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Booked for the Day

The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder by Daniel Stashower

Mary Rogers

On Monday, March 3rd, the Booked for the Day Book Group met to discuss the book, The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder by Daniel Stashower. Here are a few things we discussed during the meeting:

One issue we had with the book was that there was not really any resolution.  The death of Mary Rogers was never been solved.  There were many theories as to who killed her, but we don’t know what really happened. Most of us wanted to know who the guilty party was!

We heard from the author Stashower that, “There were bodies being fished out of the Hudson all the time. There were murders all the time that were going unremarked and uninvestigated in any way.” We talked about the reasons why there was so much attention given to the murder of Mary Rogers. It did not seem to bother anyone (except me) that this murder had so much publicity mainly because she was a well-known beauty. Some members thought she was probably well liked too.

The group discussed what we learned about that time period and whether there were any surprises. We were all surprised to learn about the inner workings of the 19th century newspapers and that they could print anything without any repercussions. They were a very influential force during that time period. We were also surprised to learn how little money authors made during that time. Poe only made nine dollars for his poem, The Raven. The section in this book on the publishers was probably the hardest to get through because they crammed too many names, places, and relationships that did not seem to add to the storyline.

We also did not realize how rogue our country was at the time. With a lack of police force and the gangs of New York roaming the streets it was a violent time. We were also surprised to hear that crimes were not solved unless there was a reward offered.

We also talked about Edgar Allan Poe. There was no opportunity, no matter how golden, that Poe could not sabotage, and no friend he could not pick a fight with. What we learned from this book is that Poe could have been more epic than he already is. He had a real chip on his shoulder. We could not help but wonder what might have been had Poe been able to overcome his personal problems. We all knew Poe was a poet but were surprised that he made his living mainly as a critic and an editor. Of course we were all disgusted with the fact that he married his 13 year old cousin and wondered about his relationship with her mother, his aunt.

Some of us read The Devil in the White City, which had some similarities to The Beautiful Cigar Girl. The difference, we decided, was that The Devil in the White City took some leeway in expressing the emotions and thoughts of a killer to advance the story, whereas the Cigar Girl is very much a biography and filled with analysis. In The Beautiful Cigar Girl it was harder to get to know Mary Rogers because of that and it was harder to be sympathetic for her and Poe.

We all talked about who everyone’s prime suspect was. Many thought that Anderson may have done it, and some thought it was Daniel. We would have liked it if Stashower would have told us who he thought did it, but some of us thought that he suspected that Anderson killed Mary Rogers mainly because he was the last suspect he talked about in the book.

No one was too excited about this book and no one thought that they would recommend it to a friend.  These are just a few things mentioned during the discussion. Please feel free to add any of your thoughts in the comment section.


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