Written by Lynn Cullen
Published by Gallery Books
Review by Meredith Allard
ARC courtesy of NetGalley
I am a fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s work, and I have enjoyed the mysterious stories from his dark imaginings. I never knew much about Poe’s life beyond the few paragraphs of a biography you find in textbooks. The loss of his mother at a young age, his troubled relationship with his foster father, the fact that he married his 13 year-old first cousin, his problems with alcohol—that is the stuff of Poe legend. I had not heard of Frances Osgood, though I am certainly familiar with her poem “Puss in Boots.” It has been alleged that Poe and Osgood had an affair, and though most scholars dismiss the idea as rumor, Mrs. Poe author Lynn Cullen has played the old “What if?” game. What if Poe and Osgood did have an affair? How might that have happened?
Cullen paints a colorful picture of New York City in the 1840s. The literary scene was vibrant then, with soirees featuring such notables as Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, Rufus Griswold, and famed photographer Matthew Brady. As Mrs. Poe begins, Poe has catapulted to the top of the literary ladder after the stunning success of “The Raven.” Everyone everywhere seems to have read the poem, and Poe—now a literary rock star—is asked about the poem wherever he turns, much to his annoyance. Poe and Osgood (a poet of some repute herself) run into each other through their literary associations, and in time fall in love. The story follows Poe and Osgood through their ill-fated love affair, along with some unfortunate meddling from someone close to Poe.
In Mrs. Poe, Cullen accomplished something important—it kept me turning pages. I was interested in reading about Poe since I know so little about him. I had no idea that Poe was such a celebrity in his day. I really didn’t know he was so admired by the ladies. Poe has never struck me as a hottie, but tastes have changed over time, I suppose.
I enjoyed the look into the New York literary society of the 1840s. I enjoyed reading about Poe and gaining a (fictionalized) sense of who he was as a person. If you take this novel for what it is—historical fiction—and you’re interested in Poe, then give Mrs. Poe a try. Mrs. Poe is an entertaining tale with interesting characters, a vibrant locale, a good dose of romance, and even some intrigue, which is what an historical novel should be.
Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.