L.E.L.: The Lost Life and Scandalous Death of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, the Celebrated “Female Byron”

Lucasta Miller. Knopf, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-375-41278-3
Literary critic Miller (The Brontë 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 naïve 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. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 11/12/2018
Release date: 03/05/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 400 pages - 978-0-224-07939-6
Book - 978-0-525-65535-0
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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