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.
Stephanie: Hello Lynn! It truly is a pleasure chatting with you today! I really enjoyed your story, Mrs. Poe. What do your cast of characters have in common?
Lynn: Thank you so very much for inviting me to your blog. I’m thrilled for a chance to chat with you—and I’m so glad that you liked Mrs. Poe! H’m, interesting first question. I’d say that what the characters have the most in common is that they all want something they can’t have. To me, one of the most fascinating things about being human is our constant craving for that which is just out of reach. Why do we always want what we can’t have? Not even the Garden of Eden was good enough for Eve. Poe and Frances Osgood were great vehicles through which to explore this common human drive for something more. They wanted fame, fortune, and great love, and it was just beyond their fingertips.
Stephanie: What fascinates you about Frances Osgood?
Lynn: I am bowled over that Frances Osgood tried to support herself and her two daughters with her poetry after her husband left her. She tried to do this in 1845, when only two or three women writers in the U.S. made enough money to live on—and they were newspaper columnists, not poets. Not even Poe was earning enough to live comfortably on his stories and poems. By the way, I learned that Poe was the first American writer to try to support himself solely with his fiction. Previous writers had inherited money, married well, or had other jobs or professions. Frankly, it didn’t work out very well for him. He was reduced to constantly begging for loans from friends and business associates. But back to Frances Osgood: I appreciate how she wrote about a woman’s role within society, and how she explores sexuality and motherhood—all heavily veiled for Victorian audiences, of course. I imagined her finding in Poe her soul mate, and wondered what it would have been like for her to be denied peace and happiness with him due to decisions they had made earlier in their lives.
This is Frances Osgood around 1845, the year she was alleged to have had an affair with Edgar Allan Poe.
Stephanie: There seems to be a few misconceptions about Poe. Could you point a few of them out?
Lynn: The Poe who we think we know is not the Poe who his contemporaries experienced. He was gentlemanly, polite, and charismatic. He had a sexy voice–ladies swooned when he recited his poems—and was easy on the eyes. Society ladies all over New York, where he lived at the time of my story, clamored for his attention.
This portrait was drawn from life around 1845, the year he rose to fame with “The Raven.” The pictures of a baggy-eyed half-mad Poe, so familiar to modern readers, were taken in the last months of his life when he was ill—never the best time for one’s photo shoot. But they fit our common image of him, an image that came to us courtesy of his real-life enemy, Rufus Griswold.
In the most brazen smear job in literary history, Griswold concocted the dark legend of Poe soon after the Poe died. Poe’s aunt and mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, had sold all of Poe’s papers to Griswold—a baffling move since Griswold publicly bashed Poe on a regular basis. In fact, wondering why she would do such a thing greatly influenced my creation of Mrs. Poe. Why would she make a man who despised Poe his literary executor? Once Griswold had Poe’s papers in his hands, he doctored them to fit his toxic view of Poe and proceeded to write a biography that would stand alone for 25 years—long enough to destroy Poe’s reputation for the next century and a half. Few came out to defend Poe when Griswold published his slanderous biography. I believe that this is because Poe had burned all his social bridges for having had an affair with Frances Osgood. He had become social poison.
Stephanie: Please tell me about Poe’s wife? Was she a writer?
Lynn: Very little is known about Poe’s wife, which is exactly what made her so perfect for me as a novelist. While shaping my story, I could make her what I wanted her to be, strictly within the parameters of the facts, of course. She was indeed thirteen years old when she married Poe and was his first cousin. Many think that they never consummated their marriage. I believe that Poe loved her deeply, but in a brotherly way–he did call her “Sis.” She dabbled in poetry although she was an amateur. A poem of hers survives but, interestingly, not an officially confirmed portrait. The only picture of her is said to have been drawn immediately after her death. The legend goes that a neighbor hustled over to her deathbed when it was determined that there were no likenesses of her. Virginia had died of tuberculosis, which was then called “consumption,” an apt name since its victims wasted away, consumed by the disease. To my mind, the subject of this portrait, which was handed down through the Poe family, is way too plump to be a consumption patient. I don’t believe it’s really Virginia, or, if it’s her, I don’t believe that it was done after her death. Because I don’t buy the legend of the portrait, I provided a different explanation of how the portrait came to be in my book. Hint: Frances Osgood’s husband happened to be a portraitist….
Stephanie: When did you first develop your plot? Did you know exactly how you wanted it to evolve? And how long did it take for you to write your story?
Lynn: I wrote the plot around the question, “How did Poe go from being the most celebrated man in New York upon the publication of ‘The Raven’ to being a social outcast within one year, 1845-1846?” I wrote it much as you read the book, making shocking discoveries along the way. The twists that you experience as a reader I actually experienced while writing it. The lives of Poe and Frances Osgood provided plenty of fodder for my story but I also had their works to draw from. I based my plot around what they were writing during the time of my tale. It took me about a year to write a first draft of Mrs. Poe, including the time it took to travel to every scene in the book. I wrote to exhaustion most days, as if my life depended on it, which it did. I was the sole supporter of my family at the time.
Stephanie: What are some of the positive things people have said about your story?
Lynn: Oh, gosh, people have been astonishingly wonderful. I really can hardly believe it. Oprah made it a Book of the Week. NPR named it “Best of 2013.” Target chose it as their Target Book Club selection. But it’s the readers who take the time to write to me, telling me how much the story meant to them, who touch me the most. Their kindness and support never fails to amaze me. I am so grateful. I also got a kick out of a video blogger who said that he loved my book so much that he wanted to punch it in the face. He said that he wished that he had written it, which to me is the ultimate compliment. That’s how I feel about the books that I love best—I wish I had done them!
Stephanie: Is this your first published book?
Lynn: Well, no. I’ve been published for 23 years, although 14 of my books have been for children. Only my latest three have been for adults. I wrote for children when my kids were young—my career grew up when they did. I have no regrets about starting out in children’s books. I loved going to schools and talking with my readers. I am always impressed with how smart kids are.
Stephanie: What was your writing process for this story? Any research involved?
Lynn: Ha, my middle name is Research. I love researching and gladly travel to every single scene of my books. I would love to spend all my time reading up on my subjects and hanging out in archives and museums as well as haunting the places where my characters lived. The discovery aspect of research is so delicious! But alas, books don’t write themselves. Early on in the research—make that within two months—I made myself start to write, basing my plot on the question I mentioned above about Poe’s meteoric rise and fall. I had an idea about where I was going with the story—I knew how the Poe-Osgood affair ended—and slowly worked my way to the conclusion. I tend to write chronologically. No skipping to the end for me. Writing my way to that last scene forces me to construct one page after the other. The ending is the carrot that I hold out for myself.
Stephanie: Did you discover anything about Poe’s life you didn’t know before?
Lynn: Beyond the usual misconceptions most Americans hold about Poe, I knew nothing about him before I started writing the book. Writing Mrs. Poe was an immersion course in all things Edgar. Every day was a new discovery and still I’m making them. Recently, at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, the curator, Christopher Semtner, pointed out that Maria Clemm’s stockings on display had spider-webs woven into them. Sure enough, they did. The lady had a witch’s stockings! How perfect for the woman who ended up destroying her own nephew’s reputation by selling his papers to his greatest enemy.
Stephanie: What are you currently working on?
Lynn: I’m working on a novel about Mark Twain, told from the perspective of the women in his life. Like Poe, he is not who most Americans think he is. Interestingly, his image was a product of his and his family’s careful shaping. The real man was much rougher around the edges.
Stephanie: Where in your home do you like to write and how often do you write?
Lynn: I write for about eight hours a day (if I can get it,) preferably in a lawn chair on my patio. My writing is often broken up by watching hummingbirds feed or bluebirds tending to their young…when I’m not dipping back inside for a snack.
Stephanie: What advice would you give to an inspiring author?
Lynn: Read constantly. Take courses on writing. Find readers whose opinions you trust and have them read your drafts—there isn’t a writer alive who can’t benefit from a second pair of eyes looking at their work. Listen to sound advice on your writing and always, always, keep your mind open to learning how you can write better. And after doing all this, find joy in your writing. It will show in your work.
Stephanie: Thank you!
Lynn: Thank you very much. I appreciate your great questions! Such a pleasure to talk with you today.
I have always wondered about Poe’s personal life and what drove him to write such stories. I didn’t know anything about his wife or his literary circles. I too had so many misconceptions about him before reading this novel. When I first discovered this book, I was completely intrigued with the book cover first off and when I discovered the premise of the story, I knew I HAD to read this book as soon as I could.
I have discovered Frances Osgood through this intriguing story and I enjoyed the interaction between Poe and Osgood. I felt Cullen did a splendid job developing her character and has left me wanting to know more about her.
When Mrs. Poe was introduced in the story, I could literally sense a troubled soul coming through the pages! What a complex, dark, frightening- yet-pitiful person she is. Fascinating and thrilling in a bizarre sort-of way.
I loved all the characters in this book and most of all, the interaction between Poe’s and Frances’s literary circles and their followers. And I have to say that Cullen brilliantly set the tone of the nineteenth century and an era of Victorian lifestyle and mindsets. I really cannot say enough about this book. You just have to read the story for yourself and be swept up into Poe’s world.
Stephanie Moore Hopkins
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About the Author
Lynn Cullen grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the fifth girl in a family of seven children. She learned to love history combined with traveling while visiting historic sites across the U.S. on annual family camping trips. She attended Indiana University in Bloomington and Fort Wayne, and took writing classes with Tom McHaney at Georgia State. She wrote children’s books as her three daughters were growing up, while working in a pediatric office and later, at Emory University on the editorial staff of a psychoanalytic journal. While her camping expeditions across the States have become fact-finding missions across Europe, she still loves digging into the past. She does not miss, however, sleeping in musty sleeping bags. Or eating canned fruit cocktail. She now lives in Atlanta with her husband, their dog, and two unscrupulous cats.
Lynn Cullen is the author of The Creation of Eve, named among the best fiction books of 2010 by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and as an April 2010 Indie Next selection. She is also the author of numerous award-winning books for children, including the young adult novel I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter, which was a 2007 Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection, and an ALA Best Book of 2008. Her novel, Reign of Madness, about Juana the Mad, daughter of the Spanish Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, was chosen as a 2011 Best of the South selection by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and was a 2012 Townsend Prize finalist. Her newest novel, MRS. POE, examines the fall of Edgar Allan Poe through the eyes of poet Francis Osgood.
Praise for Mrs. Poe
“Is it true that Edgar Allen Poe cheated on his tubercular, insipid young wife with a lady poet he’d met at a literary salon? Cullen makes you hope so.” –New York Times
“This fictional reenactment of the mistress of Edgar Allan Poe escorts you into the glittering world of New York in the 1840s…A bewitching, vivid trip into the heyday of American literary society.” –Oprah.com, Book of the Week
“Vivid…Atmospheric…Don’t miss it.” –People
“Nevermore shall you wonder what it might have been like to fall deeply in love with Edgar Allen Poe… Mrs. Poe nails the period.” –NPR
“A page-turning tale…Readers who loved Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife will relish another novel based on historical scandal and romance.” –Library Journal, starred review
“Immensely engaging…Set upon the backdrop of a fascinating era…this is not only a captivating story of forbidden lovers but an elaborately spun tale of NYC society.” –The Historical Novels Review
“A must-read for those intrigued by Poe, poetry and the latter half of nineteenth-century America.” –RT Book Reviews (4 stars)
Virtual Book Tour Schedule
Tuesday, May 20 Interview & Giveaway at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, May 21 Interview & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, May 22 Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Friday, May 23 Review at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, May 27 Review at A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, May 28 Review at Turning the Pages
Friday, May 30 Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Wednesday, June 4 Review & Giveaway at Reading Lark
Monday, June 9 Review at Historical Tapestry
Wednesday, June 11 Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry
Thursday, June 12 Interview & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Friday, June 13 Review at Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, June 18 Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views