Ligeia is a short story in which an unnamed narrator, husband of the titular Ligeia, watches in distress as his beautiful and intelligent wife succumbs to consumption and dies. Sometime later he remarries, wedding the similarly attractive and erudite Lady Rowena. When Rowena dies the narrator slumps into a fit of melancholy and turns to opium to assuage his misery. He remains with her body overnight and watches in horror as she takes on the form of the deceased Ligeia.
The story is told by an unnamed narrator who describes the qualities of Ligeia: a beautiful, passionate and intellectual woman, raven-haired and dark-eyed. He thinks he remembers meeting her "in some large, old decaying city near the Rhine." He is unable to recall anything about the history of Ligeia, including her family's name, but remembers her beautiful appearance. Her beauty, however, is not conventional. He describes her as emaciated, with some "strangeness." He describes her face in detail, from her "faultless" forehead to the "divine orbs" of her eyes. They marry, and Ligeia impresses her husband with her immense knowledge of physical and mathematical science, and her proficiency in classical languages. She begins to show her husband her knowledge of metaphysical and "forbidden" wisdom.
After an unspecified length of time Ligeia becomes ill, struggles internally with human mortality, and ultimately dies. The narrator, grief-stricken, buys and refurbishes an abbey in England. He soon enters into a loveless marriage with "the fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine."
In the second month of the marriage, Rowena begins to suffer from worsening fever and anxiety. One night, when she is about to faint, the narrator pours her a goblet of wine. Drugged with opium, he sees (or thinks he sees) drops of "a brilliant and ruby colored fluid" fall into the goblet. Her condition rapidly worsens, and a few days later she dies and her body is wrapped for burial.
As the narrator keeps vigil overnight, he notices a brief return of color to Rowena's cheeks. She repeatedly shows signs of reviving, before relapsing into apparent death. As he attempts resuscitation, the revivals become progressively stronger, but the relapses more final. As dawn breaks, and the narrator is sitting emotionally exhausted from the night's struggle, the shrouded body revives once more, stands and walks into the middle of the room. When he touches the figure, its head bandages fall away to reveal masses of raven hair and dark eyes: Rowena has transformed into Ligeia.