A lost nineteenth-century literary life, brilliantly rediscovered--Letitia Elizabeth Landon, hailed as the female Byron; she changed English poetry; her novels, short stories, and criticism, like Byron though in a woman's voice, explored the dark side of sexuality--by the acclaimed author of The Brontë Myth ("wonderfully entertaining . . . spellbinding"--New York Times Book Review; "ingenious"--The New Yorker).
"None among us dares to say / What none will choose to hear"--L.E.L., "Lines of Life"
Letitita Elizabeth Landon--pen name L.E.L.--dared to say it and made sure she was heard.
Hers was a life lived in a blaze of scandal and worship, one of the most famous women of her time, the Romantic Age in London's 1820s, her life and writing on the ascendency as Byron's came to an end.
Lucasta Miller tells the full story and re-creates the literary London of her time. She was born in 1802 and was shaped by the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, a time of conservatism when values were in flux. She began publishing poetry in her teens and came to be known as a daring poet of thwarted romantic love. We see L.E.L. as an emblematic figure who embodied a seismic cultural shift, the missing link between the age of Byron and the creation of Victorianism. Miller writes of Jane Eyre as the direct connection to L.E.L.--its first-person confessional voice, its Gothic extremes, its love triangle, and in its emphasis on sadomasochistic romantic passion.
Literary critic Miller (The Bront Myth) organizes this lively biography of a once famous, now obscure 19th-century English poet around new revelations regarding her secret sexual history. Landon's long affair with her mentor, influential editor William Jerdan, produced three children and also provides the key, Miller argues, "to understanding her life... and much of her poetry." Using primary sources, Miller reconstructs how Landon created her "poetic brand" as "L.E.L.," attaining celebrity at age 22 with her 1824 bestseller, The Improvisatrice, and incessantly depicting unrequited and self-destructive love even while hiding her status as a "fallen woman." Miller reads Landon's work generously and well, finding "bitter and cynical depths" in "seemingly na ve sentimentalism." However, Miller displays ambivalence toward her subject, a "split personality" unhealthily attached to the predatory "Svengali" Jerdan, which eventually destroyed her reputation, ultimately making her a pathetic figure who sought escape from a fading career in an unhappy marriage to a British colonial official in West Africa before her death, possibly by suicide, at age 36. Still, with its textured background and lively voice, Miller's biography vividly restores a forgotten author and her faded world, that of the "strange pause" between the Romantics and the Victorians.