I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be released 24 September 2013.
Lynn Cullen’s Mrs. Poe takes a chapter of Edgar Allan Poe‘s life and fills in the gaps in the historical record. Literary scholars know that in 1845, Poe exchanged a series of love poems with Frances Sargent Osgood, another mid-nineteenth century American poet. There’s no official documentation that they were having an affair, but everyone at the time though they were. All I knew about Poe prior to reading this book was that he earned shamefully little money for his work and that his official cause of death is a tie between alcohol and rabies.
The novel is narrated from Fanny Osgood’s perspective. Fanny was married to a philandering portrait painter who had left her to pursue rich women elsewhere. She’s in a tough spot but, fortunately, she has friends she and her daughters can stay with while she tries to earn a living through her writing. Her editor tells her that all anyone wants to read in 1845 are “shivery tales” like the ones Mr. Poe writes, but Osgood writes very feminine poetry about flowers and such. Fanny actually has a chance to meet Poe at a salon for New York writers. She also meets the consumptive Mrs. Poe.
Fanny and Poe–known as Eddie to his friends and family–connect. In spite of their respective marriages and in spite of the scandal it would cause, they continue their flirtation. Cullen writes amazingly, weaving actual history into her story. After reading quick synopses of their lives, I was persuaded that something probably happened between the two of them. The author knitted fiction and truth together so tightly that it was hard to keep the two separate.