Cynthia Lawford, 21 September 2000
Letitia Elizabeth Landon was one of the 19th century’s most romantic figures. When The Improvisatrice came out in 1824, she was described in the press as the female Byron, the English Sappho and, after the notoriously independent eponymous heroine of Madame de Staël’s novel, the English Corinne. Her ecstatic and melancholic verse appeared to exhibit her own passions in an age when ladies were supposed to keep quiet about such things. It is nonetheless assumed, as it was during her life, that her poems do not reflect her own experience. They exclaim love’s passions too hopelessly, it is said, bemoan its cruelty too frequently, and paint too many tears on pale cheeks and dewdrops on roses. But Landon was not a virgin whose naivety about sexual feelings was exceeded only by her incautious writing about them. On the contrary, it now transpires that at the height of her popularity she was secretly carrying on a love affair which resulted in the birth of three illegitimate children.