(Cemetery photos taken at Trinity Church Cemetery at 74 Trinity Place at Wall Street and Broadway.)
New York has been home and muse to an astonishing number of authors and poets. The highlight of my own visit to New York, was the Famous Authors and Poets of Greenwich Village tour I booked through AnyRoad with J. Americus Squires. (we’ll talk more about him in the next post!) One of the great American authors to call New York home for a while, was Edgar Allan Poe who lived in the city from 1844 until his death. (He died in his birth city, Baltimore, on his way home to New York from a speaking engagement in Richmond.)
Plagued by financial challenges, he never had a grand New York home. Instead he lived in a series of apartments, boarding houses, and rented homes in the country (the locations of which have since been swallowed up by the city’s sprawling urban development).
His most stable and productive period, from 1844 to 1847 coincides with his professional friendship with Mrs. Francis Osgood, one of the few female writers in the city. She was popular for her sentimental poetry from a female perspective and her children’s stories. Virginia Clem-Poe, Edgar’s wife, credited the influence of Francis for her husband’s productivity and sobriety. While there were rumors that Edgar and Francis engaged in an affair (and even speculation that Francis’ youngest child was fathered by Edgar, most historians believe that, at most, they may have indulged in a minor flirtation that culminated in Poe and Francis exchanging a dialog of poetry published in Poe’s magazine under pseudonyms. Most serious scholars believe their romance began and ended on those pages alone. Indeed, their respective spouses and families socialized together regularly until the death of Edgar’s wife.
The book Mrs. Poe takes a different plot line than history. Lynn Cullen speculates how Edgar and Francis would have fallen in love, navigated their marriages and the strict rules of society without violating known historical facts. After all, history doesn’t know everything and Cullen fills in the gaps with an intellectual romance and Poe-worthy mystery.
What Wander Readers will love:
- Lynn Cullen brings 19th century New York to life. I enjoyed reading with my tourist maps handy to see where characters lived, worked and went during the story. “I arrived upon the shoveled promenade of Broadway. Vehicles poured down the thoroughfare before me as if a vein in the city had been opened and it was bleeding convinces down the bumpy cobblestones. The din they made was deafening. The mass of hooves of shaggy draft horses clashed against the street as they pulled rumbling wagons bulging with barrels. Stately carriages creaked by behind clopping bays. Hackneys-for-hire rattled alongside omnibuses with windows filled with staring faces. Whips cracked, drivers shouted, dogs barked. In the midst of it all on a balcony on the Barnums’ building a brass band tootled. It was enough to test one’s sanity.” ~Lynn Cullen, Mrs. Poe (For what it’s worth, I didn’t find it any quieter when I was there in September 2015.)
- There are so many historical tidbits about New York culture and history tucked into the nooks and crannies of Mrs. Poe. Did you know a potter’s field of nameless graves was turned into Washington Square Park… without moving the bodies?
- You get a peek into the history of the New York literary circles. Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcot, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Horace greeley and others become secondary characters or have cameo appearances. (Oh how I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at one of Ms. Charlotte Lynch’s “conversaciones”.)
- Edger freeking Allan Poe! What more do you want really? While the romance between Francis and Edgar is purely speculative, the story does shed some light on how Poe got his reputation as an unstable, womanizing, alcoholic and addict. Many of his flaws were grossly exaggerated by competitors and writers (who, to be fair, Poe himself antagonized with vicious public criticisms.) The little flashes of insight into his professional and personal life mixed in with heavy fiction, makes for a fun exercise in sorting between the two. (Well… fun for lovers of literature like us anyway.) “Madness… is as a drop of ink in water. It sends sly tendrils from the afflicted person into everyone around until all are shaded in black. Soon one does not know who is mad and who is not.” ~Lynn Cullen, Mrs. Poe (I always seem to enjoy the stories that drop the ink of madness into a drink of history, even if it does blacken the water a bit.)
Have you read Mrs. Poe? What did you think of it?
Read ~ Write ~ Wander