Books

Off the Shelf: The Raven’s Bride

The Raven's Bride: A NovelThe Raven’s Bride: A Novel by Lenore Hart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I came across this book unexpectedly while shelving & checked it out when I realized my reading list of Poe fiction was short on female perspectives. I am pleased to say that Bride is a competently written work of historical fiction that explores Virginia Clemm & Edgar Allan Poe’s domestic life from their first encounter up to and after her death at 24.

First, I’ll list a few things that I think Hart got right. Her handling of Virginia’s & Edgar’s marriage when she was 13 grows first from Poe’s desire to gather the scraps of his family around him & Virginia’s childish ideas about what marriage entails into a relationship between two dreamers. Hart’s pairing of Virginia’s ignorance about adult life & her domestic dreams suit Poe’s literary ambitions & his very real shortcomings. The couple’s struggle between the extremes of poverty & abundance are well-defined as well as some of the ugly emotional realities of the codependency between the lovers. The anxious & tiresome pattern of keeping vigilance over a husband’s bad habits have poignant consequences.

But the story does have its flaws as well. Virginia’s tone is a little too measured throughout the story. This can be partially forgiven since she is narrating her life as a ghost & has no emotional attachment to anything anymore. But add a few of her impromptu actions & Virginia comes off as Pollyannaish at times. Two specific moments come to mind: her judgement of the bar crowd she performs for & her perception of the poor Irish homes in the notoriously bad Five Points neighborhood. In the first instance, Virginia decides that the rough crowd she’s playing for isn’t so bad without actually interacting with anyone or witnessing anything to inspire this realization. In the second instance, she simply happens to be passing by the neighborhood & remarks on how charming the houses seem without any recognition of the surrounding area or how similar she is in circumstance to these people. These naturally good thoughts just seem to occur to her. I can appreciate Hart wanting her protagonist to appear tolerant & kind-hearted, but this would have worked better if she had actually experienced something.

As I mentioned, I did enjoy the portrayal of Virginia as a dreamer & having her own intense interior life, but there are certain moments that could have used some oomph. Virginia is supposed to spend a year resting under the influence of morphine in the hopes that her initial symptoms of TB will be mitigated. But this section passes within a few pages & the glimpses of Virginia’s own darkness just tantalizes readers with what could have been. Overall, I think Hart’s characterization mixes a good ratio of immaturity, romanticism, & artistic sensibility that develops through the story. I just wanted a little bit more heart from her.

A decent addition to my Poelandia reading list & could work as a companion to Nevermore as an introduction into this sub-genre.

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