Review: Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Thursday, September 19, 2013
Title: Mrs. Poe
Author: Lynn Cullen
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: None
Pages: 336
Expected Publication: October 1st, 2013
Source: Publisher via NetGalley and edelweiss
Rating: 2/5

A vivid and compelling novel about a woman who becomes entangled in an affair with Edgar Allan Poe—at the same time she becomes the unwilling confidante of his much-younger wife.

It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York; not an easy task for a woman—especially one with two children and a philandering portrait painter as her husband. As Frances tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, “The Raven” has struck a public nerve.

She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman whom Edgar married.

As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory. And Mrs. Poe, who acts like an innocent child, is actually more manipulative and threatening than she appears. As Frances and Edgar’s passionate affair escalates, Frances must decide whether she can walk away before it’s too late...

Set amidst the fascinating world of New York’s literati, this smart and sexy novel offers a unique view into the life of one of history’s most unforgettable literary figures.

Reviewed by Danielle

Opening with several of Poe’s poems, To F--, To F——s S. O——d, and A Valentine, Lynn Cullen certainly makes a case that Edgar Allen Poe and Frances Osgood indeed had a romantic affair in the summer of 1845. Unfortunately, what I don’t think the author makes a case for is why.

Frances Osgood is a writer of some success, particularly with children’s stories and poems about flowers. Unfortunately, none of that seems to be selling at the beginning of 1845, as New York City is overtaken by Raven-fever. Her publisher advises her to spook up her image, become a “Mrs. Poe”, if she wants to make any money. Abandoned by her horndog husband, she reluctantly agrees, though she thinks the Raven is crap and isn’t really shy about saying so.

That is, until she meets the author and proceeds to lose her scruples along with her livelihood, reputation, common sense, and personality as she trails after Poe like a puppy. Likewise, Poe’s distinctive bite is mostly missing from the story. Together they brood, then declare undying love, and then brood some more. Then write poorly disguised love poems. Then brood. I’m told the couple share a deep, intellectual connection, but it’s never on display. Frances loves the cardboard, Poe-shaped, cutout because he flattered her once.

The love triangle ends up a love sextagon as Frances’ husband, Samuel; noted Poe-rival, Rufus Griswold; and Elizabeth Ellet all throw their hats in the ring. Although, again, why any of them want Frances and Edgar is beyond me. It’s kind of like the line in the Josie and the Pussycat’s movie, “I’m here because I was in the comic book.” They want them because their real counterparts did.

If Poe and Frances have too little personality, Virginia has an overabundance. I described her as a manic pixie arsonist. Early on, Sissy flits about, pushing dour old Eddie to try exciting new experiences like touring PT Barnum’s American Museum and visiting a young Mathew Brady for daguerreotyping. Even as her illness worsens, she still tries to be the fun, exciting kid Eddie knew in his youth, reminiscing on the times she defaced property or ruined Eddie’s personal relationships. So wacky.

(An aside, this book name drops like you wouldn’t believe. If a famous person lived in 1845, they’re not only mentioned, they’re probably visiting New York and will stop our couple at an inopportune moment! The most egregious is a scene in which Frances is walking with Griswold, who waves away a young man with the words, “Not now, Hawthorne! I’ll read your draft of The Scarlet-whatever soon.” Really? I was shocked out of the story with laughter at how forced that reference is.)

When Virginia isn’t making inappropriate comments or acting like a child, she’s at the center of the gothic “mystery”. You see, Frances is the victim of a few “accidents”. She falls off a boat and is almost run over by a carriage, Her children are almost exploded by a malfunctioning gas lamp. Sissy happens to be at each of the scenes. Coincidence, or (duh duh duh!) MURDER?!

Well MURDER, but with a twist! That relies on the main character being a complete idiot, going into an abandoned church alone, running from her twue wuv, and almost falling off a clock tower. As you do. I didn’t find it tense or interesting, and in a book that claims to be about real people, kind of...libelous? I know it’s fiction and everyone involved is 150 years dead, but it’s supposed to be based on true events and it rubs me the wrong way to detour into The Pit and the Pendulum. Especially since there can be no justice, since we know none of the Poe family did life in prison for killing a famous poet.

The book doesn’t know what it wants to be, so it ends up not being anything. It’s not sexy or scary or an interesting portrait of the Literati. I had the same issue with the last Poe book I read. May be his life just doesn’t lend itself to novelization.


  1. Wow, this sounds like a big hot mess. Being a big Poe fan I figured I should give this a shot but I really don't think I'll be doing any such thing. Great, honest review. Thank you!

    1. You're welcome! I was really hoping this would erase the sting of the Raven's Bride and its plagiarism scandal, but all it did was make me sure Sissy can't be an interesting character.

      I really like this review for a breakdown on just how historically inaccurate the whole book is:

    2. And thank you! I'm sorry, I do have human social graces.


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