Review: Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

mrs-poeA writer and his demons. A woman and her desires. A wife and her revenge . . .
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. . . .” – Publisher Summary

Y’all, what can I say? Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen has taken my breath away. I have always been fascinated with Edgar Allen Poe, ever since I read The Tell-Tale Heart at age seven (there was many a sleepless night after that one, my mother would like me to tell you). Despite my fascination, I knew little about Poe’s actual personal life – well, that changed when I read this novel, that is for sure. Cullen presents very well researched fact with fiction in this reimagining of Poe’s rumored involvement with Frances Sargent Osgood, and the love triangle it created between the two of them and Poe’s wife, Virginia.

As Cullen’s tale begins, Poe’s The Raven has just dazzled the literary world and is paving the road for his fame. Frances Osgood, one of few successful published female writers, is attempting to compete with him. Passing marginally in the same social circles, theirs is a fateful introduction one evening at a literary salon. From the moment they are introduced, Frances and Poe feel an instant strange and inexplicable connection.

Frances Osgood is portrayed as a very likeable character. Despite becoming involved with a married man, she seems to be a woman of good standing and morals, and does want to do the right thing. She and her children have been abandoned by her philandering husband and are simply trying to survive in the world; can we fault her for being lonely and unable to resist this seemingly unbreakable tie holding her to Poe? Likewise, it was easy to love Edgar and to see how easily misunderstood he truly was. He appeared to be quite socially awkward as well as very emotionally driven. It was interesting to observe such a tender and kind side to a  man who has traditionally been portrayed as so dark and somewhat insane.

The character I disliked the most was Mrs. Poe {well, and her simpering mother, too}. While initially tempted to feel sympathetic toward her for her chronic illness, that tendency soon fell away when it became clear how she used her illness to manipulate Edgar and others. She, also, was socially awkward, but it seems as though she was more shrewd than she appeared in her assessment of Frances’s role in the Poes’ lives. Despite her frailty, she also had a chilling and ominous side that appeared whenever she was visiting with Frances {and her children} that filled me with chills. I do recognize that Mrs. Poe was in a way a victim herself, but it was still just so difficult for me to sympathize with her!

This is a love story that captivated me from the very beginning. It enveloped me in its power and beauty as it raced along, fraught with turmoil, suspicion, illicit meetings, and scorned lovers. This is not a Cinderella ending, so don’t be expecting rainbows and puppies as you close the cover, but you can expect to feel your heart beating just a little more quickly than usual; your muscles slightly tensed; a deep sigh of satisfaction emanating from your lungs. Head out and get your copy today.

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen is now available in paperback! Buy it, read it, love it.

4 out of 5 stars

Gallery Books {via NetGalley}

 

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