Sunday, September 8, 2013

Mrs. Poe

Title:  Mrs. Poe
Author:  Lynn Cullen
Publication Information:  Gallery Books. 2013. 336 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book as a galley from the publisher for an honest review. The book came as an ebook edition.

Favorite Quote:  "I find that the thoughts spoken between the lines are the most important parts of a poem or story."

Mrs. Poe is the story of Edgar Allen Poe, his wife Virginia, and Frances Sargent Osgood, a poet and children's author some say was involved with Edgar Allen Poe. She is known to have exchanged flirtatious letters through the Poe's literary journal. Historically, it is uncertain whether the two actually had a love affair. 

The story begins shortly after the release of Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Raven, which has become the rage of New York. Virginia is Edgar's first cousin and also his very young, very ill wife. Frances "Fanny" Osgood is a struggling writer, who has been abandoned by her husband. She lives with friends and attempts to make a life for herself and her two young daughters.

Edgar and Fanny meet at an evening literary soiree. The friendship and attraction develops, as does a friendship between Frances and Virginia. The book proceeds on with numerous meetings between the two and all three of them. Repeatedly, Edgar and Frances stop short of taking their relationship further - out of concern for his wife, out of concern for her children, and out of concern for what people will say. Each time, the relationship goes a little bit further regardless of those concerns and regardless of the warnings of those around them.

Added to this is the role of Virginia's mother "Muddy" Clemm and the return of Frances' husband. The relationship and the word play continue between all those involved. The relationship builds and has ramifications for all those involved. The ending of the book moves forward and tells the reader what eventually happened to these individuals. A sad ending indeed.

I am familiar with Edgar Allen Poe, of course, but prior to reading this book, was not familiar with the rest of the main characters. I have not read anything previously about his life. It is an intriguing though sad story. It also includes some of the dark tones of Edgar Allen Poe's works - dramatic incidents to try and keep Edgar and Fanny apart.

The book falls a little short for me because it becomes a little repetitive. The nature of the relationship between Edgar Allen Poe and Fanny is that they meet; they feel a connection; they retreat due to societal bounds. They meet; the connection continues; they retreat. The focus of the book remains this interaction and not the development of the characters.  This repetitive nature makes the book somewhat slow reading at times.

The book is, however, an interesting snapshot of a time and a place. The book references so many others of the literary and art community of New York at the time. I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy, but it's fun to read about characters such as Louisa May Alcott, Phineas Barnum, William Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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