Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beautiful Cigar Girl

The full title is The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder. My former boss from the Attorney General's office loaned me this book, and I was just thrilled. Her niece is the curator of the Poe Museum in Richmond, VA and had sent the book to her. I figured that any book recommended by the head of the Poe museum would be a good one.

The book covers the sensational murder of Mary Rogers, a girl who had worked at a cigar emporium in New York City. She was famous throughout the city for her beauty and modesty, and many credit the cigar store's success with her presence. Men would go to the store just to catch a glimpse of her.

A year or so after quitting her job at the store to help her mother run their boarding house, Rogers was found dead, floating in the Hudson River, her corpse showing signs of horrible trauma. The case was a media sensation, with the papers competing to scoop each other with new details.

The book also covers Poe's life, which was just such a tragic one. I had never read any biographies of Poe, and I didn't know much other than he was found in a gutter in Baltimore, incoherent and close to death.

Poe had such great potential, and came so close so many times to achieving success, but he really was his own worst enemy. It turns out he had a great talent for publishing and successfully ran several magazines in Baltimore, New York and Richmond. But he always ended up fighting with the owners and either getting fired or leaving under bad terms.

He published all of his poems and stories during his lifetime, but he never managed to make any money of them. He earned a whopping $9 for "The Raven," which was greeted with huge critical acclaim.

Poe ended up using the murder of Mary Rogers as the framework for a short story that was to be a follow-up to his successful "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," featuring the same sleuth, C. Auguste Dupin. In the first installment of the story, Poe promised that Dupin would solve the murder using nothing but "rationization" and the accounts published in the papers.

Ultimately, the murder was never solved and the case slowly faded from the press, and Poe ended up tweaking his fictional account of the murder when he re-published it in a collection of his work. He died shortly afterwards.

I loved this book and am going to have a hard time giving it back to ETB. I may also search out other biographies of Poe and pick up a collection of his works. I love when books I read make me want to read other books on the same topic.

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