In today’s installment of For Shame!, we’re going to talk about Edgar Allan Poe. He of the scary face and the cousin marriage. And I know that 1) JAF already mentioned him in her brilliant Halloween post and that 2) she just wrote a fantastic little ditty about Dickens, who was alive at the same time as Ed, and we try to avoid doing back-to-back contemporaries. I know. I see your points. But here are my counterpoints. My golden, golden counterpoints:
1) The Halloween post, while Pulitzer-worthy, contained more or less a blurb about said cousin marriage. There was so much more scandalosity going on with the Poe. So much. And I contend, and I think JAF would agree, that it should be brought to light. Sexily.
2) JAF, I’m sorry, I love you, you’re one of the best gingers I’ve ever met, a gentlewoman, a scholar, a queen among women, but Charles Dickens was the human manifestation of everything there is to hate about Victorian literature. Well, Chuck and George Eliot together, probably, but still. American Victorianism was so, so much better on so many ideological and cultural levels. Plus we didn’t have as much of that paid-for-every-word bullshit. And hey, maybe I’m biased because of my oft-mentioned proclivity for the American nineteenth-century lit. But I’d also argue that the only positive contributions Dickens has made to my life are the Muppet Christmas Carol and the recent BBC production of Little Dorrit (and even then, only because MacFadyen is in it). And maybe David Copperfield the magician.
Poe, on the other hand, was a greatass contributor to Victorian culture. He wrote excellent, excellent short stories, which is arguably the best literary form around, because of the opportunities for pith and my short attention span. And they’re all sort of similar, but none of them are really the same – there’s always a rational dude, then something (a spooky lady, a cat, an orangutan, a big ancestral manse, a mummy, a Civil War general made of Legos, what have you) makes him uncomfy and ultimately irrational, then something/someone dies. And he’s drunk or strung out on opium 90% of the time, every time.
Another thing that Poe did really well was being profoundly creepy, in his writing and in his life. AND IN HIS SEX LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!1
But I think instead of talking about ALL of his sexploits, I’m going to focus on a totally scandalous scandal involving two fine Victorian ladies, flirty poems (or POE-ems, right?) (I’m definitely not the first person to make that connection) (sorry), flirtier correspondence, and Poe’s thirteen-year-old cousin-bride. Who was actually like 24 at this point, but whatever, it’s still fucked up.
Okay, so it’s 1846, The Raven is hugely popular, and Poe is finally, finally enjoying a little bit of recognition as well as the unlimited supply of laudanum that comes with fame in the mid-nineteenth century. And another thing you should know about this time, besides the laudanum, is that women were really engaging with the literary market. Sort of like how today, Nicholas Sparks-loving moms are keeping Barnes & Noble open. Ladies all over the US of A, and especially in the north and mid-Atlantic, consumed books like they were fucking bacon. That is to say, voraciously and in any and all forms. So as a result, a lot of them formed literary societies, which is a fancier way of saying book clubs, and the members of these book clubs often wrote to the authors that they liked.
So Elizabeth Ellet and Frances Sargent Osgood were two such book clubbers, though theirs was sort of a BFD. Margaret Fuller (subject of a future post by MRG, don’t worry about it, she was a badass bitch) and Anne Lynch Botta were in it, so shit was academic. Anyway, Lizzie and Franny were huge fans of Ed’s macabre stylings, and they separately wrote him flirty fan mail. Now Lizzie was herself a writer, and through what I picture in my head as a montage of she and Ed variably opening and reading letters, smiling mirthfully, maybe with some kickass soundtrack song in the background, she and Ed eventually meet up in New York to talk about life and literature and so forth.
But, notably, they do not bone. Sorry. We know this because Poe and Franny (remember her?) had ALSO continued to write sexy correspondence back and forth, correspondence that was far sexier than Lizzie’s. And by now Poe’s thinking he has the booty call locked up with Franny – he even wrote her a few sexy poems and a valentine. Which sounds sort of tame by today’s standards, but these people were Victorian. Shit. Was. Real.
Oh, and did I mention? Poe and Franny were both married. Not to each other. Poe was still kickin’ it, listening to JBiebz and reading Teen Vogue with his babywife, and Fran was married to Samuel Stillman Osgood, a portraitist.
So one day, Lizzie’s like “OMIGAAAD I bet Eddie’s home he’s so hot and I wanna have literary brain sex and also real sex with him,” so she strolls on over to Poe Manor (which is probably just a shitty rented room) and runs into Virginia, the babywife. And they’re shooting the shit, and then Ginny’s like “HEY, lookadiss, some bitch keeps trying to fuck my husband via correspondence” AND SHE FUCKING SHOWS LIZZIE FRANNY’S LETTERS TO POE!!!!!!!1 (Liz is also sort of friends with Franny, so she’s well aware of the extramaritalness and is probably pissed that one of her pals is after her #1 crush). So Lizzie, sweet, naive woman that she is, a victim of unrequited love, thinks she’s found the solution: she’ll tell Franny that she needs to request to have the letters sent back, because it’s the mid-nineteenth century. Flirty letters are essentially the sex tape of the time.
Then Poe finds out that Lizzie’s been cockblockin’ and he’s like “you better CHECK YO’SELF,” because TURNS OUT LIZZIE’S BEEN WRITING HIM EXTRA SEXY, EXTRA SCANDALOUS LETTERS IN GERMAN. Of the “Hey I’m gonna call on you in the middle of the night so we can bone” persuasion. And I’m not actually exaggerating. She probably didn’t say “bone,” exactly, but you know, close enough.
So then Poe’s like “FINE, I’ll just return both Lizzie’s AND Franny’s letters. No fun for ANYONE.” And he does. But Liz’s brother doesn’t check the mailbox or something, because for some reason he thinks Poe still has them and so he very naturally threatens to kill Poe if he doesn’t return the letters, even though he already has. And honestly, Poe’s really consistently drunk or high, so he’s confused enough to be like, “Sure, get me a pistol and we’ll just kill each other” rather than, you know, sending a fruit basket and an apologetic explanatory note.
At the same time, Franny’s husband Sam, who is apparently okay with the proto-sex tape thing, threatens to sue Liz for defaming his wife in the press. This scares the shit out of her, and her best defense is to say, “The letter shown me by Mrs. Poe must have been a forgery created by Poe himself,” and in blaming it all on Poe in a very, very public trial, she more or less invented the idea that he was insane, which a lot of people still believe. Remember, I said he was drunk and high a lot, but I never said he was crayzay. I keep my shit together.
AND IT DOESN’T END THERE. Mrs. Poe, so young, so naive, got the Tube (that’s tuberculosis, for those of you not up on the old-timey diseases lingo) the next year and started receiving anonymous letters about her man’s affairs that she swore were from Lizzie. And on her deathbed, she said “Miss Ellet is my murderer!” which is sort of sad but also a badass thing to say from your deathbed, right?
So in the end, babywife dies too young, shitting all over Liz on her way out. The insanity thing sort of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that Poe becomes increasingly weird and drunk and is eventually (two years later) found delirious in a ditch in Baltimore. He dies within a couple days. “Scientists” still haven’t figured out the cause. Franny Osgood and her husband have a second honeymoon as a result of all this shit, and fucking live happily ever after or whatever, who cares, it’s boring. And finally, Miss Lizzie becomes an extremely well-respected and prolific author in her time, writing seventeen books. And not just ladybooks either; she was one of the first female historians ever.
And how did she get there? By irrevocably fucking up Ed’s life, all because he didn’t want to bone her. Rude.
I know that this was a really long post, and that there wasn’t really any actual sex, so…sorry. Here’s a gif of Michael Fassbender. I think we’re even.