The Author: Letitia Elizabeth Landon (LEL)

The initial "L." was attached to a very young writer's first published piece in the Literary Gazette periodical on 11 March 1820. The teenaged writer, Letitita Elizabeth Landon, with the financial help of her grandmother, went on to publish The Fate of Adelaide under her full name in the next year, and then in September of 1821 published two more poems, signing them simply "L.E.L." The intriguingly simple initials came to significantly foreshadow the many mysteries of this prolific writer, poet and editor who led a short, prosperous, and successful life, plagued by gossip, innuendo and rumors.

Letitia Elizabeth Landon was born in London 14 August 1802. Her father, John Landon, was the son of a country minister in Hereferdshire. John had two brothers who became prominent ministers. Letitia's mother is one of the first mysteries encountered in looking at the available biographical material. Her mother is known to have been Welsh, and began life with a small fortune, but little else is known. Few facts are known of Letitia's childhood, but there is plenty of speculation based on some of her thinly veiled autobiographical writings; however, even some of those are disputed by close relatives and friends. It is known that her cousin, Elizabeth, was in charge of her education when her literary skills became known, and it is Elizabeth who brought Letitia to the attention to their neighbor, William Jerden, the editor of the Literary Gazette, where her first work was published.

At some point, near the time of L.E.L.'s father's death in 1824, she became estranged from her mother, significant because it broke up the family. L.E.L. went to live either with her maternal grandmother, and later on her own, fueling the first set of rumors about the inappropriately chaperoned single, young woman.

Biographers agree that L.E.L. earned a substantial amount of money during her writing career, at least £2585, perhaps much more. She did continue to support her estranged mother and her brother, who went on, with L.E.L.'s support, to graduate from Oxford and become a noted minister.

During her young life, there were persistent, but vague and veiled, rumors about L.E.L.'s associations with various men in the literary circles in which she worked and presumably socialized. These rumors were persistent and provoked by anonymous letters circulated widely regarding her alleged improprieties. One biographer claims the innuendos are completely without merit, others claim she may have had many love affairs with many men, and possibly as many as three illegitimate children with the editor, William Jerden (Lokke 103).

It is widely reported, but also noted to be speculation, that her engagement to John Forster (biographer of Charles Dickens) was broken in 1835 because of the rumors of her "improper associations" (Sypher 11). It is fact that in 1836 she met George Maclean, they married in June 1838, and soon after left England for Africa where Maclean was the governor of the British post at Cape Coast in West Africa. But again, there is only speculation about the degree of happiness in their short union. It is known that they lived for a very short time together in Africa where the events of the final mystery in L.E.L.'s life took place. On 15 October 1838, in the morning, but only a short time after rising for the day, L.E.L. was found dead in her room from an overdose of prussic acid , a drug she was known to use as medication for an unspecified illness. She was reported to have been frequently in poor health and weak, and it was speculated to be as serious as a lung or liver disease, or as common as a virus. An inquest into the death was performed quickly, and the result was a conclusion of accidental overdose. At the time, and through the years, murder, suicide, and other natural causes have been presented as other possibilities. L.E.L. was buried the same day as her death, and when the surprising news broke in England in January of 1839, "the literary world went into shock that such a brilliant figure had come to such an end" (Sypher 12).

L.E.L.'s fate is that she remains the quintessential enigma -- she was scandalously mysterious in life as well as death. We have a significant body of literary work to read and use to speculate, interpret, and critique, but beyond this, very little in the form of concrete facts and evidence to give us an in-depth insight into her short life.

 

Links to websites about LEL:

LEL Web Site

Francis J. Sypher's Site: The Occultation of L.E.L.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

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