Posts Tagged With: edgar allan poe

Weird fiction writers and the ladies who loved them

Since reading Coffee with Poe (Andrew Barger) I have become enamored with the relationship between Poe and Whitman. I’m not sure why I have such a fascination with the love lives of my favorite authors: Edgar A. Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard. Maybe it is due to the unrequited nature of these doomed relationships, making them somewhat tragic and therefore more romantic. If any of these authors were capable of settling down and raising a family like a normal chum, it is doubtful that their writings would be as prolific or as haunting. None of these authors wrote as a hobby to pass the time on the weekends. It seems these authors were compelled to write out of some frantic exorcism of inner demons or channeling of horrors lurking in the anima mundi.

edgar-allan-poe whitman_portrait5

Perhaps my fascination is an interest in the women themselves: Sarah Helen Whitman, Sonia Greene, and Novalyne Price. All three were strong, well educated, and opinionated. Sarah Helen Whitman was a poet in her own right and also had an interest in the occult. Sonia was a writer and a self-employed business woman. Novalyne Price was a school teacher who had a love of knowledge and writing.

These three authors had intense and perhaps unhealthy relationships with other women that increased their inaccessibility. Lovecraft’s overbearing mother dominated his early years and haunted him even after her death. His aunts later took her place albeit less intensely. Robert E Howard’s devotion to his mother was so intense that he could not live without her. Poe tended to a sickly young wife who spent years wasting away with tuberculosis.

While there is a captivating book written by Robert E Howard’s love interest, Novalyne Price; Sonia Greene’s memory of her relationship with HP Lovecraft is just a few pages long. Poe and Whitman had a very public relationship, with each writing poem to each other as well as a multitude of letters.

novalyne price Robert E Howard

Their devotion to their art, the other women in their lives, and perhaps just their eccentric personalities made them inaccessible. Perhaps it is this inaccessibility, in addition to the fascinating minds behind their stories, which made them so desirable.

Poe was the ladies’ man out of the three. Many of his poems were to the various loves of his lives. We don’t hear what Lovecraft has to say of his relationship with Sonia. However he did write her an eldritch Christmas poem:

Once more the ancient feast returns,
And the bright hearth domestic burns
With Yuletide’s added blaze;
So, too, may all your joys increase
Midst floods of mem’ry, love, and peace,
And dreams of Halcyon days.

(from: http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/poetry/p432.aspx )

HP Lovecraft and Sonia Greene

In letters to each other, Bob mentions to Lovecraft that he is  “going with” a girl. Lovecraft visited Sonia Greene in Conneticut and didn’t find it significant enough to relay to Howard, instead spending a paragraph describing the geography of the area. (A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E Howard, 2011, Hippocampus Press)

I find these relationships so romantic because none of them are the typical boring love story. Thinking of Sonia Greene and Lovecraft retyping a horror tale on their honeymoon, Poe and Whitman spending their nights in St John Cathedral burial ground, and Robert and Price driving around the Texas plains talking about his yarns just makes me smile!

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Book review: Coffee with Poe

In honor of my new Poe coffee mug, I am going to review: Coffee with Poe
(The closet thing you will get to an Edgar A. Poe autobiography!)

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While I have been a Poe fan for many years, I only know the basics about his life. Coffee with Poe was an enjoyable way to learn more about Poe without having to hit the stuffy history books. I found myself fact-checking the author, Andrew Barger, when details popped up that I found hard to believe. I found most of the events portrayed in the book to be accurate or at least based on established theories. However, as much as I want to believe Poe was a fan of coffee I have not seen much to back it up in online sources (I would love if someone proved me wrong on this!). Obviously there are many parts of the poet’s life that remain a mystery, including his death. Barger does a good job of incorporating some more respected theories into the story.

A few of Poe’s letters and poetry are interspersed through the text. The added context of the when and why he was writing these letters made these additions more enjoyable than they would be on their own. After reading Coffee with Poe I’m not sure if I would have liked Poe had I known him in person. In multiple letters to John Allan he both rails against him and then begs him for money, which is ironic and a bit childish. The author downplays Poe’s drinking, perhaps how Poe would have done in real life but does discuss Poe’s low tolerance of alcohol. Poe’s financial struggles, his romantic relationships, and the quarrels with his many detractors were also well illustrated in this book.
There were some typos and editing oversights, especially towards the end of the book. Some of the dialogue, especially in the first few chapters, was not realistic and even a bit cringe-worthy at times. I almost didn’t make it past the first few chapters due to this, but I am glad I did as the book picked up once it got to Poe’s adult life. There were a few anachronisms, for instance a character ordering a Caesar salad while out to lunch with Poe. I don’t think these were a thing at that time?! However these flaws are forgivable in the overall scheme of this book. A large amount of research obviously went into this work and these are just minor quibbles. I would recommend this to any fan of Edgar Allan Poe who wants to know more about the tragic but fascinating life of this author.

UPDATE: I found out (from Andrew Barger!!!) that the title of this book comes from a quote about Poe by Sarah Helen Whitman: “…never seen him inspired by any more dangerous stimulant than strong coffee, of which he was very fond & of which he drank freely. MacIntosh says that the measure of a man’s brain is the amount of coffee he can drink with impunity.” So yes, Poe was a coffee fan!!

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