much in the affray with the banditti. Neither could I safely permit him to leave me in search of assistance. At length I bethought me of a little pacquet of opium which lay with my tobacco in the hookah-case; for at Constantinople I had acquired the habit of smoking the weed with the drug. Pedro handed me the case. I sought and found the narcotic. But when about to cut off a portion I felt the necessity of hesitation. In smoking it was a matter of little importance how much was employed. Usually, I had half filled the bowl of the hookah with opium and tobacco cut and mingled intimately, half and half. Sometimes when I had used the whole of this mixture I experienced no very peculiar effects; at other times I would not have smoked the pipe more than two-thirds out, when symptoms of mental derangement, which were even alarming, warned me to desist. But the effect proceeded with an easy gradation which deprived the indulgence of all danger. Here, however, the case was different. I had never swallowed opium before. Laudanum and morphine I had occasionally used, and about them should have had no reason to hesitate. But the solid drug I had never seen employed. Pedro knew no more respecting the proper quantity to be taken, than myself — and thus, in the sad emergency, I was left altogether to conjecture. Still I felt no especial uneasiness; for I resolved to proceed by degrees. I would take a very small dose in the first instance. Should this prove impotent, I would repeat it; and so on, until I should find an abatement of the fever, or obtain that sleep which was so pressingly requisite, and with which my reeling senses had not been blessed for now more than a week. No doubt it was this very reeling of my senses — it was the dull delirium which already oppressed me — that prevented me from perceiving the incoherence of my reason — which blinded me to the folly of defining any thing as either large or small where I had no preconceived standard of comparison. I had not, at the moment, the faintest idea that what I conceived to be an exceedingly small dose of solid opium might, in fact, be an excessively large one. On the contrary I well remember that I judged confidently of the quantity to be taken by reference to the entire quantity of the lump in possession. The portion which, in conclusion, I swallowed, and swallowed without fear, was no doubt a very small proportion of the piece which I held in my hand.
In questo brano introduttivo il narratore parla delle sue ferite e di come non riuscisse a trovarne sollievo, convintosi infine a far uso di oppio, che prese da una tabacchiera che aveva con sé.
Il narratore parla anche dell’abitudine, presa a Costantinopoli, di fumare droga. L’intero brano è quindi un flusso di coscienza incentrato su come usasse vari tipi di droga, come laudano e morfina, e i loro effetti sulla sua coscienza e la sua ragione.