Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen: A Review
I read an early ARC and an uncorrected proof of Mrs. Poe provided by the author’s publishing house Gallery Books and the author, Lynn Cullen. I must also say that in this uncorrected proof I found no grammatical errors or even typos. Seriously, this never happens! Also, you will find a link to the author's website at the end of my review. So, look out for it!
A writer and his demons. A woman and her desires. A wife and her revenge . . .
New York, 1845. Mrs. Poe “The Raven” is all the literary rage—the success of which a struggling poet like Frances Osgood can only dream. As a mother trying to support two children after her husband’s betrayal, Frances jumps at the opportunity to meet the mysterious Poe, if only to help her career. Although not a fan of his writing, Frances is 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 love affair. But when Edgar’s frail wife Virginia—a cousin half his age—insists on befriending Frances as well, the relationship becomes as dark and deceiving, as full of twists and turns, as one of Poe’s tales . . . and maybe, as Frances fears, every bit as deadly.
Closely based on Poe’s life and writings, and rich with authentic historical detail, Mrs. Poe is a novel of romantic obsession as passionate and enduring as its brilliant subject.
‘Now, hunched against the icy wind and feeling the pinch of my thin pointed boots and the stabbing of my corset stays, I marched up the assault on the senses that is called Broadway. The loud swirl of striving people and their beasts dazzled the eyes, as did the brightly painted establishments bristling with signs that bragged LIFE-LIKE DAGUERREOTYPES! WORLD’S FRESHEST OYSTERS! MOUTH-WATERING ICE CREAM! FINEST QUALITY LADIES’ FANS! The stench of rotting sea creatures commingled with the sweet scent of perfumes, as did the spicy odor of unwashed human flesh and the aroma of baking pies.’(Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen, page 8)
From the moment I read the first chapter, I was immediately enthralled by Lynn Cullen’s writing style. It is descriptive and beautiful in nature. With obvious love and admiration for Edgar Allan Poe and his works, the author writes her dialogue scenes with such authenticity you swear you are in the parlor of one of Poe’s closest friends. You have become an outsider who somehow received an invitation to one of these private gatherings where Mr. Poe will arrive with his ailing younger wife, Virginia, to read his latest published poem, “The Raven”.
This is the feeling that comes over me while reading, ‘Mrs. Poe’. Lynn Cullen has painstakingly researched the life of Edgar Allan Poe and his working colleagues and personal friends only to cover one year of his life in this novel. For instance, ‘Mrs. Poe’ covers the winter of 1845 through to the winter of 1846 in mostly the area of New York City known as Greenwich Village. Not only does the author keep true to Poe’s life in terms of his poems and stories but his newspaper and publishing life while living in New York City between 1845-6. 'Mrs. Poe' is not a biography of one of his wives, nor is it a flat-out romantic love story. It is my opinion, after reading and unabashedly loving, ‘Mrs. Poe’ that Lynn Cullen sets up a surprising twist, one of many, by giving the title dual meaning and leaving it up to the reader essentially. There is a reference made by the character of Mr. Morris of The Mirror to the character of Frances Osgood, "The Mirror is a popular magazine, Mrs. Osgood. We’re not interested in literature for scholars. Bring me something fresh and entertaining. Something dark that will make the lady readers afraid to snuff their candles at night. You do that, and I’ll see what I can do for you." The title Mrs. Poe could possibly refer to a woman writer who writes dark stories in the style of a Mrs. Poe, the wife of Edgar Allan Poe, if she were to write dark stories.
I am very happy that Mrs. Poe is written from the perspective of Frances Osgood and not Mrs. Poe, Virginia Poe, as would be expected. Reading Mrs. Poe made me want to learn more about who the real woman was. She was a poet at the time Edgar Allan Poe was indeed having success. Frances Osgood had published children’s books including the mention in the novel of ‘Puss in Boots’ and she wanted to write more poetry and be published for that as well. I loved that Frances and Edgar seemed to be on the same professional level. They moved in the same circles. It is not definitely known whether or not they had an affair or even that each other’s spouses at the time were not as romantically interested as the author implies. For the romantic aspect of the story, Lynn Cullen does not push the two together immediately and it does take a lot of time for them to become lovers. As a reader, I wanted them to come together and I admire the way the author handles this aspect of the story and the plot. There is much tension between them, there are many 19th century meetings, bumping into each other on the streets, visiting Poe’s home while beginning to develop a friendship with Virginia Poe, all culminating in a plot twist that I didn’t see coming! A Gothic red herring as you’ve never seen before, or maybe you have!
In ‘Mrs. Poe’ you will find snippets and verses of both poetry from Poe and Frances Osgood which only intensifies the storyline while providing a richness in subtext making the plot come together all the more valiantly. I love when the story is based on rumor and innuendo and the people were real people who lived, worked and loved at one time as opposed to made up characters. I cared about these people; I cared about the poetry, the incredible ambiance of the changing seasons of Greenwich Village. It is an amazing feeling to be able to read about your hometown during a decade that was not only one of the most fascinating and important decades in history but to know and be able to picture in your mind what the streets look like and feel like, I hope I can convey my blissfulness.
Also, in Mrs. Poe, the author treats the marriage between Frances and Samuel Osgood who was a painter himself with such respect that the romantic chapters between them were such fun to read. Lynn Cullen has a rare knack of capturing bygone eras while maintaining a fundamental realism between the characters and the storyline that the reader cannot help but keep reading.
Seriously, the writing style, the dialogue, the New York City atmosphere come to life before your eyes with every word on the page you will be enraptured by this story, these people, the surroundings and hopefully you will want to do some research and investigating of your own.
To -- -- --. Ulalume: A Ballad
By Edgar Allan Poe
The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crispéd and sere—
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir—
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.
Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul—
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll—
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole—
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.
Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere—
Our memories were treacherous and sere—
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year—
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber—
(Though once we had journeyed down here)—
We remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.
And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn—
As the star-dials hinted of morn—
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn—
Astarte's bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.
And I said—"She is warmer than Dian:
She rolls through an ether of sighs—
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies—
To the Lethean peace of the skies—
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes—
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes."
But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said—"Sadly this star I mistrust—
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:—
Oh, hasten! oh, let us not linger!
Oh, fly!—let us fly!—for we must."
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings till they trailed in the dust—
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust—
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.
I replied—"This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybilic splendor is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty to-night:—
See!—it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright—
We safely may trust to a gleaming
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night."
Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom—
And conquered her scruples and gloom:
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb—
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said—"What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?"
'Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!"
Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crispèd and sere—
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried—"It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed—I journeyed down here—
That I brought a dread burden down here—
On this night of all nights in the year,
Oh, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber—
This misty mid region of Weir—
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber—
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir."
Said we, then—the two, then—"Ah, can it
Have been that the woodlandish ghouls—
The pitiful, the merciful ghouls—
To bar up our way and to ban it
From the secret that lies in these wolds—
From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds—
Had drawn up the spectre of a planet
From the limbo of lunary souls—
This sinfully scintillant planet
From the Hell of the planetary souls?"
Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen shows a release date of October 1, 2013, available online for purchase on Amazon, etc. If this changes I will update it here!
For more information about Mrs. Poe or any of the author's other books, Lynn Cullen