“Life has one vast stern likeness in its gloom”:Letitia
Landon's philosophy of decomposition
And when, amid no earthly moans, Down, down that town shall settle hence, Hell, rising from a thousand thrones, Shall do it reverence.
Edgar Allan Poe, “The City in the Sea”
The poetry of Letitia Landon (1802–38) has attracted much recent critical attention, which typically emphasizes the destructive degree to which Landon herself inhabited the persona of heartbroken, beautiful femininity, and the conflicted status of “poetess. ” Yet, as Angela Leighton has also noted, there remains in Landon's work a sense of world-weary Byronic cynicism and a preoccupation with evil that “points…to hidden forces in human nature, even in female nature–forces which,'unsanctified by religion,' might sweep the soul out of its picture-book passivity into real chaos and crime. ” 1 Landon's poetics of the beautiful are in fact mirrored by a poetics of despair that originate in the body and its dangerous powers, a corporeal poetics that goes far beyond the critique of the beautiful that Anne Mellor, Glennis Stephenson, Leighton, and others have located in her poetry.
Mellor, to note one influential interpretive example, argues that “[b] y equating the essence of woman with her body (the specular object of beauty) Landon defined the kind of knowledge women could possess” (RG, 120). But we need not limit women's bodies to their function as objectified Beauty in a specular economy. Landon may have been “trapped in the social discourse of her day, ” 2 as we all probably are, but that social discourse, particularly that of the body, included far more than the sexual ideology of love and beauty. By “confining her heroines' consciousness to what they can experience through the body, on earth, ” Mellor argues,