By Julie Watt
Poisoned Lives is a double biography of Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L.E.L.) - the best-selling Regency poet known to her contemporaries as 'the female Byron' - and her husband George Maclean - British administrator on Africa's Gold Coast, known as the Father of Modern Ghana. Landon's reading public adored her writing and poetry and made her the best-selling female author of her time. As an early media celebrity, her life was the subject of society gossip, so her sudden death in Africa shocked the nation (a 'melancholy catastrophe' ran one headline) and led to rumors of suicide or murder. Her husband's name was henceforth blackened by London society, which unwittingly superimposed the plots of Landon's fictions upon the circumstances of her death. The scandal unjustly ruined Maclean's career, despite the fact that he cleared 200 miles of Western African coast of British slave trading, made peace with the warlike Asante, instituted a judicial system still in use in many African democracies, and encouraged fair and successful trading. According to an inquest, Landon's death was caused by her improper use of a prescribed medicine, but the rumor mongers discounted the difficult circumstances of life on the Gold Coast in the mid-1800s, and hinted that "Mrs. Maclean, only recently married, owed her death to the revengeful passions of the natives, who poisoned the wife in order to have vengeance on the husband." Among those who enjoyed her work or recognized her influence were Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It might be said that, to reflect fully the aesthetics of early 19th-century poetry, one has to consider, together, the works of William Wordsworth, Felicia Hemans, and Letitia Elizabeth Landon.
Publication Date: 11/1/2010