“Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.” – Edgar Allan Poe
We have already taken a look at some of the women associated with Edgar Allan Poe, and their effect on his writing and life. It is evident that he admired female beauty, but more importantly, he listened to women and encouraged their literary pursuits in an era where ‘the fairer sex’ was considered intellectually inferior to men. Here is a continuation of the series.
Sarah Helen Whitman
Poe first encountered Helen Whitman in Providence, RI in 1845, while in the company of Francis Osgood. At the time, Edgar declined an introduction to the beautiful writer at that time. Later Whitman would write a poem To Edgar Allan Poe, dedicated to him in 1848. Poe’s response was to send her a copy of his older poem To Helen, when he received no response, he composed an entirely new poem To Helen, where he referenced their first encounter three years earlier. Later, on his way to visit Whitman where Poe made what many historians believe was a suicide attempt. Edgar had purchased laudanum and overdosing on the opioid made him far too ill to take a lethal dose of the common medicine. He was waylaid in Boston for several days recuperating before he could complete his journey to Providence. Whitman feared she was too old for him and wrote to him:
“I can only say to you that had I youth and health and beauty, I would live for you and die with you. Now, were I to allow myself to love you, I could only enjoy a bright brief hour of rapture and die.” - Sarah Whitman
The couple exchanged letters for a short time when Poe proposed marriage. Whitman demurred but eventually accepted. Her one demand was that Poe stopped drinking before the wedding, he agreed only to break his pledge days later. The wedding was canceled.
Frances Sargent Osgood, Steel-engraving after the painting by Chappel. 1872.
Francis Sargent Osgood
Poe became acquainted with Francis ‘Fanny’ Osgood in 1845. It’s said that he wrote a special message to her in his poem A Valentine, and it was apparent that he admired her as a poet. Their poetry was flirtatious and Poe considered her a stalwart friend and supporter. He wrote of her:
“She is ardent, sensitive, impulsive . . . above medium height, slender to fragility, graceful . . . complexion usually pale; hair very black and glossy; eyes a clear, luminous grey, large, and with a singular capacity of expression…” - Edgar Allan Poe
Virginia Poe was fully aware of her husband’s relationship with Osgood and encouraged their friendship even though there were rumors of an affair. Apparently, Poe’s wife received ‘poison pen’ letters warning her of public suspicions
Painting of Anne C. Lynch Botta, c. 1847
Annie C. Lynch
A New York writer and socialite, Annie Lynch helped introduce Poe to other writers and the social elite in the city. She hosted weekly writer’s salons where Edgar drew the attention of the very people who could help him the most with his literary career. It was Lynch who engineered gatherings that celebrated The Raven and its arthor after its overnight success.
“She is chivalric, self-sacrificing, equal to any fate, capable even of martyrdom, in whatever should seem to her a holy cause. She has a hobby, and this is, the idea of duty.” - Edgar Allan Poe
Sarah Josepha Hale, 1831, by James Lambdin
Sarah J. Hale
Sarah J. Hale is remembered today as the woman who persuaded Abraham Lincoln to implement Thanksgiving as a national holiday. We are also extremely familiar with one of her poems, Mary Had A Little Lamb. Hale was a force to be reckoned with, not only did she help the preservation of George Washington’s home, she used her platform to encourage women’s education and the right of women to own property. Her negative views on women’s suffrage and the domestic arts are interesting but not unusual for her time. She was already a successful editor and writer when she recognized the talent of the 21-year-old Poe with one of his first published works, Al Aaraaf. Hale encouraged the young writer and published a number of his most popular tales in Godey’s Ladies’ Book, among these was The Cask of Amontillado. Her encouragement helped him reach a wider audience, building his career.
Next time: Poe’s Duel Debacle