ver the years Landon had contributed over three hundred poems to the Literary Gazette. Now her contributions to it declined as she changed her focus, but still continued to write reviews for the magazine. Public taste had moved away from poetry to prose, and Colburn and Bentley entered into their greatly popular and profitable era of “silver-fork” fiction. In this genre authors, usually promoted as belonging to the aristocracy, laid open their fashionable world to less-fortunate, middle-class readers. They, in turn, were enabled to feel superior, more worthy, than the shallow, trivial frivolities portrayed within the pages of their novels. The “silver-fork” novels played to this dichotomy, often satirising the foppish world to such an extent that they seemed to celebrate it in a heavily ironic way, as an ideal. Few were as overtly satirical as Landon, in her next venture.
Landon’s first foray into three-volume fiction appeared at the end of 1831. Romance and Reality was published by Colburn and Bentley, who paid her “£300, in Bills when the work was ready or within 2-3 weeks of it being ready for press” — an arrangement documented in a letter Jerdan wrote to Bentley. are The first print run was to be 1250 copies, and if a second edition was required, they would print a further 750 copies. According to W. St. Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, the Bentley Archives reveal that only 1000 were printed and sold out (Add MS 46,674).Their reason for limiting the editions was that most middle-class readers would not afford to purchase the three volumes outright, and that Colburn’s unsurpassable talents for puffing in the periodicals would ensure that the book would be in great demand by commercial lending libraries, his targeted market for sales.
Mary Howitt, who met “Daddy Jerdan” and Landon at The Rosery in Brompton, home of Samuel Carter and Mrs Hall, reported that “Miss Landon chattered hard all the time, was using her round eyes that evening; in her forthcoming book Romance and Reality some of her friends were given ridiculous ‘puffs’ and she introduced the present company” (A. Lee, Laurels and Rosemary). Landon did portray Mary Howitt, as well as an instantly recognisable and complimentary portrait of Edward and Rosina Bulwer. It was hardly surprising then, that Bulwer gave Landon’s book a glowing review in the New Monthly Magazine of which he was then editor, a review which he introduced with the anecdote, since much quoted, of the Cambridge undergraduates scrambling for a glimpse of the latest L.E.L. poem in the Literary Gazette. His praise was in part a reciprocation for Landon’s article on his own work, which had been published in May of the same year in the New Monthly Magazine, an article so fulsome that Fraser’s affected to believe it had been written by Bulwer himself (Sadleir, Bulwer and his Wife 258).
The Critical Rception of Romance and Reality
he Athenæum was quick to complain that the Literary Gazette had given the book twelve columns of puffing before it was made available to other reviewers. This attack was clearly against the periodical and Colburn, not against Jerdan personally; the following week the Athenæum for 10 December 1831 gave a lead position to a praising review which nevertheless concluded that Landon had not yet fully used her powers (793-95). Other reviews complained that Romance and Reality was not a novel. Landon used the first two volumes as a vehicle for discussing society’s foibles, the state of literature, and politics, with authorial asides on any other subjects that took her fancy. The plot line was subservient to all these ‘messages’, and it was not until the third volume that much action occurred at all. The book was not a success. Portraits of some writers were highly unflattering. Those who believed they had suffered from Landon’s reviews in the Literary Gazette took the opportunity to return the compliment in their critical reviews and comments. However, Landon’s explicit portrait of her radical friend Bulwer was a dangerous indulgence, drawing down insinuations about her relationship with him. Mischievously, in his text for Fraser’s ‘Gallery of Illustrious Literary Characters’ in August 1832 Maginn would not describe Bulwer, saying only “L.E.L. in her Romance and Reality has so completely depicted Bulwer (we shall not say con amore lest that purely technical phrase should be construed literally)…that it would be useless” (112).
Although Landon penned this distinct portrait of Bulwer, any portrait of Jerdan is altogether absent. There are small clues which definitely refer to him, here and there, and some passages where Landon may have had him in mind. In Volume 1, a character says that “the excitement of a literary career is so great, that most sentiments seem tame by its side. Homage you have from the many – praise is familiar to your ear, and your lover’s compliment seems cold when weighed against that of your reviewer. Besides, a lover is chiefly valued for the consequence he gives; he loses one great charm when you have it without him”. The speaker here was described as “good-looking and singularly tall”. Whilst this may depict Jerdan, it could as well be another Scottish friend of Landon’s, Allan Cunningham, or merely a figment of her imagination. However, Landon was not now so much in need of Jerdan’s “consequence” as she had been at the outset of her career, and this comment may be a small indication that for her, he was losing “one great charm.”
In another chapter she quoted a couplet from Sir Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel, with a footnote coyly stating “I find this remark previously made in the National Portrait Gallery; and I am glad to observe the opinion confirmed by such authority as the author of those biographical sketches.” She could simply have named Jerdan, but chose not to do so. Elsewhere she began a chapter with a quotation attributed to the ‘Juvenile Library,’ a little unkindly perhaps, considering what a failure this was for Jerdan. In another chapter she attributes an “elaborate essay” on the relative intelligence of geese and turkeys to the Foreign Literary Gazette. This was either playful or unkind, as no such article appeared in any of the few issues of this, another of Jerdan’s ill-fated ventures. Several of the literary works mentioned in the novel had been reviewed in the Literary Gazette between 1824 and 1831, written either by Landon herself, or by Jerdan.
Landon remarked that the pleasures of childhood are more satisfying than those of later days, as they “suffice unto themselves. The race is run without an eye to a prize… Hope destroys pleasure” as life darkens around us. Landon inserted a footnote to her phrase “Hope destroys pleasure”, most likely referring to Jerdan as she had previously used terminology about deferring to his judgment:
This remark having been questioned by one to whose judgment I exceedingly defer, may I be permitted not to retract, but to defend my assertion? Hope is like constancy, the country, or solitude – all of which owe their reputation to the pretty things that have been said about them. Hope is but the poetical name for that feverish restlessness which hurries over today for the sake of to-morrow. Who among us pauses upon the actual moment, to own “Now, even now, am I happy?” The wisest of men has said, that hope deferred is sickness to the heart: yet what hope have we that is not deferred? For my part, I believe that there are two spirits who preside over this feeling, and that hope, like love, has its Eros and Anteros. Its Eros, that reposes on fancy, and creates rather than calculates; while its Anteros lives on expectation, and is dissatisfied with all that is, in vague longing for what may be.
This refutation of Jerdan’s objection to her phrase reads as a message directly to him. Landon had spent quite a few years in “feverish restlessness”, and possibly in expectation, and she may easily have been at the stage of being “dissatisfied with all that is.” Jerdan, in contrast, found pleasure almost everywhere, and apart from his financial worries, appeared to live life very much in the present, with little attention to “Hope”.
In Chapter IX of Volume 3 of Romance and Reality Landon appeared remorseful, sorry for the situation in which she found herself, with no protective husband and, somewhere out of sight, three small children:
Alas, for human sagacity! And that which is to depend on it – human conduct! Look back on all the past occurrences of our lives; - who are there that, on reflection, would not act diametrically opposite to what they formerly acted on impulse? No one would do the same thing twice over. Experience teaches, it is true; but she never teaches in time. Each event brings its lesson, and the lesson is remembered; but the same event never occurs again.
Except, of course, that for Landon it had occurred again, and then again. Landon’s pervasive air of melancholy in the poems, and in this first novel, did not find favour with readers. Her perpetual fascination with sorrows, deaths and suicides was not in accord with popular taste.
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Hall, S. C. The Book of Memories of Great Men and Women of the Age, from personal acquaintance. 2nd ed. London: Virtue & Co. 1877.
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Last modified 16 July 2020