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Poe and Fanny

Poe and Fanny

5.0 1
by John May

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In 1845, Edgar Allan Poe, published his acclaimed poem "The Raven," became the overnight darling of New York literary society, and fell in love with a beautiful—and equally famous—poet. It was the year that ruined him forever.

John May's perfectly imagined novel brings New York's giddy pre-Civil War social scene into brilliant focus as it unfolds the


In 1845, Edgar Allan Poe, published his acclaimed poem "The Raven," became the overnight darling of New York literary society, and fell in love with a beautiful—and equally famous—poet. It was the year that ruined him forever.

John May's perfectly imagined novel brings New York's giddy pre-Civil War social scene into brilliant focus as it unfolds the spellbinding story of a doomed man and the great love that sealed his fate. By the end of what should have been his crowning year, Edgar Poe was reviled by the same capricious circles that had gathered adoringly at his feet to hear him recite "The Raven" again and again. Swept up in the fervor, Frances Sargent Osgood, then separated from her husband, arranged an introduction to Poe to offer her fealty and her friendship. But what eventually transpired between them was far more than two poets' mutual admiration. Over the course of their brief liaison, the two lovers wrote and published (under pseudonyms) many not-so-veiled love poems, and soon enough, New York's literati were abuzz with their affair.

While Poe dallied, his dying wife, Sissy, and her mother were humiliated. And while he despaired, drinking himself into oblivion, Poe's dream of editing his own magazine in New York died on the vine. At the turn of the year, the Poes left New York in disgrace. Deeply in debt and spurned by former fawning admirers, including Horace Greeley, N.P. Willis, William Cullen Bryant, Richard Henry Dana, and Maria Child, American's most renowned writer was a broken man. He had wrecked two women's lives. Even so, both Fanny and Sissy loved him unremittingly to the bitter end. Poe died at the age of forty, alone and having never fathered a child. Or had he?

Told with special empathy for Fanny's warm, impulsive generosity as it shimmered alongside Poe's dark genius, Poe & Fanny follows the lovers' story to its logical conclusion: Fanny Osgood's third child was Edgar Allan Poe's.

John May brings to life the drama of these lives acted out against the backdrop of nineteenth century New York's vibrant literary world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A licentious interlude in the life of Edgar Allan Poe provides an intriguing if somewhat insubstantial premise for May's frothy historical novel. In late 1844, Poe is 36 years old, at the height of his literary powers, an experienced magazine editor and reviewer in New York City well-known for his poetry and stories. He is also chronically broke, the caretaker of his young tubercular wife, Sissy, and her mother, Muddy, and a binge drinker (a habit that will kill him by the time he is 40). May's story opens in the teeming publishing and maritime district of Lower Broadway, where Poe (called Eddy), has resigned as assistant to Nathaniel Parker Willis at the prestigious New-York Mirror to start his own review, the Broadway Journal. Poe's star rises with the publication of "The Raven," and he is suddenly much sought after for his eerie reading of the poem. At the Waverly Place salon of Anne Lynch, he meets a diminutive, flirtatious poetess of the hour, Mrs. Fanny Osgood. A quasi love affair as unconvincing as it is undocumented ensues. To generate romance, May takes dubious liberties in reading between the lines of Poe's and Osgood's poetry. Skirt the insipid dialogue for the glimpses of colorful pre-Civil War New York and its personages, such as Willis, chronicler of society's Upper Tenth, and his servant, freed slave and autobiographer Harriet Jacobs. Agent, Christy Fletcher. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Using as supporting evidence the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and Fanny Osgood (included in the appendix), first-time novelist May builds a case that the two were romantically involved in the mid-1840s. At that time, Poe was married to his too-young cousin Virginia, who was dying of tuberculosis. Osgood, separated from her artist husband and wooed by a wealthy businessman, nevertheless caught Poe's eye. They immediately orchestrated an almost-chaste, exceedingly dramatic affair of the heart. May paints a detailed, relentlessly grim picture of a pivotal year in Poe's life, set against the richly absorbing literary society of 19th-century New York, which first swooned over Poe and then shunned him. In May's novel, Poe's genius is nearly buried by his emotional immaturity, reckless self-absorption, and crushing personal tragedies. Poe admirers would do best to steer clear of this brutal portrayal of him as a selfish, stubborn drunk who was shockingly irresponsible financially, uncomfortably inept as a suitor and lover, and, yes, a sporadically prolific genius of the written word. Recommended for larger libraries.-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fictionalized account of one particularly dismal year toward the end of Edgar Allan Poe's short and generally unhappy life. First-timer May focuses on a possible love affair between Poe and the now-forgotten poet Fanny Osgood. In 1845, Poe is living in New York with his ailing young wife/first-cousin Sissy (the real-life Virginia) and Sissy's mother. Although he has already published many of his most memorable stories, he is barely scraping by, earning money for his poems and reviews wherever he can while launching The Broadway Journal with a partner he dislikes. May's writing is strongest when it brings across the Poes' financial desperation-a state not helped by the frequent drunken binges that Poe, a difficult man even when sober, continues to embark upon. After the writer's one loyal champion and friend, N.P. Willis of The World, publicizes The Raven, Poe briefly becomes the toast of New York and captures the interest of Fanny Osgood, currently separated from her artist husband and living, like Willis and his wife, at the Astor Hotel. Although courted by a wealthy businessman, she is drawn to Poe's genius. The two exchange letters, but more revealing are the thinly veiled poems they write and publish about each other (included in full in an appendix). When they find themselves a topic of gossip, Fanny flees to her brother's family in Providence. Poe follows and they consummate their affair, but Poe is racked with guilt concerning Sissy, who has received anonymous letters about Fanny. A now-pregnant Fanny's only recourse is to return to her husband. Poe loses his magazine, takes a temperance vow, and moves out of town with the dying Sissy. Fanny and Poe's child is born but does notsurvive. A labored history lesson about the social and cultural life of 1845 New York, but not especially entertaining-or enlightening-about Poe. Agent: Christy Fletcher/Fletcher & Parry

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.38(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.76(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"John May nails the gritty, lush details of Poe's rise and fall in New York City's high society. An astounding debut in historical fiction, Poe & Fanny is part literary history, part heartbreaking love story."
—Julianna Baggott, author of The Madam

"The best word for Poe & Fanny is—mesmerizing. John May's brilliant novel offers not only a sharply perceptive portrayal of America's most striking literary figure but also a warm and generous and highly dramatic appreciation of the wonderful Francis Osgood. The knowing overview of antebellum New York society is a rich bonus. I hung on every word of this brightly intuitive book."
—Fred Chappell, author of Farewell, I'm Bound to Leave You

Meet the Author

John May has combined a business career with a lifelong love of books and writing. He received his MFA degree from Bennington College and is chairman of the board of directors of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro Friends of the Library. He lives with his wife in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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Poe and Fanny 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book about Edgar A. Poe and Fanny Osgood is very well written. John May has a unique writing style that keeps your nose stuck in the book. Each chapter is told from someone else's point of view, so you are not just reading from Poe's point of view or N.P. Willis, etc. There is not much known about Poe's life, and May has done a good job in what he set out to do, to fill in the blanks with what MIGHT have happened. I hardly ever read books twice, but I know this is one I will soon reread.