[471]: Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

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GOODREADS SUMMARY | Gallery Books | Hardcover, 318 pages |
October 1st, 2013 |Rating 3 out of 5 Stars


If you ever have the mildest inkling to read this book, I think it would be beneficial if you have some (even a little) knowledge of Poe’s life. As it was, I thought Ms. Cullen painted a caricature version of one of the most celebrated American authors in history. So much so, that I had a hard time reconciling the brilliant poet with the man that readers would know in this novel. This man was someone who didn’t care about his wife, ten years his junior, and one with quickly failing health. He was cold, life-weary, and was just plain unlikeable. At the same time, perhaps this version of Poe is an echo of what he’s shown the world through his work.

Told in the narrative of Frances Osgood, Mrs. Poe is a speculative depiction of how the alleged affair between Osgood and Poe came to be. Frances, being a writer herself at the time,  struggled to get her work published. Estranged from her husband and left to carry on as a single mother to their two children, Frances found herself thinking about reinventing the way she writes. She’s had some success in writing children’s stories in the past, but since there’s barely any money in her craft, she deliberated upon adapting the dark, passionate world of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing.

When she meets the famous poet, the connection was instantaneous.  In her, Poe found the lust for life that’s long been  lacking from his own. Rumoured to have married his young cousin, Poe has a notorious reputation inside and outside of the literary circle.  As affairs tend to go,  its lifespan is purely dependent on how long they could keep it under wraps. And it didn’t last very long. The relationship between her and Poe ended the way it began: in a blink of an eye. No gradual progression, no tearful goodbyes.

The author may have presented a good argument that this affair actually happened, but again, everything is based on circumstantial evidence. In this case, it was their exchanges of love poems that Poe himself had published in his own newspaper. Historians also noted that Frances Osgood was his muse for a period of time, so perhaps there were some truths to this dalliance.

Poe was known to destroy other poets, but did the opposite with Frances’ work. In fact, he gave hers’ the highest praise, which is probably the very root of the grapevine itself. Some say the affair never happened, and to be honest, even with the aid of this book, I just couldn’t see it. Due to the lack of tangible connection, or chemistry between the two, the very idea of this affair just wasn’t all that believable.

As a woman of no resources, Frances had to think about how she and the children would survive. We see her strive for success in a male-dominated publishing world. We see her struggle to change the way she writes just so she could sell some of her works. I admired her tenacity and drive; most of all her unwillingness to change who she was.

It is always baffling to me, when a scorn woman like Frances takes her pathological cheater of a husband back. I suppose because it was a different time then, with children to think about and divorce was practically inconceivable. It still didn’t make me feel any better because it highlighted Frances’ weakness.

The novel has an air of gothic drama, as shown on the numerous attempts on Frances’ life. The author did a tremendous job with persuading the readers who the culprit was, but wasn’t very successful in convincing us fully. In fact, it was very clear to me by the first attempt.

Historical fiction aficionados will probably gobble this up; especially those who’d been curious about Poe. I suppose it’s like reading a rumour rag: you only get a watered-down version of the truth.