Inspired by literature's most haunting love triangle, award-winning author Lynn Cullen delivers a pitch-perfect rendering of Edgar Allan Poe, his mistress's tantalizing confession, and his wife's frightening obsession . Read more...
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Inspired by literature's most haunting love triangle, award-winning author Lynn Cullen delivers a pitch-perfect rendering of Edgar Allan Poe, his mistress's tantalizing confession, and his wife's frightening obsession . . . in this "intelligent, sexy, and utterly addictive" (M. J. Rose) new masterpiece of historical fiction.
1845: New York City is a sprawling warren of gaslit streets and crowded avenues, bustling with new immigrants and old money, optimism and opportunity, poverty and crime. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" is all the rage--the success of which a struggling poet like Frances Osgood can only dream. As a mother trying to support two young children after her husband's cruel betrayal, Frances jumps at the chance to meet the illustrious Mr. Poe at a small literary gathering, if only to help her fledgling career. Although not a great fan of Poe's writing, she is nonetheless overwhelmed by his magnetic presence-- and the surprising revelation that he admires "her" work.
What follows is a flirtation, then a seduction, then an illicit affair . . . and with each clandestine encounter, Frances finds herself falling slowly and inexorably under the spell of her mysterious, complicated lover. But when Edgar's frail wife Virginia insists on befriending Frances as well, the relationship becomes as dark and twisted as one of Poe's tales. And like those gothic heroines whose fates are forever sealed, Frances begins to fear that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself. . . .
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-08-19
- Reviewer: Staff
Cullen, whose previous novels have focused on obscure women from the past, such as Juana of Castile (Reign of Madness) and Sofonisba Anguissola (The Creation of Eve), now turns her attention to Frances Sargent Osgood, a mid-19th-century poet and children’s author who, some believe, was romantically involved with Edgar Allen Poe. As the novel opens in 1845, Poe is the toast of literary New York, having just published the sensationally successful poem “The Raven.” Meanwhile, Mrs. Osgood, recently spurned by her philandering artist husband, is under enormous pressure to publish her work and thereby provide for her two young daughters. At a series of literary salons (many featuring cameos by other famous names of Poe’s day), Mrs. Osgood and Poe develop a mutual attraction, as noticed not only by their peers but also by Poe’s young and fragile wife, Virginia. Virginia’s initially friendly overtures to her romantic rival become increasingly threatening, a nod to the macabre that seems unnecessary and gratuitous, as does the often-awkward insertion of research into the narrative. More successful is Cullen’s portrayal of Osgood as a literary woman attempting to make a name (and a living) for herself against the odds. Agent: Emma Sweeney, Emma Sweeney Agency. (Oct.)
Nameless here for evermore
Often the hardest thing for a historical novel to do—especially one centered on a real and very famous figure—is surprise its reader. After all, we know how the stories of people like Anne Boleyn and Joan of Arc and even Edgar Allan Poe end. With Mrs. Poe, Lynn Cullen weaves a dark, sensuous love triangle between three real people, and in the midst of many real historical details, she creates something truly and wonderfully surprising.
Cullen’s narrator is Frances Osgood, a struggling writer separated from her husband and trying to support her two children in 1845 New York City. The whole town is under the spell of Edgar Allan Poe and his poem “The Raven,” and when Osgood gets the opportunity to meet the famous author, she finds herself just as captivated by his personal charms as by his literary ones. Their friendship quickly becomes something more, and the pair begin to trade romantic poems and steal quiet moments together, even as Osgood grows closer to Poe’s wife: his young, sickly cousin, Virginia. As Osgood’s relationship with both Mr. and Mrs. Poe grows more complex, Cullen weaves a dense, taut web of secrets and schemes that, like so many of Poe’s own tales, leads us into uncanny territory.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the novel is Cullen’s ability to take Poe, someone often seen as a figure of absolute mystery even by his fans, and sculpt him into a finely drawn character through historical details and her own deft prose. The effect is heightened by Osgood’s narration. She is an even stronger character than the captivating Poe, and sweeps us along with her in ways both inviting and terrifying.
A different historical novelist might have been carried away by the mysterious celebrity of her characters. Cullen is never intimidated, and the result is a novel filled with thrillingly real people. Devotees of dark historical fiction will devour Mrs. Poe, but so too will fans of Gothic romance and forbidden love stories. This is an invigoratingly creepy historical novel propelled by brilliant pacing. If you like books that send a little shiver up your spine, don’t miss it.