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Letitia Elizabeth Landon and Metrical Romance

The Adventures of a ‘Literary Genius’

Serena Baiesi

Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838) was one of the leading women poets of the second generation of English Romantic writers. Following her predecessor Walter Scott and her contemporary Lord Byron, she was a fluent practitioner and essential innovator of the metrical romance and exerted a strong influence on the work of Victorian poets (especially Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning and Christina Rossetti). This book analyses Landon’s poetics, with particular reference to the close relationship between the narrative poem as literary genre and its gender implications.
Landon was both an eclectic writer and a literary businesswoman: she was an extremely effective promoter of her literary work in order to support her independent life in London. Furthermore she was the editor of several annuals and gift-books, wrote for magazines, and published numerous poems, novels, and editorials. Her active life and mysterious and premature death in Africa attracted the curiosity of many biographers during the twentieth century, but only in recent times has critical attention been paid to her rich literary output. This volume aims to discuss and analyse the work of a talented artist whose metrical romance strongly influenced the poetics of late Romanticism, and prefigured a highly successful genre widely adopted during the Victorian age: the dramatic monologue.

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Introduction 13

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INTRODUCTION The date of the first effort of her literary genius, is not known, but it is certain she was very young, and the subject was the adventures of her cousin Captain Landon, who had just returned from America.1 Letitia Landon’s biographer Laman Blanchard, four years after the poet’s death, described her as a precocious talent, whose literary genius blossomed during her infancy, animated by her avid reading of travel literature. The spontaneity of her poetical inspiration together with her predilection for adventurous metrical romances – above all those of Walter Scott – would remain two recurrent features of all Landon’s lit- erary production. And it is this relation between metrical romance, as literary genre, and gender issues, as the main feature of her poetry that will be the central object of investigation in the present study. If ‘no one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine’,2 conversely, every- body who met Letitia Elizabeth Landon or read about her life thought that she was born to be a literary heroine, in light of her adventurous life, her literary talent and the myth she created with her mysterious death. Landon was a legendary figure during her life, known as the female literary alter-ego of her contemporary Lord Byron. During the 1820s and 1830s no other writer was more popular than Letitia Elizabeth Landon, who initially signed her poems with the intriguing letters L.E.L. Landon was both an eclectic writer and a...

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