Where I got It: A review copy via the publisher (thanks!).
Who I Recommend This To: Edgar Allen Poe fans, historical fiction fans, romance fans.
Narrator: Eliza Foss
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)
Length: 12 hours 1 minutes
Mrs. Frances Osgood, a poet, mother of 2, and wife to a philandering (but famous) portraitist Samuel Osgood, finds herself connecting to another lonely soul, poet Edgar Allen Poe. Lynn Cullen takes the time to set the scene, drawing the reader into the time and place. Slavery still exists. The US continues to expand west, affecting Native Americans. Women have no rights other than those the man of the house (usually the husband) grant them. We also get to know the characters as individuals before they become involved with each other. As the readers, we walk into their lives in 1845. Gas lighting and whale oil are in. The Raven, Poe’s famous poem, as been published and is all the rage. Mrs. Virginia Poe is ill with consumption but still able to mostly hide it from the public.
As I have said before, poetry isn’t my thing unless it is ancient and epic. But I was immediately drawn into the historical fiction by its ambiance. I loved how the author wove the building blocks of this tale together, bringing life to people and setting. Frances was an abandoned wife with 2 small girls trying to make a life on her writing. True, some good friends took her in and her daughters in. Life wasn’t too hard. There was at least 1 maid, someone to watch after the kids, and a cook. But societal norms required Frances to pretend that her husband was merely off on work, instead of plowing another’s field.
When we do meet Poe, he is rather stand offish. While his poem The Raven is all the rage, he doesn’t think it is one of his best works. Neither does Frances. Her honesty sets the first brick on which their friendship can build. And it also attracts the attention of Poe’s wife, Virginia. Virginia and Edgar are cousins, first cousins. And Virginia married the 27 year old Poe when she was 13. I know, all sorts of ‘Eww!’ factor all over that. While those facts are built into the story, we learn them from Frances point of view and the relationship between Edgar and Virginia is never explained in detail, but rather, left in broadstrokes which allow the mystery to build. Virginia is 23 or 24 at the time of this story.
As Edgar and Frances begin to explore their friendship and mutual appreciation for poetry, society starts to judge both harshly. Both are married. Even though it becomes widely known that Frances husband is a cad with a lose zipper, Frances is still required to act the ‘proper wife’. While little is known of Edgar’s private life, high society turns to his modest background, using it as an excuse for him not ‘being fit for proper society’. As you can see, I wanted to take some of those high society members and knock their heads together!
And there’s mystery! Virginia seems to be fixated on Frances, sometimes imitating her in dress and sometimes antagonizing her. Then there are a series of mysterious mishaps that seem to occur whenever Virginia comes calling. It definitely added suspense to the story.
While the story during the last quarter does focus more on the doomed romance and not so much the historical fiction, I was definitely attached to the characters by that point and had to finish the novel to see what happened.
The Narration: Eliza Foss was the perfect voice for Frances Osgood. She was cultured, sincere, and emotional when needed. She also had a nice, deeper voice for Poe that makes him sound way sexier than his Wikipedia photo leads one to believe.
What I Liked: The rich historical background; Frances is an intelligent woman trapped by societal norms in a difficult position; the odd, creepines of Mrs. Poe; the suspense/mystery.
What I Disliked: This historical fiction devolved into a doomed romance at the end.
What Others Think: