Set between 1845 and 1847, this novel is narrated by Frances Osgood, a Boston blueblood who enraged her family when she eloped with a talented, but grasping, portraitist. Abandoned now by her serial philanderer husband, she is living with friends as she struggles to make enough money from her writing to support herself and her two daughters.
When she meets Edgar Allan Poe -- newly superfamous for his poem "The Raven" -- her life becomes more rich and more complicated as he helps her career and spurs intense passion. Complicating things, however, is Poe's childlike wife, who is a mix of sweetness and vindictiveness that has Frances torn between guilt and anxiety.
There's a juicy, gossipy feel to the world of 19th century New York literati that will inspire you to camp out on Wiki. Cullen takes figures that popular culture seems to "know" and turns our perceptions of them on edge: Poe is Mr. McDreamy while Margaret Fuller comes off as a mere tabloid writer, hungry for money and headlines. Louisa May Alcott is a flitting fangirl and Herman Melville is a pest to be waved off. (Loyalists may dislike her imaginings, but even I, as a devoted Fuller and Alcott fan, found it fun to see my favs painted in a different light.)
Mixed into this cameo-laden fest are the atmospheric historical details that I love in hist fic, from hints about costume and dress, social behaviors, inventions and other industrial changes, and the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty.
And while the love story didn't work for me (it's the rare romance sprung out of infidelity that can warm my heart!), I still greatly enjoyed the drama and atmosphere in Mrs. Poe. The gothic overtones to the story harken back to the 19th century penny dreadful and echoes Poe's works, and make some of the credulity straining moments feel less outrageous.
This edition includes the entire text of Poe's "The Raven" as well as as a poem by Osgood, and a brief Author's Note.
Perfect for summer, this is a great novel for longtime fans of Poe as well as those unfamiliar with him and his world. It's eye-opening, a little provocative, and dramatic fun.