The Blurb (from Goodreads):
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.
I have always thought of Edgar Allen Poe as being a strange, moody, melancholy drunk, prone to irrational rages, with a mind like a dark cabinet of curiosities. This novel bursts open those misconceptions and shines a bright light on his life, through the eyes of the woman who loved him. But no, not his wife. Mrs Poe is told through the eyes of his lover, the poet Frances Osgood.
It is mostly set in 1845, the year Poe wrote his most famous poem, ‘The Raven’. There is a Mrs Poe – Edgar’s wife was his first cousin and they were married when she was only 13 – and Frances finds herself torn by love for Edgar and guilt over hurting his naïve and childlike wife.
I found this part of the book really fascinating – I did not know Poe had married his 13 year old cousin – and the psychology of their marriage was really interesting and well-done. I also loved the portrait of Frances Osgood as a woman struggling to be both a good mother and a good writer (a struggle many women I know share, including myself).
One of my favourite scenes occurs just after Frances reads ‘The Raven’ for the first time, before she meets the poet himself, and she talks about it with her two young daughters:
“That’s it!” I dropped the magazine.
“What Mamma?” asked Vinnie
“This silly alliteration – it’s clinkering, clattering claptrap.”
Ellen’s face was as straight as a judge’s on court day. “You mean it’s terrible, trifling trash?”
I nodded. “Jumbling, jarring junk.”
Vinnie jumped up, trailing shawls like a mummy trails bandages. “No it’s piggly, wiggly poop!”
“Don’t be rude, Vinnie,” I said.
The girls glanced at each other.
I frowned. “It’s exasperating, excruciating excrement.”
A final comment from Edgar Allan Poe himself:
“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night.”