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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.


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


[An] infinitely rich literary biography.

Katharine Powers, Wall Street Journal

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

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

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Formats & editions

  • Hardback


    May 16, 2019

    Jonathan Cape

    416 pages

    RRP $55.00

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