POE & FANNY by John May


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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 not survive.

A labored history lesson about the social and cultural life of 1845 New York, but not especially entertaining—or enlightening—about Poe.

Pub Date: May 7th, 2004
ISBN: 1-56512-427-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2004