Mrs. Poe – by Lynn Cullen – independent book review – Historical Fiction (United States)

Interested in a full-blown, 19th century forbidden romance? Complete with clandestine meetings and societal ostracism? I gave this one four stars on Goodreads, even though the writing felt a bit overly elaborate to me in places.

MRS. POE recounts a little known gem of a story from U.S. history that I had never heard or read about. A flirtation (or possible romance) between two American poets – Edgar Allan Poe and Frances “Fanny” Sargent Locke in 1840s New York City. They are known for having exchanged romantic poems, though we’ll never quite know whether they were actually intended for each other personally.

Both poets traveled in the same literary circles and both were married to others, although Locke was separated from her husband, the Boston portrait painter Samuel Stillman Osgood. And Poe’s wife Virginia (his own first cousin whom he married when she was just 13 years old) was slowly dying of tuberculosis.

At this time, Poe is poor and struggling to establish himself, partly as a poet and partly as a literary critic in his own magazine. Meanwhile Locke and her two daughters are living with friends while her painter-husband is off on “commissions.” Poe and Locke meet at one of the city’s literary salons where they mingle with lots of renowned literary figures. Like journalist Margaret Fuller, publisher Horace Greeley, writer Elizabeth Ellet, author Nathaniel Parker Willis, poet Anne Lynch, and editor Rufus Wilmot Griswold.

According to author Lynn Cullen, the story is built around a solid base of research, including a close study of the poetry of Locke and Poe. Some aspects she admits are more speculative. But the story is interesting and seems as though it could have unfolded as Cullen describes.

Lynn Cullen
Photo from her website

Cullen apparently also did quite a bit of research on New York City in the 1840s which she incorporated into the novel, a bit unevenly in my opinion. For example, a fire in one of the city’s poorer areas is eased into the plot. Fine. A demonstration of a hot air balloon is added a bit more awkwardly. And in a few places, she stuck in some famous people rather clumsily who in no way related to the main story. Like running into code-developer Samuel Morse on the street or showman P.T. Barnum at a social event.

Overall, I enjoyed the romance Cullen created and feel like I know a bit more about American poets of this era. Including Poe who, for me, has always been one of the most fascinating and mysterious figures in the literary world.

More about author, Lynn Cullen.

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