Book Review | 'Mrs. Poe' by Lynn Cullen
Hey there fellow book nerds, welcome to book reviews! I have been bitten by the reading bug again, and I wanted to start sharing the books I've been reading because there have been some really great ones out there lately, and this one is one of the best I've read in a while.
This book, Mrs. Poe is written by Atlanta's own, Lynn Cullen, and I picked it up a few months ago after reading the summary on the cover. Gothic era literature isn't quite my thing, and I don't find Edgar Allan Poe to be all that great, but the scandal he was involved in was super juicy for its time.
The scandal involves a writer by the name of Frances Osgood, a poet who is trying to make a living writing in order to support herself and her two daughters while her philandering portrait painter husband is off goodness knows where. She meets Poe at a salon where the literaries of the era gather, after The Raven had just been published. Poe is the toast of the town and quickly becoming a celebrity even though most people around him find him to be rather scathing and odd.
Frances and Poe immediately develop an attraction which his young and ailing wife, Virginia, encourages, because she feels Frances is a good influence on him. Since meeting Frances, Poe has quit drinking and has become more focused on his work.
WELL no spoiler alerts here, this is history. Frances and Poe start exchanging love poems under pen names in his paper, and BOOM! we have a scandal. Reputations are at stake, gossip looms, and Frances is the one who struggles most with this and the book takes us on the roller coaster of wrestling with her own guilt, furthering her own writing career, protecting her children, dealing with a vindictive wife, and all that goes on with forbidden love.
There's a lot of intrigue and undercurrents of other subplots woven within the stories, and while the reader is always one step ahead of the characters, it's done in a way that keeps it interesting as the drama unfolds. While this story is rather well known to people who know a lot about Edgar Allan Poe and American Literature, it dramatizes it in such a way as to bring the societal tone of the time into play and make us understand why things were the way they were. In 1845 a man owned his wife, no matter how horrible he was. Divorce ruined a woman whether she was righteous or not. The man of the house had the final say in everything. You couldn't even leave the dinner table until he was finished with his supper. In a way, it's epic to see how far American society has come, but on the other hand, sad to see so many women stuck in horrible situations with nowhere to go.
I don't want to give any more away as far as how Cullen works these historical figures into the story, because that's where the magic of this story happens. My only criticism of this book is the lightness of the ending. History wasn't kind to any of them and the real ending is beyond sad and tragic. Cullen somewhat covers this in her Author's Note, but knowing how the story ends leaves the end of the story a bit hollow. However, I almost think this was a mass-market decision for distribution. Publishers hate bummers. My advice to you if you don't know the Poe love triangle from history, don't research it until you're done with the book. Read the whole book, the Author's Note, and then go on a Google adventure. I'm warning you...you'll need a good cry afterward.
So if historical fiction and tragic love stories are your thing, I highly recommend this book over a weekend.