Hauntingly Beautiful: Mrs. Poe


Mrs Poe

by Elizabeth Shore

There’s nothing quite like the heartache of an illicit love affair. The clandestine meetings, the stolen kisses, the longing that lovers have for one another whenever they’re apart. Throw in 19th century societal restrictions and the most famous writer of the time and you’ve got the makings for one heck of a book. Enter, Mrs. Poe.

To be clear, whether the love affair that’s the basis for the story ever actually existed is a subject of debate, and there seems to be more evidence supporting its falsity than its fact. But, whatever. The book isn’t claiming to be a scholarly discourse and shouldn’t be treated as such.  What is known for certain is this:  poet Frances Osgood met Edgar Allan Poe in the spring of 1845. Poe’s poem, The Raven, had come out in January to instant success and Poe was, at that time, the talk of the town. Frances was a married woman; Poe was a married man. They engaged in a “literary flirtation” in the pages of the Broadway Journal. But as far as any actual affair goes, that is a matter of speculation. Oh, but what fun speculation it is in the pages of Mrs. Poe.

Author Lynn Cullen immerses us in an authentic feel of old New York. The detail she brings to the story adds a depth to the pages that just sucks you right in and doesn’t let go. The story is beautifully atmospheric; you feel like you’re walking along those energetic, smelly, crowded, vibrant New York streets right along with Frances Osgood. You see the pigs and chickens rooting around 14th street. You see the shocking poverty in the city juxtaposed with frequent references to John Jacob Astor. You meet the literary characters of the time: Louisa Alcott, P.T. Barnum, Walt Whitman, Samuel Morse, Ralph Waldo Emerson. There are many others introduced as well, and we feel like a time traveler being allowed to drop in on the great poets, writers, and thinkers of that time.

Along with the atmosphere, of course, is the focus of the book, which is the affair between Frances Osgood and Edgar Allan Poe. Who knows if they were actually lovers, if they actually had the intense, emotional, aching affair that Ms. Cullen imagines. But they could have, and that’s really the point. If they’d had an affair, here’s what it would have been like, Ms. Cullen tells us. Poe was known for his temper, his scathing criticisms, his excessive drinking. That’s all part of the story. But what really makes this book interesting – the element that grabs you by the jugular and hangs on tight –  is the triangular relationship among Poe, Frances Osgood, and Poe’s young wife, Virginia, his first cousin whom he married when she was just thirteen. (yikes!)

The relationship between Frances and Virginia starts out pleasantly enough but devolves into intrigue and revenge when Virginia suspects that her husband and Frances have become lovers. Despite being stricken with tuberculosis that would eventually kill her, young Virginia’s not going down without a fight.  She’s like foxglove – beautiful on the surface but poisonous beneath. I really enjoy how author Cullen weaves together so many intriguing elements into one seamless story. The fierce yet secret love between Poe and Frances just tears at your heart, and Frances is terribly conflicted about it throughout the book. She doesn’t want to destroy Poe’s marriage or her own, for that matter (her husband, at least in the book, is a relentless philanderer who regularly abandons his wife and children for months at a time). She and Poe are soul mates but destined to love that which they cannot have.

Yes, there are elements of the story that I had trouble with, but not enough to have taken away from this beautiful, romantic, heartbreakingly wonderful story. Mrs. Poe is out on October 1. Let yourself get swept away.

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9 Comments

  • LizEverly
    August 28, 2013 at 6:02 am

    This book was featured at BEA when I was in New York and I picked up the postcard. It looks very good–even my daughters are excited about it. They are big Poe fans. What a lovely review. “She’s like foxglove – beautiful on the surface but poisonous beneath.” Love that!

    • Elizabeth Shore
      August 28, 2013 at 9:54 am

      Thanks, Liz! I loved the book, and I thought the author really did a nice job of transporting us to that time. We’re the virtual flies on the wall observing the affair playing out in all its many forms. It hooked me!

  • Madeline Iva
    August 28, 2013 at 8:53 am

    I have always been obsessed with Virginia Poe. I’m on her side.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      August 28, 2013 at 9:57 am

      I’d be interested in your take on your she’s portrayed. The focus is on Frances Osgood and Poe, but Ginny plays a big part. She’s the woman scorned and hell hath no fury like that!

  • Author Charmaine Gordon
    August 28, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Ms. Shore, you’ve captured me from your first words. OMG! I do believe you’re an author. Thanks for the beautiful review and heads-up.

    • Madeline Iva
      August 28, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Ms. Gordon, thanks for stopping by. You’re all we’re talking about right now. Best of luck with this new release!
      –Madeline Iva

    • Elizabeth Shore
      August 30, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      As it turns out, I AM an author! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Ms. Charmaine, and for your lovely comment. xoxo

  • elfahearn
    August 28, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Can I have that review only change the title of the book to Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower? Sounds like a marvelous read. I’m going to try and get my hands on a copy.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      August 30, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      Oh, but Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower is so utterly delicious all on its own!

      Mrs. Poe is lovely, however. A definite recommended read.

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