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A famous poet, a mysterious death and a story stranger than fiction.

On 15 October 1838, the body of a thirty-six-year-old woman was found in Cape Coast Castle, West Africa, a bottle of Prussic acid in her hand. She was one of the most famous English poets of her day: Letitia Elizabeth Landon, known by her initials ‘L.E.L.’

What was she doing in Africa? Was her death an accident, as the inquest claimed? Or had she committed suicide, or even been murdered?

To her contemporaries, she was an icon, hailed as the ‘female Byron’, admired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Heinrich Heine, the young Brontë sisters and Edgar Allan Poe. However, she was also a woman with secrets, the mother of three illegitimate children whose existence was subsequently wiped from the record. After her death, she became the subject of a cover-up which is only now unravelling.

Too scandalous for her reputation to survive, Letitia Landon was a brilliant woman who made a Faustian pact in a ruthless world. She embodied the post-Byronic era, the ‘strange pause’ between the Romantics and the Victorians. This new investigation into the mystery of her life, work and death excavates a whole lost literary culture.

Reviews

A fascinating portrait of a woman and her times and a heartbreaking song of the fickleness of love and fame.

Economist

In her biography of L.E.L., Lucasta Miller’s stellar research blows two centuries of accumulated dust off a phenomenon worth unearthing… This book takes biography to a new level… Miller’s determination to distill meaning from fact brings her work close to the sort of detection found in Joseph Conrad, whose aim is to make is “see”.

New Statesman

[An] infinitely rich literary biography.

Katharine Powers, Wall Street Journal

Wonderfully entertaining... spellbinding.

New York Times Book Review

Riveting… A thorough, engaging, and even loving restoration of a woman writer whose story needed to be told and whose works required fresh, attentive eyes.

Kirkus Reviews

Miller crafts a fascinating narrative that is as much about the volatile ways in which gender intersects with cultural practices, including drug addiction, sexuality, colonialism, and creativity, as it is about her provocative subject, Letitia Elizabeth Landon.

Emily Bowles, Library Journal

Compelling as a detective story, Miller’s revelatory life of Landon is a masterpiece of eloquent scholarship.

Literary Review

A sirenic, ultramodern biography. Miller’s sleuth-scholar storytelling engages an inventive tone to unravel hidden, seismic-secrets of the nineteenth-century London literary landscape.

Yvonne Conza, Electric Literature

L.E.L. is the first biography of Landon to explore recent revelations about her life, and the literary critic Lucasta Miller's sleuthing delivers an unexpected result. The figure who emerges from her pages is not just a missing link in literary Romanticism, but a progenitor of something modern.

Nicholas Dames, Atlantic

Ingenious.

New Yorker

Miller is a brilliant explicator of the troubled trail of fact and fiction that biography leaves in its wake... a fierce and enthralling book.

New York Review of Books

Miller resurrects the all-but-forgotten life and once radiant career of Letitia Elizabeth Landon... A compelling examination of an unjustly marginalized literary life.

Booklist

A searching biography that uses historical detective work to address the riddle of a brilliant poet’s dramatic early death… L.E.L. offers a vivid, if often bleak, picture of the life and times of an extraordinary woman. Miller handles the complex story of Landon’s life with the pace and skill of a novelist, and her book should fascinate anyone interested in the history of British women’s writing, or anyone who has ever looked at histories of Romantic and Victorian literature and wondered what, exactly, happened in the gap between the two.

Joe Crawford, BBC History Magazine

Textured and lively... Miller's biography vividly restores a forgotten author and her faded world, that of the 'strange pause' between the Romantics and the Victorians.

Publishers Weekly

In a brilliant work of literary resuscitation, Lucasta Miller explores Landon’s forgotten poetry and vigorously challenges the legacy of “lies and evasions” surrounding her… brilliantly informative.

Claire Harman, Evening Standard

This is biography as liberation, in which a woman's story is allowed to stand on its own terms. It its firmly in the within a tradition of seminal accounts of complex women – Claire Tomalin's The Invisible Woman, Claire Tomalin's The Invisible Woman, Amanda Foreman's Georgiana, Lucasta Miller's own Brontë Myth – in which the power of the genre to bear witness to the complexity of women's lives is everywhere apparent.

Daisy Hay, Times Literary Supplement

Miller explores the seedy underbelly of the era with panache… Miller’s definitive biography restores to life a poet who influenced writers such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti and Charlotte Bronte.

Paula Byrne, The Times

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… Miller cuts through the tangle with meticulous, precise research.

John Carey, Sunday Times

This is a compelling life of the victim of a misogynist celebrity culture, a rich mix of literary criticism and impeccable research, which reads like a novel – you keep turning the pages to discover whatever will happen next to the unfortunate L.E.L.

Jane Ridley, Daily Telegraph

Boldly original... sharp-eyed.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Spectator

Excellent... should become required reading.

Oldie

An energetic, fascinating and deeply researched book… Miller’s skill is to address and capture the transient nature of Landon’s fame…to retrieve her [Landon] from history’s doldrums, and demolish the mocking which continued for decades.

Catherine Taylor, Financial Times

Readers…will come away from Miller’s excellent biography understanding why [Landon] matters.

Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

A compelling book.

The Week, *Book of the Week*

Terrific… Miller expertly decodes the story of her life and loves from poems, and the book reads like a novel.

Jane Ridley, Tablet, *Summer reads of 2019*

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Formats & editions

  • Hardback

    9780224079396

    May 16, 2019

    Jonathan Cape

    416 pages

    RRP $55.00

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook

    9781473571716

    May 16, 2019

    Vintage Digital

    416 pages

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