Monday, April 4, 2011

The Name of Annabel Lee (Part Two)

Annabel Lee Manet4. Frances Sargent Locke Osgood

In Osgood's case, it has not been suggested that she herself was the inspiration for "Annabel Lee," but that one of her poems was. In 1983, in the journal "Studies in the American Renaissance," Buford Jones and Kent Ljungquist published a strange little article, "Poe, Mrs. Osgood, and 'Annabel Lee,'" where they made the argument that Osgood's "The Life-Voyage" was a source for Poe's work.

This remarkably silly thesis was quickly demolished in a rebuttal by John E. Reilly ("Mrs. Osgood's 'The Life-Voyage' and 'Annabel Lee,'" "Poe Studies," June 1984.) Despite this, it still has a few adherents among Osgood's modern-day champions, who fondly cherish a revisionist fantasy of her as an unappreciated feminist genius. However, all one has to do is read "The Life-Voyage"--something, incidentally, I do not really recommend doing, as it is a lengthy and quite tedious experience--to realize that it is as unlike "Annabel Lee" as anything calling itself a poem could possibly get.

5. Sarah Anna ("Stella") Lewis

After Poe's death, Mrs. Lewis was reputed to have said that she was the poem's inspiration, with one version of the rumor claiming that she had heard this directly from Mrs. Clemm. It is not clear whether we have anything first-hand from Mrs. Lewis herself about the matter, but in any case, the idea of a connection between "Stella" and "Annabel Lee" is something not even Poe scholars have been able to take seriously. It is highly questionable that even Mrs. Lewis did.

6. Nancy Locke Heywood ("Annie") Richmond

The similarity of Mrs. Richmond's adopted first name to that of Poe's heroine has led some of the more fanciful biographers to speculate on a possible connection. However, "Annie" herself found no personal significance in the poem. In fact, she wrote John H. Ingram that Mrs. Clemm always maintained that "Annabel Lee," a poem which Mrs. Richmond claimed not to "understand," was written for Virginia. She added rather puzzlingly, "I think myself, that it has very little significance, if it was intended for anyone else, but his bride."Annabel Lee Manet Poe7. Nobody

Chief spokesperson for this theory was Susan Archer Talley Weiss, who claimed that during the summer of 1849, Poe made a point of telling her that "Annabel Lee" (which was, of course, unpublished at the time,) had no connection to his late wife, or any other woman.

8. Everybody

Kenneth Silverman opted to cover all the bases by suggesting the poem "represents all of the women he loved and lost."

9. Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe

A couple of the nuttier disciples of Freud have made hazy speculations that Poe had his long-lost mother in mind when he wrote the poem. Which brings us into pop-psychological waters I refuse to even wade into.

10. Maria Scott

That ever-industrious fabulist Susan Weiss at times blithely ignored the story she gave in #7 above, instead stating that "Annabel Lee" was this Miss Scott, an early love of Poe's who entered a convent and died young. (Weiss also wrote that at the age of ten, Poe wrote "To Helen" for this same girl.) Needless to say, there is no other evidence whatsoever that "Maria Scott" ever existed.

11. Mary J. Leland

I discussed this particular historical atrocity here.

12. Annabel Lee Ravenel

This is among the plethora of Poe legends that has absolutely no basis in reality, but refuses to die a decent death. In Charleston, South Carolina, there is a local legend (started, I suspect, by tour guides who had a few too many,) that when Poe was stationed there during his army career, he had the obligatory ill-fated love affair with a local belle, which, years after her untimely death, inspired his famous verses. Although the Ravenels were a genuine Charleston-area family, there is no evidence Poe knew any of them, and, as with the case of Mrs. Weiss' Maria Scott, there is no reason at all to believe anyone named "Annabel Lee Ravenel" ever so much as walked the face of the earth. But why let a little detail like that keep a good story down?

13. Jane Stith Stanard

Mrs. Stanard reputedly acted as friend and mentor to Poe during his boyhood, and her tragic descent into insanity and death when he was fifteen was believed to have been a serious blow to him. She was supposedly the inspiration for his first "To Helen" poem--which would be curious, as the lines are so obviously describing Helen of Troy, and have no discernable connection to the ill-fated Richmond matron. One or two literary critics have suggested that Mrs. Stanard was also the model for "Annabel Lee," (and, like most of the other women on this list, "Lenore,") but any possible link is far too tenuous for serious consideration.

So, there you have it; a veritable Army of Annabels. I am not aware of any stories arguing that the poem was inspired by Maria Clemm, Elizabeth Ellet, his landlady at 85 Amity Street, or Catterina, but if there are such claims, please do not tell me about them.

(Images courtesy New York Public Library, Wikipedia.)