Lynn Cullen's combines history, romance and a dash of mystery in her latest release - Mrs. Poe. The result? An excellent read.
1845 New York. Edgar Allan Poe's poem The Raven has just been published and it is a hit with both the literary set and the man on the street. Frances (Fanny) Osgood is also a poet, struggling to support her daughters after being abandoned by her philandering husband. She has found minor success with her children's poetry (Puss in Boots), flower and love poems. But an editor encourages to write something that he can sell - something shivery for the ladies.
"You'd like me to be a sort of Mrs. Poe? Ha! Yes.That's the ticket."
And somewhat prophetic. For Fanny does meet Poe - and there are immediate feelings of attraction between them.
"I knew that I should dislike the man, should fear him, should keep my distance at all costs. I knew that I would not." The real Mrs. Poe takes a liking to Fanny as well. Or is she simply keeping a rival close to hand?
Taking on actual historical figures as the main characters in a novel is a delicate dance. Of course, there has been much written about Poe. Cullen shows us a man who has achieved notoriety, but struggles with accepting and embracing it. His struggles with his personal life are no less challenging - alcohol, finances and of course the health of the real Mrs Poe. Poe married his thirteen year old first cousin, Virginia, when he was twenty three. Virginia's mother and Poe's aunt Mrs. Clemm, lives with them. I liked Fanny right from the first pages - she's ambitious, pragmatic, curious and intelligent. As the book progresses, we see her romantic side take the upper hand as she follows her heart, ignoring the whispers of society. Virginia Poe is bit of an enigma. Cullen chooses to reveal her through actions and dialogue. The supporting cast was wonderful as well, again incorporating many historical figures. I was particularly drawn to Eliza Bartlett and her warmth, as well as Sarah Fuller and her early women's rights activism.
Cullen's language and dialogue was wonderful, capturing the time period and social mores. The dancing within words was such fun to read - barbs couched in acceptable form, underlying meanings just below the surface and more. Her descriptions of the settings were vivid, bringing 1845 New York to life.
The literary references were fun - Clement Moore despairs that he will only be remembered for "his children's poem A Visit From St. Nicholas and not for his professorship in Oriental languages at the college that he founded." The discussions held at Anne Lynch's “conversaziones,” were fascinating. I learned so much from this novel - I stopped reading many times to head for the net, to follow up on a reference or character.
The romance between Poe and Fanny builds slowly but inexorably, leading down dangerous paths. The actual facts point to a true affection between these two historical figures. Poe's poem, A Valentine, was written for Frances Osgood. Cullen takes literary license and imagines an alternate journey and ending for Edgar, Frances......and let's not forget Virginia.
Cullen comes up with her own twist on things and surprised me in the last few chapters. Mrs. Poe is definitely recommended reading. Read an excerpt of Mrs. Poe. Book clubs - there is a reading group guide available. You can find Lynn Cullen on Facebook and on Twitter.