The best history, like reality, is messy. Fiction, on the other hand, cleans up really well. Personally I prefer history over fiction nine times out of ten, the messier the better. Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen is good, clean fun if you like that sort of thing. It is good, clean fun even if you do not like that sort of thing. Ms. Cullen is an entertaining author whose other works include The Creation of Eve and Reign of Madness. For Mrs. Poe she has entered the abyss others ventured into before her to explore the [alleged] affair between one of literature’s greatest giants, Edgar Allan Poe, and one of the field’s lesser known but competent contributors, Frances Osgood.
The two met while both were writers in New York, and both were married to other people, more or less faithfully, according to which version you explore. Poe had, at the time this novel is set, just hit it big with his breakout blockbuster of a poem, The Raven, and while Mrs. Osgood styled herself a poet, she was more famous at the time for her children’s story, Puss In Boots.
As a fictionalized account of their relationship, a romantic novel, Mrs. Poe is no worse, and somewhat better than other accounts have been. My guess is that this will not be the final word on the subject either since we are obsessed with celebrities and their every move. And to give him his due, Poe was one of the first, if not the first celebrity of his day. The Raven was such a huge hit, Poe read it aloud to packed audiences every chance he got. He was so famous indeed children on the streets of Richmond taunted him as he passed by, and he cawed and flapped his arms like the legendary bird to amuse them.
If you are looking for a light diversion on a winter’s day, this and a cup of hot cocoa will fill the bill. If, however, you require more reality dosed with your history, you may take your own time travel back to those heady days in the budding intellectual community of New York and read the actual poetry that Poe and Osgood wrote to and for each other. His include two poems, one certainly which is a version of poetic regifting since, true to form, wrote it for someone else before and just rededicated it to F__ O__. Hers to him, if they are to him, were either to flatter her editor so he would publish her, or to stir up scandal, which is what happened. The biographic take on Mrs. Osgood has always been that as a lady, and a married woman, she would not have wanted to draw attention to the affair between herself and Poe, if indeed one existed. If you study her romantic baggage, however, you will discover that she went to the dark side in her amours, and courting Poe, a major stud muffin of his day, would have been right up her alley. She liked her boys bad, very bad indeed. And then of course, there is that baby… Was it Poe’s or was it her wayward husband’s? The fact is, we may never know. But the answer to that question that did not stop Ms. Cullen, as it has not stopped others before her from exploring this tricky area of intriguing mystery. It is a subject that renders itself tolerably well for a novel, but not quite up to the standard of Poe’s faithful readers.