Corvey Project Database: Women's Writing 1790-1840; Author Web Page; Letitia Elizabeth Landon; Criticism and Contexts
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Critical Writings by Letitia Elizabeth Landon by Dr. Glenn Dibert-Himes, Sheffield Hallam University
Ed. F.J. Sypher. Delmar, New York: Scholar's Facsimiles and Reprints, 1996.
[ISBN 0-8201-1500-2] [LoC PR4865.L5 A6 1996] [Dewey 820.9--dc20] [96-32794].
F.J. Sypher began his pioneering Landon scholarship in the 1970s when L.E.L. was virtually unknown. His facsimiles and critical writing on Landon have been a steady source of inspiration and information to many of us who ardently wish to better understand this fascinating and even mysterious literary figure. Sypher now offers us a fourth volume in his facsimile series on Landon. In some ways, this is the most important edition in the series to date because it brings together scattered materials (some of which were previously unknown) by Landon that give a first look for many at her literary criticism. In addition to the excellent selection of primary materials in the edition, Sypher's introduction provides incisive background information on Landon and an excellent survey of current critical concerns on her life, art, and times. The appendices provide extremely useful secondary source material relating to Landon's critical work as well as a provocative glimpse at materials of uncertain attribution to her.
L.E.L. is often associated mainly with poetry, but as more of her work is recovered, it is increasingly evident that her reach as a writer extended well beyond that. We find among her huge corpus (over 1300 individual works) a variety of genres including the novel, short prose fiction, drama, and literary criticism.
This facsimile edition includes 22 individual samples of Landon's critical work, which to a large degree represents our knowledge of her critical writing. Also, Sypher has identified through manuscript materials several previously unknown pieces that shed some light on Landon's work as a reviewer for some of the best known literary periodicals of her day. These exciting new discoveries provide a first look at Landon's work as a reviewer.
One of the more important inclusions in Sypher's edition is the series on the female characters in Sir Walter Scott's novels that Landon was working on just before her death in 1838. In the series, L.E.L's. discussions range from some general comments on the impact of Scott's writing upon the nation as a whole to some focused explications of female characterization in his novels. Only the first three essays actually appeared in The New Monthly Magazine; the remaining 21 emerged posthumously in Laman Blanchard's (who was associated with the magazine) Life and Literary Remains of L.E.L.. From these few essays we can sense the exciting direction that Landon's writing was taking and can only imagine (wistfully perhaps) what she may have offered had she survived her unfortunate African adventure.
Additional essays concerning specific authors are two signed pieces: "On the Characteristics Mrs. Heman's Writings" and "The Criticism of Chateaubriand." Also, we have two of L.E.L.'s anonymous, yet controversial memoirs: "Living Literary Characters, No. V.--Edward Lytton Bulwer" (she was sharply criticized for this puff because it was regarded as a return favor to Lytton for his favorable review of Romance and Reality) and "Memoir of B. D'Israeli, Esq." (some suspect that this was part of Landon's ongoing campaign at the time to gain favor for an appointment for her brother).
Sypher also includes several of Landon's book reviews that were published anonymously: "Lazarus, by Mr. Haydon," "Benjamin Disraeli's Contarini Fleming," and "John Barrow's Tour Round Ireland." In their own writings about her, Landon's contemporaries and colleagues, such as Caroline Elwood, Anna Marie Hall, Sarah Sheppard, and Emma Roberts, indicate that Landon wrote many reviews for various publications, and these identified pieces in Sypher's edition give us a tantalizing glimpse of Landon's "anonymous" critical pen.
"On the Influence of Ancient and Modern Poetry" is perhaps the most theoretical of the writings Sypher collected. This essay is of special interest as a first-hand observation of and commentary on the shift in popular literature away from poetry and into prose that characterizes the transition between the Romantic and Victorian periods.
Three extremely interesting and useful appendices are affixed to the facsimile reproductions: 1) Statements by Contemporaries about Landon as a Critic, 2) Unpublished or Untraced Criticism by Landon, and 3) Articles of Uncertain Attribution to Landon. This material is a rich resource for further study into Landon's critical writing.
An added bonus to the facsimile material in the edition is Sypher's introduction. In addition to providing an excellent source of background information, he surveys some of the current critical concerns that surround Landon and pinpoints some of the more compelling areas in which further research and critical debate could be directed. Sypher's introduction, bolstered by his many years of primary research on Landon and supported by excellent bibliographical references, is a valuable source of anecdotal information on Landon's art, life, and times. His marvelous concluding comments on the distinctions between 20th century "rhetorical based analysis" and 19th century "impressionistic" critical perspectives are especially engaging. Sypher points out that "to understand the critical opinions of Landon's period, one needs to reconsider twentieth-century notions of what is important, and see the works of the period as they were seen at the time." Landon's critical works are excellent resources to begin to access and assess critical opinions in the period.
Clearly, anyone interested in late Romantic and early Victorian literature must peruse Sypher's pages--especially those of us who are devoted to the study of L.E.L.