I’ve posted (and lamented) at length about women’s education or lack thereof in the Regency era and the years that followed. The few women with any sort of rigorous intellectual life or semblance of a classical education were self taught. Today I present an interesting example.
Letitia Elizabeth Landon published poetry and novels under the initials L.E.L. between 1820 and the late 1830s. She is particularly interesting in that her work often expressed what is called “Romantic Hellenism.” Hellenism, glorification of Greek arts and literature, flowered in the early to mid 1800s in England fueled in part by the arrival of the Elgin Marbles and by archaeological discoveries. It manifested itself in art, architecture, and poetry.
Landon published over thirty poems with themes taken from ancient Greece, most of them in the 1830s, all of them under her initials. In the light of my earlier posts about women and education, I have to wonder about her underlying scholarship. She was educated at a progressive woman’s academy, Mrs. Rowden’s School in London for a few years, but from age seven on was home-schooled by a cousin. By all accounts she was a voracious reader and had access to books. At 18 she had published her first poem, and embarked on a career as a writer. She certainly did not have access to university education or the Grand Tour. One author refers to Romantic Hellenism being more related to its contemporary culture and having “little historical or textual basis” in ancient Greece. Her work falls into that category. Still, her knowledge of Greek mythology and culture seems to have been wide, gained, one assumes, from reading.
Landon’s poetry received critical praise in her own time. Elizabeth Barrett Browning is said to be an admirer. It is interesting to note that when she published her first book of poetry in 1821 using her full name, it garnered little literary notice. Soon after she began publishing poems in the Literary Gazette as “L.E.L.” Bulwar Lytton claimed he and his friends watched avidly for L.E.L. in the Gazette, and were even more admiring when they discovered L.E.L. to be female.
Whatever else can be said about Landon, her determination and drive got her farther than most women could imagine in that era.
For more information about Romantic Hellenism and Letitia Landon see: