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"What foreign scenes can be": The Ruin ofIndia in Letitia Landon's Scrapbook Poems Vanessa Warne Readers ofthe 1833 edition ofFisher's Drawing-Room Scrapbook may have been puzzled by Letitia Landon's poem "The Chinese Pagoda." Asked to write about an engraving ofChina's southern coast, Landon complains, O Captain Elliot, what could make you Forsake the Indian fanes ofyore? And what in mercy's name could take you To this most stupid Chinese shore? (40-3) Even the least observant reader would have been hard pressed to miss the fact that, far from forsaken, India featured prominently in the pages ofthe 1833 Scrapbook. While some literary annuals specialized in flattering portraits ofaristocratic women or reproductions ofprivately owned history paintings, the Scrapbook, true to its title, contained an assortment ofengravings, many ofwhich were images ofIndia by Robert Elliot. His sketches offoreign landscapes were a staple ofthe Scrapbook and proved popular with readers eager to view and learn about Britain's expanding empire. As "The Chinese Pagoda" indicates, Elliot's sketches were not always as popular with Landon. A contributor to several different annuals, Landon edited and authored the Scrapbook from its inception in 1832 until her death in 1838. In her preface to the first Scrapbook, Landon discusses some of the challenges she faced working in the literary annual industry. She explains: 40volume 32 number 2 "What foreign scenes can be" For the Volume now offered to the public, I must plead for indulgence. It is not an easy task to write illustrations to prints, selected rather for their pictorial excellence than their poetic capabilities; and mere description is not the most popular species ofcomposition. 1 have endeavoured to give as much variety as possible by the adoption ofany legend, train ofreflections, &c. which the subject could possibly suggest. (2)1 As was typical for the annuals, the Scrapbook was elaborately illustrated and paired steel-plate engravings with poetry and prose. Because a significant portion ofthe text ofannuals was commissioned to accompany preexisting engravings, visual images determined the literary content ofmany volumes. Landon's preface, like "The Chinese Pagoda," highlights the ekphrastic nature ofher poems, identifying them as literary works written to, for and about visual art. The preface also discusses the selection ofprints, alerting readers to Landon's lack ofcontrol and hinting at some ofthe challenges faced by poets obliged to write on subjects selected by artists. In a review of the Scrapbook for 1838, William Makepeace Thackeray, a notoriously unsympathetic critic ofthe annuals, acknowledges these challenges: In the work called Fishers Scrap-Book [...] Miss Landon has performed a miracle [. . .] it is a perfect wonder how any lady could have penned such a number ofverses upon all sorts of subjects, and upon subjects, perhaps, on which, in former volumes ofthis Scrap-Book, she has poetised half-a-dozen times before. She will pardon us for asking, ifshe does justice to her great talent by employing it in this way? (763)2 Thackeray emphasizes the sheer volume oftext which Landon was obliged to produce and sympathizes with her lack ofcreative freedom. Labeling her ability to produce poems on subjects dictated by images a "miracle," he compliments Landon's poetry but critiques the working conditions ofthe genre for which she writes. Recent studies ofthe annuals address their pairing ofpoems and images but typically focus on portraits ofwomen and the gender politics ofannuals. For instance, Peter Manning characterizes "the essence ofthe annual" as "the construction ofa single image ofthe Victorian Review (2006)4 1 V. Warne feminine under the guise ofvariety and discrimination"(63). Anne Mellor strikes a similar note when she argues that annuals "promoted an image ofthe ideal woman as specular, as the object rather than the owner ofthe gaze"(l 11). Glennis Stephenson also focuses on gender, explaining that "annuals [...] played a central role in the construction and consolidation ofthe female domestic ideal" (144). Although Margaret Linley has commented on Landon's interest in India, her discussion ofa "Hindoo Widow" focuses on ways in which "Landon expresses an affiliation with the colonized woman that sensationalizes and universalizes the condition offemale oppression" (69). Conversely , foreign landscapes have not received the critical attention accorded to gender and much remains to be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 40-63
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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