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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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CHAPTER ONE The progress of a literary career and the development of a genre

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1.1 Letitia Elizabeth Landon as ‘poet of genius’ Precocious talent, extraordinary popularity, and mysterious death Letitia Elizabeth Landon was born on 14th August 1802 at Hans Place, Chelsea, into a rather wealthy family: her mother, Catherine Jane Bishop, was of Welsh extraction, and her father, John Landon, rejecting the clerical career traditionally adopted by his forefathers, aspired to make his fortune by sea, travelling first to Africa, and then to Jamaica. He later returned to London turning his attention to the lucrative busi- ness of an army agency. The eldest daughter of three children, Letitia was initially educated by an invalid neighbour, and then for a short pe- riod joined Miss Rowden’s school, the same institution attended by Lady Caroline Lamb – Lord Byron’s lover and a poet herself – and Mary Russell Mitford – another future poet and dramatist of success. She was seven years old when the family moved to Trevor Park, where Letitia was tutored by her cousin, Miss Landon, who talked very enthusiastically about her pupil: In very many instances, in endeavouring to teach, I have myself been taught, the extraordinary memory and genius of the learner soon leaving the humble abili- ties of the teacher far behind.1 1 Laman Blanchard, Life and Literary Remains of L.E.L., 2 vols, London: Henry Colburn, 1841, I, p. 9. 20 Letitia Landon was a voracious reader and one of her favourite poets was Walter Scott, whose Lady of the Lake Letitia knew by heart. In addition to Scott, she was also fond...

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