Published by Gallery Books on 1 October 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
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It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York; not an easy task for a woman—especially one with two children and a philandering portrait painter as her husband. As Frances tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, “The Raven” has struck a public nerve.
She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman whom Edgar married.
As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory. And Mrs. Poe, who acts like an innocent child, is actually more manipulative and threatening than she appears. As Frances and Edgar’s passionate affair escalates, Frances must decide whether she can walk away before it’s too late...
Set amidst the fascinating world of New York’s literati, this smart and sexy novel offers a unique view into the life of one of history’s most unforgettable literary figures.
“Madness spreads like a drop of ink in water. Soon one does not know who is mad and who is not.”
I have a confession to make. Despite studying English literature for 3 years, and being an obsessive reader, I have not read any Edgar Allan Poe. I was obviously aware of him, and know of his love of the macabre, “The Raven” and “Nevermore”, but he was just another writer I would eventually get to. Then along came Mrs Poe by Lynn Cullen, and my curiosity was piqued.
Turns out Mr. Poe had a rather strange life. He was orphaned at an early age and ended up marrying his 13-year-old first cousin. He was rumoured to have romantic links to fellow poet Frances Osgood, and this is the relationship Cullen explores in her book.
Frances Osgood is trying to provide for her daughters after her scoundrel of a husband runs off with one of his many mistresses. She is considered a mediocre poet by the New York literati and is tolerated, but not truly respected at their gatherings. It is at one of these soirees that she encounters the celebrated Mr Poe and his pretty young wife Virginia. There is an immediate mutual attraction and respect between Osgood and Poe and the novel follows their growing affection for each other. This affair has not gone unnoticed by Mrs Poe, and it seems she has her own sinister ways of punishing Frances and reclaiming her husband’s affections.
At first I detested Mrs Poe (the character, not the book). She comes across as jealous, possessive, childish and vindictive. It was probably the first time I actually hoped for a successful affair. But as the novel progressed I realised that she was the best part of it. Although she is described as a fragile, sickly girl, her part of the story always came with a dark edge.
The romance between Frances and Poe was far too clichéd for my liking. I found myself rolling my eyes during every desperate encounter and cringing at the cheesy dialogue.
“He caressed me with a grateful gaze. “How well you understand me. I cannot say I have ever felt this from another person – I knew it the minute I met you. Thank you”
“For brightening my life”
The story is teeming with literary references – Louisa May Alcott, Dickens, Melville, Whitman etc – and interesting historical details. Cullen has obviously carefully researched this period in history, and it shows.
Overall, the story is a bit contrived; Cullen is trying too hard to get the reader to like Poe. Also, it is important to remember that this is a work of fiction. Poe purists may not agree with the author’s interpretation. However, it is well written and worth a read.
“No matter how fictitious, writers’ stories are always about themselves.”
– An interesting glimpse into the life of an intriguing man