WHO: Letitia Elizabeth Landon
WHAT: L.E.L. The Lost Life and Scandalous Death of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, the Celebrated “Female Byron” by Lucasta Miller
WHEN: Published by Knopf March 7, 2019
WHERE: The author lives in London.
WHY: “A thorough, engaging, and even loving restoration of a woman writer whose story needed to be told and whose works required fresh, attentive eyes.
“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 Lucasta Miller 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.” —KIRKUS, a starred review
“A compelling examination of an unjustly marginalized literary life.”
—Margaret Flanagan, BOOKLIST
“Fascinating.” —Emily Bowles, LIBRARY JOURNAL
FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK:
Between eight and nine o’clock on the morning of Monday, October 15, 1838, the body of a thirty-six-year-old Englishwoman, wearing a lightweight dressing gown, was found on the floor of a room in Cape Coast Castle, West Africa. She was the new wife of the British governor, George Maclean, and had arrived there from England only eight weeks previously.
Deaths from disease among Europeans in what was then known as the “white man’s grave” were not uncommon. Indeed, the fatality rate was so great that the local Methodist missionary was having difficulty recruiting volunteers. But this death was different. In the woman’s hand was a small empty bottle. Her eyes were open and abnormally dilated.
The last person to see the governor’s wife alive was her maid, Emily Bailey, who had traveled out with her from England. She later testified that she had found Mrs. Maclean “well” when she went in to see her earlier that morning. On her return half an hour later, however, Emily Bailey had had difficulty opening the door. It had been blocked by her mistress’s body.
Soon after Mrs. Bailey raised the alarm, the castle surgeon arrived. He attempted to revive the patient, but in vain. Garbled news soon spread to the nearby hills. Brodie Cruickshank, a young Scottish merchants’ agent, arrived at the fort within the hour, mistakenly supposing that it was the governor himself who had perished. In his memoir Eighteen Years on the Gold Coast of Africa, he later recalled his shock on entering the room where Mrs. Maclean’s body had been laid out on a bed. He had dined with the Macleans only the evening before, when she had appeared to be in “perfect health.” The governor himself was in the room. He had slid down into a chair and was silently staring into space, his face “crushed.”
Knopf. With 51 B&W illustrations and 12 color images.
416 pages. $30 ISBN 978-0-375-41278-3
To interview the author, contact:
Katie Schoder | 212-572-2103 | email@example.com