A scholarly, riveting life of an English poet and novelist whose precocious career ended in sexual scandal and controversy about her sudden death.
Literary critic Miller (The Brontë Myth, 2004), the founding editorial director of independent British publisher Notting Hill Editions, successfully returns to public awareness the astonishing (and brief) career and achievements of Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838), who, for a time, seemed to create poems as easily as she breathed. However, her personal life—scandalous to the emerging Victorians—sent her stock plummeting, and she died in West Africa of causes whose mysteries Miller does much to dispel. The author begins with Landon’s death, provides a quick sketch of her initial popularity, and then returns to a fairly strict chronology. Miller describes her subject’s background and her long association and sexual relationship with her married mentor, William Jerdan, editor at the time of the Literary Gazette. Jerdan promoted her career—and sired her three children, none of whom remained in her care, or his. For a while, L.E.L., as she signed her pieces, was a literary sensation, and Miller places her as sort of a transitional figure between the Romantics (Shelley, Byron et al.) and the Victorians. The text, in fact, is populated heavily with literary heavyweights, including Dickens, the Brontës, Poe, Woolf, and numerous others. The extent of Miller’s research is impressive and includes her visit to the scene of Landon’s death. The author seems to have read everything even marginally relevant, and she maintains a strong auctorial presence, noting—bluntly and accurately—the era’s male literary dominance and the grotesque double standard of private behavior. Libidinous men suffered few consequences: Jerdan himself moved on to another teenager after he tired of Landon.
A thorough, engaging, and even loving restoration of a woman writer whose story needed to be told and whose works required fresh, attentive eyes.