andon wrote William Jerdan on 10 June 1834 asking him to approach Bentley, her publisher, “in the most forcible light” for an advance; she planned to set her next novel “in Paris during the latter end of the Revolution” and needed local colour (Sypher Letters 101). She wanted new ideas and to escape for a while from money worries. Only a very few letters between Landon and Jerdan seem to have survived, and most of those that have are printed by Jerdan in his Autobiography. They are from Landon on her trip to Paris in the summer of 1834 and from their often affectionate and playful tone indicate the close relationship between the two correspondents who, if they were no longer in the throes of a sexual relationship, were still good friends and colleagues. Jerdan’s alleged rationale for printing these missives was the interest of comparing his own trip to Paris in 1814 to the city Landon was experiencing twenty years later and his Autobiography was written almost twenty years after that. However, whereas Jerdan’s writings from Paris had been extensive journalistic observations, destined for daily publications in the Sun newspaper of which he was then editor, Landon’s letters are chiefly concerned with herself, and her trials and disappointments in the city. Jerdan, clearly blinded by emotion, calls her correspondence “sprightly pictures”, not noticing how self-centred they are.
Landon had decided to visit Paris for three reasons, she told Jerdan: scenes from her next novel were set there and it would be helpful to see the city for herself; she needed fresh ideas, and also needed a change of scene as relief from her money worries. She acquired as companion a Miss Turin, many years her senior and of independent means. “We parted on Thursday,” she reminded him, “though not at all too soon, much as I regretted it. You cannot think how I missed you. I really thought the morning would never pass” (3.187). Taking to her bed, exhausted by the crossing, she recovered sufficiently to confess that “The sun has scorched my face to such a hideous degree – forehead, nose and cheeks are all a ‘lively crimson’ and swelled till I do not know myself in the glass.” Signing off, she sent regards to her friends,” and hoping that you are missing me very much”. Despite Jerdan’s self-consciously offering “an excuse for the tone of reliance on me in regard to literary projects and business which had not lessened with the passage of time”, the feelings in this first letter are entirely personal and warm.
Keeping Jerdan informed at every step of her journey, Landon wrote again the moment she arrived in Paris, confessing “Never was there a worse traveller!” Ever worried about the cost of letters, Landon warned Jerdan, “Be sure, wafer, and thin paper.” Even publishing these letters so long after they were written, Jerdan was embarrassed about Landon’s penny-pinching: “In the second letter of the same day there is a terrible economising about franks and postage – evidently concerns of no small weight” (3.191). In this note she wished she could send letters via the ambassador’s bag, and thus avoid the two-franc cost and the trek to the post office. Paris was looking better to her, now that she had recovered from the journey: “How much I like the avenues. They were so crowded, the people looking so gay; but Paris is very empty…” These apparently contradictory observations referred to the usual French habit of the aristocracy and upper classes, her natural habitat, leaving the city in the summer – the crowds that were left behind being the lower and working classes, with whom Landon did not socialise.
The next letter that Jerdan kept for posterity was again very concerned about the cost of postage, castigating him for including a copy of the Literary Gazette with his letter. She tried to smuggle home a decorative waistcoat as a gift for Jerdan, wearing it under her clothes, but at Dover was “stript to the skin” and the gift, with other items, was confiscated. Even whilst visiting the Louvre and strolling in the Tuileries, business was never far from Landon’s mind. She told Jerdan that she thought interesting papers might be written on modern French authors, and would need to buy some to do the work. She was missing him more than usual, as this letter was signed “Your affectionate...” instead of the more common “Yours truly...”
Taking advantage of sending letters with an acquaintance leaving for London the next day, Landon recounted for Jerdan an incident which amused her. Heinrich Heine called and she took a while, she said, to conquer her shyness in speaking with a stranger. By way of conversation he asked her how she amused herself in Paris: had she been shopping? No. To the Jardin des Plantes? No. The opera? Theatres? No. Taken a walk? No. Read a great deal, or written, perhaps? No. But Mademoiselle, he asked in despair, what have you done? “I looked out of the window” was all she could manage. “Was there ever anything si bete?” she asked Jerdan. Quickly, Landon was back to business, telling him that a “most delightful series of articles” could be written on French literature, which “would require an immense deal of softening and adaptation to suit it to English taste.”
Another note berated Jerdan for not sending her the Literary Gazette and for not writing to her. She named several people who called on her, and invited her out to various entertainments, but nevertheless “it is impossible for me to go out by myself, or accept the attendance of any gentleman alone, so that I am surrounded with all sorts of little difficulties and embarrassments.” For a strong-minded independent woman who had a life of her own in London where everyone knew her, these claims to be so helpless sound false, as if she were both assuring Jerdan that she was behaving herself and showing herself as incapable of functioning without him. Jerdan seemed to have been a little envious of the good time he suspected she was having, despite her frequent complaints; she assured him “You seem very much to over-rate my gaiety”.
She saw a giraffe for the first time, describing it to Jerdan as “if nature had been making two creatures at once, and not having time to finish both, joined them together in a hurry, being about as well matched as marriages in general.” This could be construed as an oblique reference to her broken engagement to John Forster, or to Jerdan’s own marriage. He appended a footnote commenting on this analogy, saying “Unequal marriages are, it is true, seldom happy, but sometimes those which appear to be equal at the outset, turn out no better.” Although he followed this with an amusing little illustrative anecdote, he could well be referring to his own union with Frances, with whom he had shared a life for nearly thirty years.
In a business-like letter which she requested he read “with all due attention”, Landon enthused about her project of translating “with judgement” French literature, proposing to make an annual consisting entirely of translations of French prose and verse. She was aware of the costs involved in such a production, proposing to use existing prints on general subjects, rather than commissioning new ones to illustrate the book. She asked Jerdan to find her a publisher, as she could be ready in six weeks. Closer to her heart, he had not overwhelmed her with instant praise on her newest work. “How odd you should tell me that you had read the end of Francesca, and not say what you think of it. How can you justify such an omission?”
Landon’s second novel, a historical romance, Francesca Carrara had just been published in three volumes by Bentley. According to Jerdan she earned £300 for this book. The Literary Gazette of 8 November 1834 mentioned first the recent proliferation of novels, then moved on to Landon’s earlier work, Romance and Reality, described here as [though] “deficient in connected story, is a sparkling and brilliant performance”. In the new work “the fair writer, however, has evinced a still more perfect command of her subject. The story is sufficiently involved, continuous, marked by incident and full of deep interest”. The review also noted that “we have never perused a more varied, excellent and delightful production.” These vague generic terms are far from Jerdan’s usual florid praise of Landon’s work and may reflect the distance he felt between them, and was the reason why he did not comment on the book in his letters to Landon.
Landon’s constant complaints did not, at least in retrospect, irritate Jerdan. Instead, he declared that her letter
affords an idea of that feature of character which is often painted in her poetry; an excess of feminine timidity which, much as it might distress her and intensely as it might long for protection, yet ever led her rather to suffer absolute agony, than trouble, or encroach upon the good offices of others; for though she was as complete a coward as could be imagined, (and often suffered in great concerns and small, from want of common resolution,) the asking or accepting of an ordinary civility, which would have averted the evil, was a difficulty which, I suppose, none but splendid female poltroons could account for. [3.203]
He seemed to relish the notion of Landon as a martyr to her feminine sensibilities, especially as she had turned down his offer to come across the Channel to escort her home, on the grounds that it would not be prudent. Did it strike him as comic that she worried about this, at such a late stage of their relationship? He could, she allowed, meet her at the Dover customs house. She had second thoughts, though, and her final letter before departure told him “You quite misunderstood what I said about coming to Boulogne. As regarded myself, it is both a convenience and a pleasure. I spoke entirely with reference to yourself, and if I see you there, I shall be as glad as it is possible to be.” It is not known whether Jerdan did come to meet Landon at Boulogne or, more likely, at Dover, but that he proposed to take the time to do so indicates a continuing close friendship, if nothing more.
These few letters from Paris are the only indication of Landon’s easy, familiar communication with Jerdan, the consequence of a secret affair over twelve years. Their very familiarity suggests that the relationship was ongoing. Clearly, the letters meant a great deal to Jerdan, notorious for losing papers and even his own writings, as he kept them safe for nearly twenty years until he came to write his Autobiography. He explained why:
I have no comment to offer on these natural and unaffected reminiscences. To my mind they combine the wonderfully mixed qualities of every-day sense and observation, the peculiarities of sex, the love of nature and the beautiful in all things, the playfulness of fancy, and the innate charm of genius. Out of them I, at least, can re-create a vivid portrait of the lamented writer. [3.206]
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Last modified 16 July 2020