POE (Gallery Books; October 2013; Hardcover; $26.00),
chosen for the October 2013 Indie Next List, award-nominated
author Lynn Cullen uses meticulously researched historical details to
deliver a pitch-perfect rendering of Edgar Allen Poe, his mistress’s
tantalizing confession, and his wife’s frightening obsession, all
inspired by literature’s most haunting love triangle.
1845: New York City is a sprawling warren of gaslit streets and
crowded avenues, bustling with new immigrants and old money, optimism
and opportunity, poverty and crime. Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” is
all the rage—the success of which a struggling poet like Frances
Osgood can only dream. As a mother trying to support two young
children after her husband’s cruel betrayal, Frances jumps at the
chance to meet the illustrious Mr. Poe at a small literary gathering,
if only to help her fledging career. Although not a great fan of Poe’s
writing, she is nonetheless 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 affair…and with each
clandestine encounter, Frances finds herself falling slowly and
inexorably under the spell of her mysterious, complicated lover.
But when Edgar’s frail wife Virginia insists on befriending Frances as
well, the relationship becomes as dark and twisted as one of Poe’s
tales. And like those gothic heroines whose fates are forever sealed,
Frances begins to fear that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as
cheating death itself.
Much like The Paris Wife, MRS. POE combines literary fiction with
reimagined historical drama; much like Poe himself, Lynn Cullen
captures his mysterious and macabre tone. While providing a
voyeuristic peek into the heart and mind one of the history’s most
fascinating literary figures, Cullen explores the themes of artistic
expression, social standing in the 1800s, and the self-ownership of
Read an Excerpt-
Two weeks later, I was tucked beneath a thick buffalo robe, riding
downtown in Miss Fuller’s carriage. I had been too nervous to enjoy
the trip or to appreciate Miss Fuller’s carriage, pulled by a clopping
bay. That Miss Fuller was the only woman in New York to support
herself by writing, let alone to have enough leftover to buy her own
buggy, mattered little to me at that moment. Why had I agreed to meet
Poe? And why would he want to meet me? He had already made and broken
an appointment the previous week. I had been relieved by the
cancellation, only to become agitated once more when he set up a
different date. As suddenly and inexplicably as he had championed my
poetry at the New York Society Library, he could withdraw his support
if I said something wrong. Who knew what triggered the man’s tomahawk?
Miss Fuller jerked on the reins. “Here we are.” She looked at me
expectantly, as if I should climb out of her trim little gig without
“Shouldn’t we wait for the doormen to take your reins?” I asked.
“Take my reins? Oh—did you think I was coming with you? No, no, dear,
I’m off to investigate a slum on Hester Street. You really thought I
was coming with you? I only meant that I would take you
here. I thought your husband would appreciate my escorting you since
he is, as you say, out of town.”
“Would you rather I came with you to the slum?” I asked.
“And have you jilt Mr. Poe? I wouldn’t dare.” Miss Fuller steadied her
horse, then waved me toward the hotel. “Go on. It will be good for
Reluctantly, I climbed out from under the heavy robe. I held my breath
as the carriage rattled away.
I found myself on the sidewalk before the hotel, contemplating an
immediate about-face up Broadway when I felt someone’s presence behind
me. Before I could move, a man said, “Lord help the poor bears and
I turned to find Mr. Poe, his black-lashed eyes trained upon the
building before us. Without a hello he said, “Davy Crockett’s words,
upon first seeing this pile.”
I hesitated. “Because of Mr. Astor’s fur trade?”
He continued as if I had not spoken. “But Crockett was mistaken. It
wasn’t the bears and the beavers that made Astor’s fortune. It was the
opium he bought from the Chinese.”
I looked at him in surprise. “Mr. Astor deals in opium?”
He kept his gaze upon the hotel. “Whenever you see this much wealth,
assume that someone dirtied his hands. Fortunes don’t come to saints.”
“I’ve never thought of that.”
He gave me a sharp glance. “Really?”
I drew back, chastened.
“Mr. Astor prefers to be known for the slaughter of animals rather
than for his association with opiates. I wonder why that is.” He
lowered his sights to me. “Shall we enter, Mrs. Osgood?”
So he did recognize me. I preceded him inside, into the hot maw of the
lobby. As we walked past impressive people dressed in beautiful
clothes, I felt low and insignificant, a ne’er-do-well’s abandoned
wife, although my gown was as fine as anyone’s. What a sham I was.
I stopped to face him. “Congratulations on the success of ‘The Raven.’ ”
He frowned as if insulted.
“People love it. I hear talk of it everywhere I go.”
“‘People’ have no taste. Don’t tell me that you think it’s a work of genius.”
Was this a trick? I scanned his dark-rimmed eyes for clues.
When I did not answer he said, “Thank you, Mrs. Osgood. You’re the
first honest woman I have met in New York.” He shook his head.
“It is my luck that I will become famous for that piece.”
Still not sure that I shouldn’t be gushing, I switched to safer
ground. “May I ask what you are working on now?”
“A book on the material and spiritual universe.”
He watched me coolly.
“I’m sorry. I thought you were joking.”
“I never joke.”
“Of course not. Excuse me.”
“Although I wish I were. It will never sell.”
“Your work always sells,” I said lightly.
“Not any of my works with a true idea in them. People want to be
titillated or frightened. They don’t want to think.”
I smiled hesitantly. What did he want with me?
“This is why I singled out your poems in my lecture,” he said. “They
have real feeling in them, if one reads between the lines.”
I could not help but be disarmed. “Thank you. I find that the thoughts
spoken between the lines are the most important parts of a poem or
“As in life.”
I reluctantly met his intense gaze. “Yes.”
“I am particularly taken with your poem, ‘Lenore’:
So when Love poured through thy pure heart his lightning,
On thy pale cheek the soft rose-hues awoke—
So when wild Passion, that timid heart frightening,
Poisoned the treasure, it trembled and broke!
I swallowed my surprise. “You memorized it.”
An elegant couple drifted by, he in succulent wool and she in layers
of costly lace. Mr. Poe frowned. “It spoke to me somehow, and not just
because I had written a poem with the same title and had used the name
in ‘The Raven.’ ”
He stared at me.
I looked away. Why had Mr. Poe called this meeting? Surely he had
better things to do than to raise the hopes of an unknown writer.
“You are probably wondering why I wished to meet you.”
I drew in a breath.
“Actually, it is on behalf of my wife.”
He frowned slightly at my unnecessary question. “She is a great
reader. I have taught her all of the classics. I like to encourage her
when she shows interest in good work, and your poems, Mrs. Osgood,
I pictured the pretty woman-child I had seen at Miss Lynch’s
conversazione. I wondered if it was my poems for adults or for
children that she admired.
“Thank you for your kind words, Mr. Poe. I wish she were here so that
I could thank her, too.”
His expression hardened. “She has had bronchitis. Her recovery has
been long and difficult. There was no question of her going out
“I am sorry to hear that.”
“The few times she has ventured beyond our home have only served to
set her back.”
“I am truly very sorry.”
He glanced away, then glared as if I’d offended him. “You will not
hear her complain. She’s a brave, good girl. If I could only take her
to Jamaica or Bermuda or some such hot clime, I’m certain she would
Why did they not go, then? With his success, surely he had the money.
“I hope she gets well soon.”
His expression settled back into cool civility. “It is bold of me to
ask—we are perfect strangers, and you have obligations to your husband
and family—but might you come visit her someday? I know
from looking into your eyes that you are a good person, and kind, and
that your gentle association might help her.”
That was why he wished to meet with me? Ashamed of my disappointment,
I exclaimed, “I should like very much to meet her! Might I have the
pleasure of visiting her at your home?”
“Mrs. Osgood, you are too kind. Yes. Yes, we’d like that very much.”
“When would you like me to come?”
“At your convenience.”
“Would next week suit you?”
“Name your day. Any day. I will arrange my schedule around you.”
“Monday? In the afternoon?” I saved my morning hours for writing . . .
writing, that is, what I hoped would be my imitation of his work.
He bowed, as stiffly formal as if in a royal court. “We would be so grateful.”
He gave me directions to his home on 154 Greenwich Street, then bowing
again, left me in Astor’s parlor with all the frippery that bears and
beavers and opium could buy.