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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 TWO L. E. L.’s poems of the 1820s: the beginning of a literary profession


CHAPTER TWO L.E.L.’s poems of the 1820s: the beginning of a literary profession 2.1 The art of improvvisazione: English revisions of Italian oral versification The Italian tradition of extempore composition Come forth those who propose an easy topic for my song, I have the singing talent, and I will intone my song. Since it would be hard to give better thanks than these, so my thought will be left to a different mercy.1 Letitia Landon’s impulsive and precocious talent in composing poetry has been remarked upon by every biographer. She was a fast and eclectic writer, and she exemplified Wordsworth’s principle of poetry as a ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling’. However, as Glennis Stephenson remarks, Landon’s thoughts ‘rather than being recollected in tranquilly, are immediately spewed out upon the page’.2 Emma Roberts depicted her friend’s poetical ability in a similar way: 1 ‘S’avvii chi porga il canto / Facile un argomento, / Ho il cantar talento / Il canto scioglierò. / Poiché render più / Grazie sarebbe cosa dura; / Dunque il pensier procura / Render altra mercé’. Teresa Bandettini, ‘Ringraziamento per un’Acca- demia datale’, Alessandra Di Ricco, L’inutile e il meraviglioso mestiere: poeti improvvisatori di fine Settecento, Milano: Franco Angeli, 1990, p. 168 (all trans- lations from Italian are mine, except where otherwise indicated). 2 Glennis Stephenson, ‘Poet Construction: Mrs. Hemans, L.E.L., and the Image of the Nineteenth-Century Woman Poet’, in ReImagining Women: Representation 64 While still a mere child, L.E.L. began to publish, and her poetry immediately...

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