Hearts Through History Romance Writers

“Mrs. E. is my murderer”

by | October 14, 2013 | 6 comments

Virginia Clemm (1822-1847) was thirteen when she married her twenty-six-year-old cousin, Edgar Allan Poe.

“Mrs. Poe looked very young; she had large black eyes, and a pearly whiteness of complexion, which was a perfect pallor. Her pale face, her brilliant eyes, and her raven hair gave her an unearthly look. One felt that she was almost a disrobed spirit, and when she coughed it was made certain that she was rapidly passing away” (Mrs. Mary Gove Nichols, “Reminiscences of Edgar Allan Poe”)

Virginia Poe, painted hours after her death

Virginia Poe, painted hours after her death

She was never in good health but always supportive of her husband, keeping his writing pens neatly arranged and looking on adoringly as Poe wrote his stories of horror.

They had been married ten years when Poe wrote “The Raven.” It was an instant sensation and soon Poe was receiving letters of admiration, including amorous ones. Notable among these letter-writers were two women, both married and writers themselves.

Frances Sargent Osgood (1811 – 1850) was a member of a prominent New York writing circle and her poetry had received a rare accolade from Poe, who wrote columns as a literary critic. Her childlike demeanor and “invalidish” mannerisms resembled those of Poe’s wife, who was also suffering from tuberculosis. Virginia encouraged her husband’s acquaintance with Osgood and an exchange of passionate love poems ensued between the two.

The other woman was Elizabeth Ellet (1818 – 1877), author of the formidable Women of the American Revolution, still studied today. This lady also made amorous overtures to Poe but he scorned them all, “simply because she revolted me.” Nevertheless, Ellet gained access to the Poe residence and became acquainted with Virginia, who allowed her to view some of Osgood’s correspondence with Poe.

Ellet began an elaborate campaign to sow discord in Poe’s relationships, first advising Osgood that she ought to reclaim her letters to him before they found their way into the press. This was accomplished to Poe’s chagrin and he suggested with great venom that “Mrs. E” might had better look after her own letters.

Whether there were any letters from her or not, Ellet’s brother threatened to kill Poe. Then Virginia began to receive anonymous letters about her husband’s supposed indiscretions arrived. Rumors that Poe was insane and prone to fabricate liaisons between himself and married women began to surface in the press.

Virginia took all of these indignities to her deathbed, where she pronounced “Mrs. E. is my murderer.” Poe was distraught and took revenge on Ellet in his writing. The poem “Hop Frog – or the eight-chained orangutans” is a short story written about revenge a dwarf takes against his master who abused the girl he loved. Poe’s fury and grief was poured into his macabre tale, in which Ellet, represented by the king who struck a defenseless girl, is induced to dress up in a costume, along with her “friends” and hoisted in the air by means of trickery, is set ablaze in front of the court:

Elizabeth Ellet - "hell hath no fury"

Elizabeth Ellet – “hell hath no fury”

“In less than half a minute the whole eight ourang-outangs were blazing fiercely, amid the shrieks of the multitude who gazed at them from below, horror-stricken, and without the power to render them the slightest assistance.”

Poe would visit his wife’s grave, frequently being found there in the snow and bitter cold of winter. His poems of dead or dying young women, and the lovers who mourn them, must have been inspired by Virginia. Osgood was later heard to say that his wife was the only woman Poe ever loved.

Years later, the cemetery where Virginia was buried was destroyed. A family friend happened upon the scene the very day the sexton was about to throw out her bones which he had scooped up on his shovel. The bones were gathered in a box and kept until the day Poe was reburied in a magnificent tomb. His wife’s little box laid alongside his left breast.

“The box!” vociferated Mr. Wyatt, still standing–“the box, I say! Captain Hardy, you cannot, you will not refuse me. Its weight will be but a trifle–it is nothing–mere nothing. By the mother who bore you–for the love of Heaven–by your hope of salvation, I implore you to put back for the box!”

The Oblong Box, Edgar Allen Poe (1850) about an artist who would rather die than leave his wife’s body, sealed in a box, to go down in a shipwreck.



  1. Barbara Bettis

    Very interesting post. He was a tragic figure, himself, I always thought. I didn’t know that story about his visiting his wife’s grave in the winter.

    • Angelyn Schmid

      He was a tragic figure and seemed to draw out the emotional trauma from his wife’s death and transfer it to his writings. He’s considered part of the American Romantic movement, but the tinge of horror saves him from being maudlin, I think.

  2. Carole St-Laurent

    Lovely post. I didn’t know about Osgood and Ellet.

  3. Ally Broadfield

    Love the “tinge of horror.” It did rather make him stand out.

  4. Lyn Horner

    Sad tale of love and tragedy! I didn’t know about his wife and the vengeful Mrs.E. Very enlightening.



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