Ms. Miller gives us a thorough view of Letitia’s character as relentless flatterer, flirt and self-promoter, but also as a desperate woman, both raised-up and ruined by her relationship with a powerful but truly awful man ... [These details only touch on] the details of Letitia Landon’s life as patched together and filled out by Ms. Miller, who has ably dispersed a mighty welter of deception, obfuscation and evasion ... Miller quotes and analyzes [Landon's work] with revelatory insight ... In this infinitely rich literary biography, Ms. Miller treats the life and the work dialectically, each informing and shaping the other...
Miller is unafraid of anachronisms and applies them vividly ... Miller delves eagerly into the menacing, male-dominated world of magazines and publishers ... Compared with the anodyne picture of the culture industry in most scholarship, Miller’s portrait is detailed and tenaciously cynical—and truer. In her hands, Landon’s story is a recognizably modern tragedy, that of the female artist forced to earn attention by reshaping her exploitation into a febrile glamour, knowing all the while that eventually titillation will become condemnation.
By the discovery of new material relating especially to the existence of L.E.L’s children, Miller has been able to piece together very coherently the celebrity, notoriety, fame, and shame of the writer’s story. While the main focus is on the vibrant and vicious atmosphere of the male-dominated and misogynistic London literary scene, Miller also presents without indulging in pop psychology some fascinating glimpses of the family atmosphere ... This memorable and fascinating book is far from being just another example of the increasingly common attempts to excavate a female genius stifled by her male partner. Seen against the complex backdrop of her family circumstances, the machinations of literary London, and changing social mores that made a 'female Byron' no longer socially acceptable, L.E.L., in death as in life, continues to intrigue and bewilder.
Miller wants us to see LEL less as a great poet (she really wasn’t) and more as an interesting 'foremother' of today’s performative culture. In this reading, her first-person voice, which often seems provisional or about to be overwritten by the next thought or a new poem, becomes akin to the serial self-staging that you see on Twitter and Instagram. Under the particular pressure of the age, which languished somewhere between Romanticism and Victorianism, Landon threw together an identity for herself that spoke to the commercial demands of mass market publishing, but also answered the decree that authenticity was everything. Although it is hard to imagine readers scurrying to rediscover LEL’s verse, they will come away from Miller’s excellent biography understanding why she matters.
Part of the aim of Miller’s biography is reclaiming Landon’s writing as worthy of critical prestige, and it’s a risky move. Although her work is extensive and absorbing, it is uneven. A central problem, then, for Miller is providing a persuasive explanation for why Landon has largely been forgotten. Is it because she was a woman? Or because her style fell out of favor? Should we revisit her poetry now because its qualities have been misjudged, or, rather, because her extraordinary life gives fresh charge to what might, in fact, be a prosaic body of work? ... By insisting on Landon’s skill as a poet, Miller ends up leaning heavily on the unusual scansion of single stanzas of verse as evidence of her innovative brilliance ... By arguing for her ingenuity as a poet, Miller works herself into a corner wherein irregular metrics are a sign of talent, not something else — incompetence, say. Is the ingénue a good writer, or is she just a good character?
Landon’s story now takes on elements of a psychological thriller, as well as an unsettling resonance in these days of Me Too. Miller is a brilliant explicator of the troubled trail of fact and fiction that biography leaves in its wake ... This long, fraught entanglement with her subject gives Miller’s biography its intricate fascination. It is scholarly, passionate, and angry ... produces a devastating picture of the competitive subculture of literary London in the 1820s and 1830s ... thanks to Lucasta Miller’s fierce and enthralling book, a complex kind of justice has been rendered to L.E.L. for the first time.
[An] enjoyable biography-mystery tale ... Her sex life aside, Landon was a hardworking, prolific writer of real talent, cheated and undervalued by London’s male publishing establishment. In a sensitive analysis of her work, Miller sees her as a sophisticated pioneer. Landon’s poetry seems unlikely to come back into style, but her life—at turns funny and sad, but always spirited—has enduring relevance.
Miller is far too scrupulous and interesting a writer to be seduced by the salaciousness of her own discoveries. Her account of L.E.L.’s troubled life instead makes a triumphant case for literary biography: that, when it is done well, it can shine a light on a writer’s work. In its own way, L.E.L. is as interested in the processes and implications of biography as The Brontë Myth, but here Miller makes her own project, rather than those of others, the test case for an exploration of the limits and possibilities of life-writing ... Miller turns this reading of L.E.L. on its head, underscoring the quiet misogyny of facile dismissals of an oeuvre which represents the tortured double standard imposed on countless generations of women ... Not all readers will agree with the claims Miller makes for L.E.L.’s significance, but it is hard to dispute that the very ephemerality of L.E.L.’s work makes her a peculiarly appropriate spokeswoman for a literary age marked by artifice ... This is biography as liberation, in which a woman’s story is allowed to stand on its own terms. It sits firmly within a tradition of seminal accounts of complex women in which the power of the genre to bear witness to the complexity of women’s lives is everywhere apparent.
The extensive research shows, but so does the entanglement in writing that is dense and academic ... After plowing through 320 pages of small type, plus 54 pages of notes and bibliography, one wonders if the author was trying to refashion her Ph.D. thesis for the commercial market ... Like a student bewitched by her research, Miller provides every exhaustive detail about L.E.L. and her lovers, friends, neighbors.
Miller explores the seedy underbelly of the era with panache: it was a society in transition from the reckless Regency to the increasingly moralizing, sentimental age of Victoria ... Miller vividly describes William Jerdan’s grooming of Letitia—we first see him ogling her in the garden as she played, a hoop in one hand and a book of poetry in the other ... Miller’s definitive biography restores to life a poet who influenced writers such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti and Charlotte Brontë. It cannot be said that the samples of her poetry included here will make one rush to find the complete works, but that is a matter of changing taste.
A fascinating narrative that is as much about the volitile ways in which gender intersects with cultural practices as it is about her provocative subject ... Suitable for readers interested in Romantic and Victorian poetry as well as those seeking out lost female writers.
Lawford’s article gives little space to the 'lachrymose sentiments' of Landon’s poetry. But Miller pays it much fuller attention, and strives to make it sound interestingly up-to-date ... Her most gripping section concerns Landon’s death ... meticulous, precise research.
Miller’s L.E.L. is a terrifically detailed and, once again, invigorating account, a fittingly complex monument to a very complicated woman ... Mercifully, Miller spends very little time on... sensationalism; she’s far more concerned with filling in the fine details of a woman working hard to make a living for herself and her dependents by her pen in an age that still tended to frown on such efforts ... [Miller] marshals the raw materials of Letitia Landon’s life to a masterful extent and makes terrific reading out of it all. The only drawback to how well she does one of the two things a Landon biographer can do is how energetically she tries to do the other thing: somehow burnish or renovate Landon’s literary reputation. This is a thoroughly disastrous thing to attempt, and Miller, bless her, attempts it.
Ms Miller is excellent on social and literary London: the Romantic rage for sex-and-suicide; the nabobs of Empire; the bluestocking ladies and Garrick Club gentlemen; the Grub Street scribblers and Punch magazine’s social-climbing Mr and Mrs Spangle Lacquer. Her reading of Landon’s poems is less convincing ... Nevertheless, this book is a fascinating portrait of a woman and her times and a heartbreaking song of the fickleness of love and fame.
... densely researched and boldly original ... Miller makes a strong case for thinking that Landon’s fall from grace wasn’t an accident ... the final chapters of Miller’s biography contain some poignant glimpses of a life that was increasingly being led in the shadows, as the party invitations dried up and Landon spent her evenings wandering the streets and looking in the shop windows ... Her new book is...sharp-eyed as an analysis of the myths that grow up around some writers and the motives behind them. Its greatest achievement is to show that Landon’s scandalous life was far more than just the context for her poetry. To a large extent it also shaped how she wrote, producing verses that were playful and performative, full of stylistic dodges and disguises, and told her readers as much about themselves as they did about the mysterious ‘L.E.L.’ whose signature appeared beneath each poem. Miller pushes some of the contemporary parallels a bit far—her claims that Schubert’s ‘wine, women, and song’ was ‘the sex, drugs, and rock and roll of the day’, or that laudanum was ‘the Ritalin of the day’, are strained—but she undoubtedly makes a compelling case for Landon as the sort of poet who invites us to draw firm conclusions and then laughs at us for getting ahead of ourselves.
...tantalizing ... Miller’s book is fascinating—a beguiling mix of gossip, scandal, and social analysis ... after reading the Miller’s account of this strange and sad life, it’s hard to read the poems without sympathy, or what Landon lacked in her own life: respect.
... an energetic, fascinating and deeply researched book which is as much about the 'strange pause'—the slippery, ambiguous hinterland in literature and history between the end of the Romantic era of Shelley, Byron and Keats, and the beginning of the Victorian age—as it is about Letitia Landon herself. In 1820s and 1830s London, Miller uncovers a thriving publishing culture of hacks and literary wannabes with L.E.L.—the persona indistinguishable from the person—at its centre ... The story of L.E.L. is salacious enough, but Miller’s skill is to address and capture the transient nature of Landon’s fame—an instantly recognisable prototype of self-made celebrity—to retrieve her from history’s doldrums, and demolish the mocking which continued for decades ... the success of this vastly intriguing book is that by its end the reader is of the same conviction.
Miller applies her investigative skills to the Regency literary culture that made and destroyed Landon, and finds it brutally misogynistic and riven by envy, spite and mischief-making. For those who believe in the civilising power of literature, it is a dismal spectacle, and Miller argues persuasively that one reason Landon was so quickly forgotten is that the Victorians wished to draw a veil over 'the literary industry’s sleazy past.' Her most gripping section concerns Landon’s death ... Miller cuts through the tangle with meticulous, precise research.
... What emerges in fascinating detail is the extent of corruption in the literary marketplace, which, a century later, still resembled – in the words of Woolf – 'the Underworld' ... This book takes biography to a new level, making it difficult to place. It goes beyond the facts of a life and its connections ... Miller’s determination to distil meaning from fact brings her work close to the sort of detection found in Joseph Conrad...This venture is all the more heroic for a seeker’s uncertainties. It demands exploratory imagination along with surface fact: in this case, the sudden death of a famous person long ago ... Deftly and surely, Miller peels away the extravagant melancholy of the poet’s lovelorn mask to reveal a sexual bargain ... I love Miller’s tart, ironic voice as she unpicks the lies and obfuscation of editors, businessmen, journalists and even Landon’s doctor ... Most keenly of all, Miller unpicks the shifts of the poet herself as a creature of her shifty world ... The very challenge of this biography is that the subject has lent herself so completely to her array of guises, manifested in contrived portraits that it’s impossible to find her with any certainty ... Miller’s investigation into the corroded promise of one young life opens up an abyss and, holding our gaze, speaks eloquently to the present.
Literary critic Miller resurrects the all-but-forgotten life and once radiant literary career of Letitia Elizabeth Landon ... A scholarly and compelling examination of an unjustly marginalized literary life.
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 ... A thorough, engaging, and even loving restoration of a woman writer whose story needed to be told and whose works required fresh, attentive eyes.
Lively ... 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 ... 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.