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The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murderby Daniel Stashower
Synopses & Reviews
A gruesome murder, a stunned city, and Edgar Allan Poe come to life with vivid detail in this shocking true story.
On July 28, 1841, the battered body of a young woman was found floating in the Hudson River. It was soon discovered to be the lovely Mary Rogers, a twenty-year-old cigar salesgirl who had gone missing three days earlier. By nightfall, news of the girl's death had spread and sent Manhattan into a spasm of horror and outrage.
In the months that followed, the gruesome details of the murder pushed American journalism into previously unimagined realms of lurid sensationalism. But despite media pressures, New York City's unregulated and disjointed police force proved unable to mount an effective investigation, and the crime remained unsolved.
A year after Mary Rogers was murdered, as public interest in the case began to wane, a struggling writer named Edgar Allan Poe decided to take on the case. At the time of the murder, thirty-one-year-old Poe had recently published his groundbreaking detective story The Murders in the Rue Morgue. A year later, however, his fortunes had taken a downward turn. Desperate for success, Poe sent his famous detective, C. Auguste Dupin, on the case of a lifetime: to solve the baffling murder of Mary Rogers in The Mystery of Marie RogĂȘt.
In The Beautiful Cigar Girl, Edgar Award-winning author Daniel Stashower deftly captures the drama and mystery of New York in the mid-nineteenth century, illuminating the spellbinding crime that transformed a city.
"The author of Edgar winner Teller of Tales now recounts the story of Manhattan tobacco store clerk Mary Rogers, a mysterious beauty whose posse of admirers made her a minor celebrity in 1841 in various newspapers' society pages. The discovery that year of her mutilated corpse fueled a public outcry and a newspaper circulation war, as well as a fictional magazine serial by Edgar Allan Poe featuring his famous detective Dupin speculating on the murder of working-class Parisian 'Marie Rogt.' Poe rightly deduced that Mary wasn't a victim of the gang violence that plagued New York City in the absence of an effective police presence. But he came late to the accepted theory that Mary had died of a botched abortion and had to tweak his final installment to maintain his and Dupin's reputations. Although Stashower's account bogs down in comparisons of Poe's revisions of the Rogt manuscript, it's a generally absorbing account of the birth of the modern detective story. The sordid details of Mary Rogers's stunted life pale in comparison with Poe's own love-starved childhood, self-destructive tidal wave of alcoholism, poverty and rants against publishers and rivals; Poe's genius and literary legacy are hauntingly drawn here." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The death of Mary Rogers remains one of the great unsolved murders in American history. The bruised and beaten body of the 20-year-old woman was discovered in the Hudson River along the Hoboken, N.J., shoreline on July 28, 1841. A cord wrapped around her throat, her torn clothing, and marks resembling a man's thumb on her neck convinced authorities that she was the victim of a violent assault. Within... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) hours, New York's newspapers erupted in an explosion of lurid speculation and sexual sensationalism. A host of suspects was rounded up over the ensuing months, including two suitors, but no one was ever convicted of the crime. A year later, a dying and delirious innkeeper claimed that Rogers had perished from a botched abortion at her establishment. Her son had disposed of the body. Although the innkeeper's confession was riddled with inconsistencies, her story became the standard explanation, primarily because it served as the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Mystery of Marie Roget.' Poe was the offspring of actors, abandoned by his father and adopted by the wealthy Allan family of Richmond, Va. Poe's volatile personality and his adoptive father's strict mores generated more than a few heated conflicts; they ultimately culminated in Poe's disinheritance. Poe proved to be his own worst enemy, dropping out of the University of Virginia and West Point. These and other failures were shaped in part by his repeated battles with alcoholism. Even when his writing career started to ascend, this pattern of self-destruction continually appeared, costing him many friends and numerous opportunities. To make matters worse, he married his 13-year-old cousin, whom he adored; in short time, she contracted tuberculosis. Her slow, agonizing death only deepened Poe's depression. In the midst of all this, he exploited the frenzy surrounding Rogers' death by attempting to solve her murder in a three-part article in Ladies' Companion during the winter of 1842-43. Daniel Stashower, the author of an acclaimed biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, uses Rogers and Poe to weave a compelling narrative of antebellum New York. Although the two protagonists never knew each other, their lives and postmortem histories intersected in surprising ways. Rogers worked in John Anderson's cigar emporium, a place popular with numerous writers and journalists who worked nearby along Nassau and Ann Streets. Here Rogers interacted with Poe's literary associates, writers from the penny press, flash weeklies and sporting papers. Most important, she became their object of affection and admiration. She might even be considered America's first sex symbol. Antebellum America had no pin-ups, popular striptease shows or mass pornography. Instead, cigar girls, confectionary workers and other attractive salesgirls served as the objects of the prurient male gaze. As the Herald newspaper pointed out, 'Mary Rogers's face was well known to all `young men about town."' Stashower deftly combines his talents as a novelist, mystery writer and biographer in 'The Beautiful Cigar Girl.' Yet many of the larger themes surrounding the lives of Poe and Rogers are well-known to Poe aficionados and antebellum historians. Scholars and more curious readers will also be frustrated by the absence of endnotes identifying the sources of the many provocative quotes. Stashower nevertheless demonstrates how Poe and Rogers shared more than just an unsolved murder mystery. As the historian and literary critic David Reynolds has shown, the penny press generated lascivious and gruesome images of sexuality and crime during the 1830s and "40s. Such stereotypes influenced many writers: not only Poe but also Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, Emily Dickinson and others associated with America's 19th-century literary renaissance. Stashower clarifies even more precisely how Poe's effort to 'solve' the murder of Rogers was directly influenced by the mud-slinging and half-truths propagated by the popular media of the era. Much of 'The Mystery of Marie Roget' was a direct response to the spurious and sometimes fantastic theories invented by the penny press to explain Rogers' violent demise. The stories of Poe and Rogers offer a vivid counterpoint to an America frequently defined by manifest destiny and economic 'progress.' Both characters embody the commonplace tragedies of their era. Each of their families fell victim to the Panic of 1837, a six-year depression that represented the worst economic calamity up to that point in American history. Each one had talent — Poe as a writer, Rogers as an 'intense and irresistible' beauty. Both migrated to New York in hopes of resuscitating their finances. Each lived along Gotham's economic precipice, hovering over an abyss of abject poverty. Each died young. Downward mobility and personal misfortune were ordinary experiences in 19th-century America, with literary accolades and celebrity status affording little protection. Timothy J. Gilfoyle teaches at Loyola University Chicago and is the author, most recently, of 'A Pickpocket's Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York' and 'Millennium Park: Creating a Chicago Landmark.'" Reviewed by Timothy J. Gilfoyle, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[An] intriguing story, one that sheds considerable light on the snares of a big city for a young woman." Booklist
"Stashower knows murder, and he knows the craft of biography." Kirkus Reviews
"Stashower has taken an interesting historical event in and of itself and used it as a lens to focus on so many of the recurrent themes in Poe's life....This well-written book will please fans of murder mysteries in general as well as those of Edgar Allan Poe." Providence Journal
"Mr. Stashower, deftly interweaving contemporary press accounts of the murder and the investigation into his narrative, vividly recreates the atmosphere of the period in a moody, sepia-toned style..." William Grimes, The New York Times Book Review
"Well-crafted and suspenseful....Daniel Stashower is a diddler. And in The Beautiful Cigar Girl he makes murder a beguilingly edifying and entertaining subject." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Poe's audaciousness is at the heart of Stashower's engrossing book....Stashower turns some lovely phrases and unearths fascinating details..." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Stashower artfully weaves together a portrait of a self-immolating literary genius with the story of the beautiful, melancholy murder victim....Eminently readable and thick with research, The Beautiful Cigar Girl draws a rich portrait of mid-19th-century Manhattan..." The Boston Globe
Book News Annotation:
Stashower (mystery writer and Edgar Award-winning biographer of Arthur Conan Doyle) tells the sensational real-life story of the 1841 murder of Mary Rogers, New York City's "beautiful cigar girl"--along with the real-life story of how Edgar Allen Poe transformed the crime into the short story that would invent modern detective fiction and that he hoped would turn his failing career around. During the decline of his wife's health and particular personal hardship, Poe expanded his character C. Auguste Dupin's passion and talent for deductive reasoning to compose the longer-than-usual "The Mystery of Mary Rogêt," debuting the formula that would find its literary legacy in Sherlock Holmes and others. Annotation Â©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Readers who flocked to Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City will love Stashower's true story of murder and media mania — including the controversial involvement of Edgar Allan Poe — in 1840s New York. Halftones throughout.
Daniel Stashower, the Edgar Award-winning author of the highly acclaimed Arthur Conan Doyle biography Teller of Tales, delivers a gripping true story of murder and media mania — including the controversial involvement of Edgar Allan Poe — in 1840s New York. Halftone photos throughout.
About the Author
Daniel Stashower is the author of four mystery novels and a winner of the Raymond Chandler Fulbright Fellowship in Detective and Crime Fiction Writing. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
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