Cover image for Poe & Fanny
Poe & Fanny
May, John, 1942-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, [2004]

Physical Description:
323 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
"A Shannaon Ravenel book."
Geographic Term:
Format :


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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library

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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 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.

Author Notes

John May is a professional advantage player who tours the world beating casinos. He is the author of Baccarat for the Clueless and writes regularly for at RGT Online and for The New Chance and Circumstance magazine. He also has his own website - The Card Counters Cafe.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Beautiful, smart, and vivacious, Fanny is a poet and a darling of mid-nineteenth-century New York's gossipy elite. Separated from her painter husband, she falls for the mercurial, hard-drinking, impoverished genius Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem The Raven is the talk of the town. First-time novelist May's enchanting protagonist is a fictionalized version of the real-life Frances S. Osgood, once an enormously popular but now forgotten poet. Hints in the historical record inspired May to imagine a scandalous affair between Osgood and Poe and to deftly illuminate the rigid mores of a time in which women removing their bonnets in the theater was news. In fact, much of May's many-faceted and suspenseful love story plays out in the pages of the rival literary magazines in which Poe struggles to earn a meager living. May's dramatization of Poe's epic battles with his demons, his young wife's succumbing to tuberculosis, and bold Fanny's determined resolution of an impossible predicament is at once meticulous and haunting as he sets personal heartbreaks against the greater conflicts of class inequities, slavery, and institutionalized misogyny. Compulsively readable, May's ingenious and sensitive historical novel is impeccably literary and unabashedly romantic. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.