Sunday, October 6, 2013


Pages: 336
Date: 06/10/2013
Grade: 4.5
Details: Received from Gallery Books
            Through NetGalley

The Blurb:

“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 Allan 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 fledgling 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.”


“A writer and his demons. A woman and her desires. A wife and her revenge…”

If you are going to write a novel about a historical figure it is hard to imagine a more fascinating person than Edgar Allan Poe. He of the dark twisted tales, who married his teenage niece, and was apparently determined to alienate the very people who admired his poetry and tales.

How different a character Frances Sargent Osgood is. She may be a poet, like Poe, but whereas his poems are created to shock and scare, hers deal with flowers and are beautiful. No wonder she is surprised when Poe confesses to admiring her poems when they first meet.

In modern times most people would understand how a woman like Frances, abandoned by her philandering husband, might fall for a man like Poe and act on that attraction. In New York of the 19th century such understanding was rare. In a time when women still became the property of the men they married any close contact between a married woman and a man other than her husband was frowned upon, if not condemned. Although there appears to be, at least in this book, a double standard in this regard. While Frances friendship with Poe is cause for scandal, nobody appears to raise an eyebrow at the way Rufus Wilmot Griswold pursued her.

Before Frances meets Poe she is convinced she dislikes the man. She doesn’t like or approve of his poem “The Raven” and fails to understand why it would be so popular when it is so very dark. However, upon meeting Poe, Frances can’t help being attracted to the man, even if it is against her better judgment.

“I knew that I should dislike the man, should fear him, should keep my distance at all costs. I knew that I would not.”

In the society in which they live their attraction to each other could never lead to a happy ending, and despite their best, if somewhat awkward, attempts at secrecy, rumours about the two of them soon spread.

When Frances befriends Poe’s wife Virginia a curious but ultimately dangerous game kicks off. Is Virginia pushing Poe and Frances together with her insistence on contact with Mrs Osgood or has she a far more sinister game in mind?

This is a fascinating book. As a story of doomed love it would have been a great read if the two characters had been fictional. The fact that both Poe and Frances are real historical figures and a possible affair between them something which has been speculated about since their own days, only makes this story more interesting.

Because of the circles in which Frances and Poe moved, the reader is treated to glimpses of a host of famous names: Miss Louise Alcott, Mr. Walter Whitman, Mr. Herman Melville, Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson, to name but a few, all make fleeting appearances. The expansion of New York City is another part of the story that makes for interesting reading. It is hard to imagine farmland and hills where nowadays we only see buildings and flat land. And the emergence of things we take for granted these days – Morse code and Central Park for example – puts this story even more firmly in its historical context.

The writing in this book is beautiful. In fact, it is easy to imagine that this book might be written by Frances herself; it sounds like a work written by someone who loves words and beauty and has a talent for combining the two.

This is a heartbreakingly beautiful story about love and loss as well as a thoroughly good read. The combination of poetic writing and an at times very dark story-line, means that the reader is thrown from pure awe at the skill of the author to pure horror about what is actually taking place. This is a book well worth reading, regardless of whether you’re a fan of Edgar Allan Poe and/or Frances Sargent Osgood or not.

It is as if producing a creative work tears a piece from your soul. When it is ripped completely free of you, the wound must bleed for a while.”

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