Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mrs. Poe

Mrs. Poe
Lynn Cullen

First Sentence
"When given bad news, most women of my station can afford to slump into their divans, their china cups slipping from their fingers to the carpet, their hair falling prettily from its pins, their fourteen starched petticoats compacting with a plush crunch."
Publisher's Description:
A vivid and compelling novel about a woman who becomes entangled in an affair with Edgar Allan Poe—at the same time she becomes the unwilling confidante of his much-younger wife. 

 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. (Published 2013)

Dear Reader,

I find I love books which start off as if they are going to be romance novels, but then go so much further than that.  Probably that is because I'm not much of a he-swept-her-off-her-feet romance kind of girl.  I prefer the more realistic version of life, I think.

That being said, that is exactly what Mrs. Poe was.  I know the story Cullen wove wasn't 100% true-to-life, but she did quite a bit of research for the background of her story, and it showed.  The book she wrote was a very plausible (at least, to me) version of how (now virtually unknown) poet Frances Osgood and Edgar Allen Poe's lives might have once intertwined.  A truly tragic story all around, and despite Mrs. Poe's bearing at times, you couldn't help but feel sorry for every single person in the novel - well, almost every one.  Certainly the main players.  Osgood led a very disappointing life, and the outlet she found in Poe was a beautiful, but heartbreaking one.  This wasn't a tale of forbidden love as much as it was a portrait of life, though.  The struggles and limitations that we all face.

I was particularly enthralled by the caricatures that Cullen drew of New York's literati at the time - that was probably the most fun part of the book!  I enjoyed her sprinkling in of people (P.T. Barnum, Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, Astor!) and events of the time (the "flattening" of NYC, the all-destroying fires, daguerreotypes, the treatment of writers as superstars) which really brought the time period alive for me.  Her connecting the story to the true history of New York, or at least a very close rendering of the city at that time, was fascinating.

I was intrigued by the small mysteries which Cullen threw in, as well, certainly making this far less of a romance - although there were certainly the moments of passion! - and much more engaging.  While the story circled like a single-shot camera around Osgood in Poe's embrace, it also allowed for cut scenes into so many other smaller, related, and very engaging subplots.

The title of the book particularly interests me - does it refer to the cousin who legally married Poe when she was just a girl?  Or does it allude to the role Osgood often played as "Mrs. Poe" when she and Edgar were together, playing parts?  It straddles that line so well, as did the story: you didn't always want to root for the woman who seemed to be tearing apart a marriage, but at the same time, her story and her character were so compelling.  It was difficult not to wish Frances Osgood all the best, in the end.  Whatever her true story was, I am glad this side was told.


P.S. Be sure you read the Author's Note at the end of the story - Cullen discusses her inspiration, her process, and most importantly, the rest of the tragic history.

1 comment:

  1. Arianna, thank you so much for posting this lovely review of Mrs. Poe. It's such a thrill for me as an author when a reader really understands what I'm trying to achieve through my writing. I'm so grateful that you see that not only was I trying to write a mystery/historical thriller/romance, but first and foremost, a book about the struggles that are part of the human condition. Thank you for sharing with your readers your understanding of what I was trying to say--you nailed it, right down to the meaning behind the title! Many thanks!


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