Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L.EL.) (1802 – 1838) is another example of what distinguishes 19th century women poets from their predecessors. Those in the 17th and 18th centuries had been the precocious, the upstarts, the smart individuals with open-minded fathers or uncles. Instead, we find many of the women of the 19th century turning their talents to money-making needs early on. Landon’s father had been wealthy until some unwise decisions on the stock market, and her family were attempting to restore their former glory. Landon’s brother went to Oxford, while she began publishing poems as a teenager. After her father’s death in 1825, Landon pursued a career releasing numerous volumes of poetry, as well as writing pieces for a variety of journals and annuals. After her death, the young L.E.L. was remembered by a childhood neighbour as:
…a plump girl, grown enough to be almost mistaken for a woman, bowling a hoop round the walks, with the hoop-stick in one hand and a book in the other, reading as she ran, and as well as she could manage both exercise and instruction at the same time. The exercise was prescribed and insisted upon; the book was her own irrepressible choice.
By 1830, Landon – publishing under the intriguing, gender-neutral name of “L.E.L.” – rented a room in London, writing independently and sometimes defiantly. She was a free woman, one might say. L.E.L. is not a moralist or a didactic poet like her contemporary, Felicia Hemans. Instead, her female voices are those of independent, creative, or passionate women, women who are interacting with the world on their own terms – and often being punished for doing so, but unfairly.
Befriending poets of both genders, L.E.L. faced allegations of scandal from various men she was said to have degraded herself with, including Edward Bulwer-Lytton, MP and author of The Last Days of Pompeii. Perhaps some of her female idols from the continent could get away with this behaviour but 19th century England was not the place for it. Landon seems to have been conflicted in her role as a poet; writing for money often meant catering to the market, but she was someone who wished to tell her own stories, to question society, and those acts couldn’t always go together.