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Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s Castruccio Castrucani: gender through history

  1. In this essay I will focus primarily on Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s only play, Castruccio Castrucani, and in less detail on  Mary Shelley’s Valperga, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (1823) [1] in order to examine the exploration of  gender through history in these texts. I will firstly establish a parallel between the two works and then look at the ways in which these women writers, but in particular Landon, drew upon and reworked two male literary and historical sources: Niccolò Machiavelli and Walter Scott. I do not wish to reinforce these male writers’ assumptions but to use them as a sort of distorting mirror in which to see women’s place in history reflected but also deformed. In revisiting their prestigious male intertexts, Mary Shelley and Letitia Elizabeth Landon feminized history in quite different but equally powerful ways. This paper will discuss Landon’s history play both through an intra-textual perspective - placing Castruccio Castrucani within Landon’s own literary production - and through an inter-textual approach, comparing Landon’s play to Mary Shelley’s Valperga, to Niccolò Machiavelli’s Vita di Castruccio Castracani Da Lucca and to the novels of Walter Scott. I will argue that although female gender has been traditionally shaped by male historiography, which has persistently tried to erase women’s presence and social or political role from its development, at the same time women have strongly resisted this exclusion and the attempt to silence them by creating a revisionist history, by restoring a female presence and by articulating an audible female denunciation.

  2. I intend to introduce my arguments by engaging with a lively article on Mary Shelley’s Valperga, by Joseph W. Lew and included in the canonical volume The Other Mary Shelley. Beyond Frankenstein (1993). In his article Lew states that “Valperga was never staged; [and that] it spawned neither imitation nor sequels." (Lew, 1993: 160) He also adds that Valperga is not a novel à la Scott but “belongs to the tradition of historical romances written by women and often female-centred; characteristic of this genre are the structure that Mellor calls ‘female Romantic ideology’” (160.). According to Lew the women in Mary Shelley's historical novel, Euthanasia, Beatrice and Fior di Mandragola, “although [they] are scarcely passive, […] cannot initiate action but may only react to plots generated by the males surrounding them […] While Castruccio’s ‘life and adventures’ make the novel’s actions possible, the novel explores the ways in which women (and especially talented women) adapt themselves to and eventually disappear into the tapestry of male history” (164-165).

  3. I find these statements particularly relevant and useful to the development of my own arguments. Let me begin with Lew’s first statement: “Valperga was never staged; [and that] it spawned neither imitation nor sequels." Landon’s play Castruccio Castrucani, or the Triumph of Lucca, written about fourteen years after the publication of Valperga, contradicts this claim. The play was indeed never staged but it certainly bears a relationship with Mary Shelley’s text, and equally certainly constitutes a sequel, even if it is not at all easy to establish a direct connection between the two texts, apart from the fact that they deal with more or less the same narrative material.

  4. Landon was well aware of Mary Shelley’s influential presence on the contemporary literary scene. Mary Shelley and Letitia Elizabeth Landon, although at a distance and always avoiding quotation of each other, knew and liked each other’s work. Mary Shelley, for instance, reviewed some of Landon’s publications favourably. She “admired [Landon’s] Romance and Reality, especially the third volume which she said was ‘very good indeed’ and ‘does her heart and imagination both great credit’"(Bennett, 1980, vol. 2: 151; and Stephenson, 1995: 52, footnote n. 11).  And when they both contributed to the Annuals - volumes published on and for special occasions - Landon was very praising of Mary Shelley’s skill in composing stories. In the margins of a letter sent to Frederick Mansel Reynolds at the end of 1828 she writes: “[i]t is almost invidious to particularize but do you not think Mrs Shelley has been especially happy and original in her stories?” (Landon, 2001: 49). 

  5. Landon's was a long-standing contributor to the Annuals and it might be argued that it was this experience with  brief discourse genres which made it possible for her to reduce the story of Castruccio to a reasonably short five-act play. Mary Shelley's text, by comparison, extends the narration over three long volumes and is so rich in biographical and historical details and in war reports as to test even Godwin’s legendary patience. Yet, when compared to its historical sources,  Landon’s play seems to lose nothing of the substance of the characters, or of the richness of the setting, or even of its historical referentiality.  

  6. We are led however to ask why Elizabeth Landon, more than ten years after Mary Shelley’s Valperga, decided to write her own version of the story of Castruccio Castracani - a name that Landon distorts slightly in Castruccio Castrucani - and, equally, to wonder what sort of model she was adopting or adapting, apart from that of Mary Shelley’s narrative.

  7. Mary Shelley admits to using many historical sources for her novel, both in England and later in Italy, where the novel was actually completed (1820-21). These sources include the works of Niccolò Machiavelli, Sismonde de Sismondi, as well as Lodovico Antonio Muratori, Giovanni Villani, Louis Moréri, or Niccolò Tegrimi, although in the short preface to the first edition she acknowledges only Machiavelli, Sismondi, Villani, Tegrimi (here called Tegrino) and Moréri, from whom she takes Castruccio’s essential biography (Shelley, 1823: iii-iv). [2]

  8. In Landon’s case we find very few extra-textual references to the tragedy and none at all to her sources. Landon mentions the tragedy only a few times and always tangentially, even if all the quotations in question betray a certain degree of anxiety about the future destiny of what she sees as her literary offspring. Her first allusion is at the end of 1837, when she writes to Laman Blanchard saying “At present I can only think of my tragedy – not do it – […] I shall write – I hope in a few days – now even these few lines are an effort” (Landon, 2001: 173).  Again, in May 1838, in a letter to a friend, she says: “My poor dear tragedy is now gone to Mr. Bulwer, we shall hear what he says.”(Blanchard, 1841, vol. I: 181). Finally, writing again to Blanchard but this time from Africa where she had just arrived as the spouse of the Governor of the Cape Coast Castle, Mr. Maclean, she says: “I treat you – you see with all my confidence – I hope you will write to me – you can form no idea of the value of anything English here – do send me any paper that you do not care about – here it will be invaluable – Tell me any chance of my tragedy – since you and Mr. Bulwer are its godfathers […]" (189). At this stage of her career, Landon appears to be as worried about her tragedy as she is for her own life, which we know will soon come to a rather sudden and indeed tragic end. On the other hand, as Laman Blanchard points out, Landon seemed to have come to the decision to write a tragedy as a form of moral commitment. Landon progressively came to believe that writing should convey an ethical vigour and mirror the author’s psychological development: “I cannot understand a writer growing indifferent from custom to success. Every new work must be the record of much change in the mind which produces it, and there is always the anxiety to know how such change will be received. It is impossible, also, that the feeling of your own moral responsibility should not increase […] I never saw any one reading a volume of mine without almost a sensation of fear. I write every day more earnestly and more seriously” (Landon, 1838, vol. II: 5) .  

  9. If, on the one hand - in consonance with other nineteenth-century British poets and playwrights, such as Baillie, Byron, Shelley, Mitford or Hemans - Landon felt the need to reform the contemporary stage, on the other she seemed just as concerned with amending her own public image which had become a target of gossip and malevolence (see Enfield, 1928: 93-99 and Landon, 1997: 13-14). In the autumn of 1837 she approached Macready, who was himself engaged at a practical level with the reformation of the stage, and submitted her proposal. Unfortunately the play did not meet Macready’s requirements, and Landon was obliged to make many changes and alterations as suggested by Laman Blanchard; she despaired, however, of ever seeing her play staged. Her adviser believed that the failure depended both on her haste in writing the play and on the particular subject she had chosen to deal with [3]. Most of the reasons Laman Blanchard offers, however, are related to the gender of the author of Castruccio Castrucani.

  10. In fact, if it was well known that a female playwright writing a tragedy would inevitably face a series of obstacles and proscriptions before seeing her play accepted and staged, particularly when the tragedy dealt with male heroism. At the close of 1837, Landon, almost aware of what was in the back of her friend’s mind, wrote a letter to him apologizing for the delay in sending her revised text: “I have not sent you my tragedy so soon as I said, because I would not hurry a single line, or neglect the least of your hints. I have lengthened it, given the heroine more speeches, remodelled the character of Arizzi, and brought out that of Leoni, together with the addition of two or three scenes. I am ashamed to tell you how nervous and how anxious I am” (Landon, 2001: 175). But even so “further revision was necessary, and by this time the arrangements for the seasons were complete, even had the chance of the play’s success upon the stage been strong enough to justify its production” (Blanchard, 1841, vol. I: 164). Going back to Landon’s earlier quotations concerning her tragedy, it is clear that she talks about her play with the same affectionate intensity that Mary Shelley had done about her literary "progeny", using a characteristic maternal language. Unlike Mary, however, she leaves us in doubt about her historical source although not about her literary model. This is an issue that brings us to the second topic raised by Lew’s article quoted at the beginning of this essay: that is to say that Valperga is not a novel à la Scott but “belongs to the tradition of historical romances written by women and often female-centred."

  11. It has often been remarked how keen Mary and Percy Bysshe were to deny any connection between Valperga and Walter Scott’s historical novels. Landon does not deny such a connection, but, on the contrary, indirectly acknowledges it by dedicating it to Scott  - or, rather, to his female fictional characters. In a letter sent to S. C. Hall in mid 1837, Landon articulates many of her present preoccupations, but she also speaks of her interest in Italy, in history and in Walter Scott’s historical novels: “My course of reading had been very desultory – principally history and travels, and I especially remember a Life of Petrarch which perhaps first threw round Italy that ideal charm it has always retained in my eyes. The scene of his being crowned at the Capitol was always present to my mind, and gave me the most picturesque notion of the glory of poetry. […] It was the same sort of pleasure that I derived from reading Scott – an excitement, a keener sense of existence, and a passionate desire of action. Were I to be asked the writer who had exercised the greatest influence in forming my style, I should say – Walter Scott” (Landon, 2001: 167).

  12. At this point it might be useful to recall that the tragedy, the only one Landon ever wrote, was concluded on the eve of her departure from England for Africa, and that the main work she attended to subsequently, during her short stay in Africa in 1838, prior to her premature and mysterious death, was The Female Picture Gallery, the long, unfinished essay dedicated to the heroines of Walter Scott’s novels. The essay, divided into several chapters, appeared alongside Castruccio Castrucani; or, the Triumph of Lucca in the posthumous volume Life and Literary Remains of L.E.L edited by Laman Blanchard in 1841, but parts of it had been published in literary magazines before her departure.

  13. What is interesting, however, is that Landon had a clear-cut plan in mind for her essay: it was to form, as she says, an unusual annual. The essay was designed to be published together with a series of female portraits and was meant to produce a change in the public mind by throwing new light on "fictional" women and their role within contemporary  literary history. Landon’s idea is disclosed in a letter to Charles Heath in May 1838: “An idea has struck me for a new sort of annual which it appears to me has a fair chance of popularity – You have published under various forms an infinity of female portraits – what do you say to making a selection from them (avowing in the preface that such is the case) publishing one – two or even three successive volumes – and giving them a completely new literary character – Short tales and poems have had their day – make this a work both for drawing room and library – .... – I am induced to make this proposal by the general praise and popularity of three papers of mine in the new monthly magazine called 'Female Portraits of Sir Walter Scott'. I wish to carry the plan into more general effects, and give it a permanent form – and also to include the whole range of modern literature. […]” (180-181).

  14. This may go some way towards explaining why many of the remarks that Landon makes in The Female Picture Gallery are reworked in Castruccio Castrucani, a fact that suggests Walter Scott, in addition to Mary Shelley, as a possible source of Landon’s play. Starting with the importance of names in Scott’s novels, Landon observes in the essay that “[t]here is one felicity of style which is peculiarly Scott’s own; the very happy names which he gives his dramatic personae” (86). To Landon, and indeed also to Mary Shelley [4], the question of nomination was a serious matter: the names came to embody the characters and their destiny. In Landon we have a series of names whose meaning is a destiny in itself: this is the case with Leoni, a name that, together with Arrezi/Arezzi, Landon had already introduced in The Venetian Bracelet (1829). Leoni, Castruccio’s enemy and traitor, is wild and ferocious (hic sunt leones); Cesario instead, is Castruccio’s closest and most faithful friend. Here, the correlation is even more significant. To speculate about the choice of this name we must go to one of Landon’s letters, where she refers to Fanny Kemble acting Juliet. A performance she refused to see because: “[…] I am afraid you will think it high treason, but it is not a favourite play of mine: it is anything but my beau-ideal of love. Juliet falls in love too suddenly, and avows it too openly […] Viola is my pet: so devoted  - so subdued; began in girlhood – cherished as the lonely but deep feeling of after years; I think Shakespeare never drew a more exquisite picture of feminine love!."(Blanchard, 1841, vol. I: 269). It is probable that in choosing the name of her character, Landon had in mind Viola/Cesario in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, not as a representative of split gender but as an example of doubled personality (Cesario being Castruccio's alter ego) and as an icon of loyalty, "patience on the monument".

  15. As for Claricha, the clarity implied in her name ("clar") stands for the transparency of her character, but also for the moral wealth inscribed in the name ("rich"); a wealth that in the development of the tragedy her character confirms. We might also note the consonance between Claricha and Castruccio, the same initial, "C", and the same consonantal cluster "ch", so that she too becomes in some ways Castruccio's mirror image both phonetically and in terms of character. This recurrence of signifiers and the related convergence of signifieds favour the interpretation whereby Claricha is that part of the self – tender and feminine - that Castruccio has to expel in order to become the vengeful condottiero of a patriarchal history.

  16. It is not very usual to come across references to Landon’s political ideas in her Letters or biographies, and when this happens, we find what she herself terms a “respectable Toryism." In a letter to Anna Maria Hall in 1834 she writes: “[…] I, who pass in London for a decent sort of person, rather inclined (when out of your company) to respectable Toryism, am here held to be somewhat immoral, and rather irreligious. The proof of the first is, I inadvertently quoted a line from one of Mr. Hunt’s poems, and said I thought Godwin clever […]” (Landon, 2001: 127). Landon speaks with the double tongue in which  women writers were forced to express themselves in the Romantic period: the language of simultaneous affirmation and denial. While Landon protects herself by offering to the public her “respectable Toryism," this claim clashes with her cultural affiliation with such literary and political figures as Leigh Hunt or William Godwin, hated by the reactionaries. Equally, as Nora Crook observes regarding the critical response to Valperga at the time of its publication, women authors had to be particularly careful, especially when dealing with topics such as war and politics: “Though the reviews were largely positive, reviewers in this era had a code of topics that were considered inappropriate for women, including war and politics. The problem, then, may well be that Valperga is a novel about politics in which the reviewers refused to discuss its politics […]” (Shelley, 1996: XI-XII).

  17. Nevertheless, women writers wanted to discuss and revise male history and politics, and these topics are precisely at the core not only of Shelley’s Valperga but also of Landon’s Castruccio Castrucani as well as the works of many other women Romantic playwrights. As in Hemans’s The Siege of Valencia (1823), Landon uses history to examine how public and domestic spheres inevitably collide in a patriarchal world and how the female politics of care does not succeed in making itself heard and accepted. As in Mary Russell Mitford’s Rienzi (1828) or Foscari (1826) -  two tragedies that in many ways resemble Castruccio for their setting and for the revisionist role played by the female characters - she uses Italy to talk about freedom and democracy, the rise of tyranny and women’s solitary path in a world dominated by male ideology. It is from this perspective that we can understand Landon’s preface to Castruccio Castrucani, where she writes: “ […] my object has not been to bring forward old party distinctions, in which no one now takes any interest, but to represent the first rising against the feudal system, which has led to such important results. Castruccio is the (attempted) ideal of the hero and the patriot. He has himself been exiled and oppressed; out of this early experience grows his sympathy with the wrongs of the city to whose cause he devotes himself, while the glory of Lucca is the poetry and passion of his life. […]” (Blanchard, 1841, vol. II: 2).

  18. If, on the one hand, Landon, echoing P. B. Shelley’s Defence of Poetry and A Philosophical View of Reform, defines a totalising political commitment as a form of poetry, and sees the true patriot, like the poet, platonically possessed by an uncontrollable passion. To this passion Castruccio sacrifices all he has of most dear, his love for Claricha, giving priority to his public duty against his private affections, but in so doing depriving his own self of what was genuinely good and generous. On the other hand, anticipating Lukacs’s interpretation of Scott’s historical novels, in her play Landon stages the contradictions and the conflicts of a distant past. In Castruccio Castrucani what is represented is a world generally idealized for its political and artistic achievements such as the Italy of the Communes: a medieval world particularly dear to the male Romantic writers who judged it a model of democracy and freedom. Landon, however - very much like Mary Shelley or Mary Russell Mitford - clearly places such idealization in doubt, creating a far more disenchanted and violent perspective.  In this world women are either passive and obedient figures, like Landon’s Bianca, that are totally marginalized and forgotten, or, if they express will and presence, they are victimized and brutally expelled, like Claricha.     

  19. Significantly Arrezi - Bianca’s father and the father whom Claricha discovers in the course of the drama -  views his daughters as little girls. During the night of the conspiracy against Castruccio, the very night in which Claricha’s private action will change Lucca’s political destiny by saving Castruccio’s life, Arrezi tries to remove both Claricha and Bianca from the "real" world - and so from taking part in that history which he has somewhat doubtfully decided to shape - by confining them to domesticity and infancy: “You and Bianca must be brave to-night./ I bade my pages carry to your chamber  / Some toys and gauds I trust will please your fancy” (Castruccio Castrucani, Act. III, sc. I, 40). 

  20. From The Female Picture Gallery, drawn from Walter Scott’s female characters, we gain another piece of information that throws light on the political stance of the play and, indirectly, on Landon’s ideology: “Scott has always been accused of too great a leaning towards chivalry. There was, we admit, in his own temperament, a keen sympathy with that stirring and picturesque time; but if we lost none of the brilliant colour, he also gave the reverse. No one also gave the reverse. Not one in ten thousand ever considered the hard and uncertain nature of feudal tenure, till he painted the oppressions of Front de Boeuf, and the arbitrary role supported by the Free Companies. But while a young and ardent spirit may well be permitted to kindle at the exploits of the ‘good knight and true’, and to think highly of ‘marvels wrought by single hand’, yet the bane and the antidote are both before us, and no one would seriously wish for that troubled and uncertain time again.”(The Female Portrait Gallery, Ivanhoe, No. 16 – Rowena. Blanchard, vol. II: 154-155). 

  21. Through her Medieval Italian world Landon focuses on oppression and on arbitrary power seen through the eyes of their main victims, women, and it is to a woman that she entrusts her view of history. However this distant setting also serves as a mirror for contemporary society, allowing her audience to decipher their own more clearly. After all, Landon, very much like Joanna Baillie or P. B. Shelley, wished to change and purify the contemporary stage by replacing spectacle with a deep interest in human nature and destiny, with the intent of arousing in the audience/readers what Baillie, in her Introductory Discourse (1798, 1802, 1812), termed "sympathetic curiosity". In The Female Picture Gallery, referring to Scott’s Rob Roy, Landon states that: “It is one of the good points of human nature, that it revolts against human suffering. Few there are who can witness pain, whether of mind or of body, without pity, and the desire to alleviate; but such is our infirmity of purpose, that a little suffices to turn us aside from assistance. Indolence, difficulties, and contrary interests come in the way of sympathy, and then we desire to excuse our apathy to ourselves” (The Female Portrait Gallery, Rob Roy, No. 7 –Diana Vernon. Blanchard, vol. II: 108).

  22. Again in The Female Picture Gallery, Landon observes how Scott privileges the female orphan as fictional character; Claricha is an orphan too, and so are Beatrice or Euthanasia, not to speak of Castruccio himself. Claricha’s mysterious origin becomes relevant when we consider how Landon judges human character and actions, in Godwinian terms, as being shaped by circumstances ("The Antiquary, No. 5 – Miss Wardour", 103). And furthermore she states: “could we look into the early history of that individual, and trace the causes that have led sorrow to mask itself with eccentricity, we should feel only wonder and pity; but the water of life are for ever flowing onwards, and little trace do they bear of what clouds have darkened or reddened the waves below as they floated by ("The Antiquary, No. 6 – Mary MacIntyre", 106).  Referring to Rob Roy, she also observes  that, as in Greek tragedy, fate and circumstance, by joining forces, draw “a vast difference in the paths of humanity; some have their lines cast in pleasant places, while others are doomed to troubled waters. […] It must, however, be admitted, that hard circumstances form the strong characters, as the cold climes of the north nurture a race of men, whose activity and energies leave those of the south far behind. Hence it is that the characters of women are more uniform than men; they are rarely placed in circumstances to call forth the latent powers of the mind” (Rob Roy, No. 7 – Diana Vernon, 109). Then, like Mary Wollstonecraft, she concludes: “Take the life of girls in general; how are they cared for from their youth upwards. The nurse, the school, the home circle, environ their early years; they know nothing of real difficulties, or of real care; and there is an old saying, that a woman’s education begins after she is married” (111).

  23. Wollstonecraft, in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, had gone further, saying that a woman’s education begins when her husband dies because, paradoxically, only then, being a widow, can she assume individual responsibilities. Landon’s Claricha, and particularly the other female character of the play, Bianca, are distinguished only by their marginality, by having been brought up on the outskirts of history, as passive instruments of the actions of strong men such as Leoni and Castruccio. This, however, will not prevent Claricha - whose voice is clearly articulated even if not heard -  from intervening to change the flow of events and refusing to understand or accept male authority.

  24. Stuart Curran, in his introduction to Valperga suggestively underlines how Mary Shelley looked towards Scott only in order to subvert his model. According to Curran, in fact, Mary’s heroines, Euthanasia and Beatrice, overturn the roles of the women in Ivanhoe (Rebecca and Rowena) to the extent that they refuse to play the supportive roles upon which the male heroes construct their path through history. Mary’s female protagonists in Valperga articulate a counter-discourse, denouncing the patriarchal order on which male fame rests and setting up an irreducible alterity as well as a powerful solidarity between women. Both Euthanasia and Beatrice display supposedly male traits at times: culture, willpower, energy (Shelley, 1997: XVI-XVII).

  25. In the case of Landon's play, Claricha is a more suffering character: victim of her own narrative as orphan and abandoned lover, caught between her love for Castruccio and care and gratitude for Arezzi. Nonetheless, unlike Mary's female characters, Claricha changes history, if only for a brief period, by saving Lucca from a worse tyranny and Castruccio from certain death, although tragically, in saving the life of her beloved she condemns to death both Arezzi, her recently rediscovered father, and herself. Like Beatrice in Valperga, she proves incapable of surviving in a world in which love and caring are continually at the mercy of power.

  26. As a final point concerning Landon’s historical sources for her play I would like to return to the idea which I mentioned above that, unlike Mary Shelley, Landon does not openly quote a particular source. This very silence or omission may suggest the source which, in my opinion, lies behind the interpretation of history in both Landon’s and Shelley’s texts, but which also informs their ideological discourse: Machiavelli’s La Vita di Castruccio Castracani Da Lucca (1520). Since the Renaissance Machiavelli’s text had circulated widely in England, having being translated into English and published together with Il Principe; this is underlined by Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine which, following the publication of Valperga, affirms in March 1823 that “The history of Castruccio Castracani […] had been  long familiar to us in the glowing and energetic sketch of Machiavelli […]” (Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, XII: 283-293).

  27. In Machiavelli's account women are erased from history altogether, and as in Landon’s play, Castruccio is a hero and representative of the people, but, overturning his own stereotype, Machiavelli decides to conclude his story not with the victory of a strong, unrepentant hero, but with the language of love and forgiveness. This language is spoken by the dying Castruccio who leaves his last will to his young protégé, Pagolo Guinigi, brought up by Castruccio in the doctrine of war and revenge. Castruccio's last words signal a definitive farewell to his past life. Using what in Landon's tragedy becomes in effect Claricha's discourse of care, he reconsiders his own life, recognizes its violence and barbarity, and repents. He advises Pagolo to follow the way of love and of reconciliation, rather than of hatred and revenge.

  28. Landon feminizes Machiavelli's entirely male history not only by including female characters in her story, but by making them agents as well as victims of the historical and political process. She even to some extent feminizes Castruccio himself. In the very last scene of her tragedy, the playwright gives Castruccio a line that seems to point to Machiavelli’s own text and to the revisionist conclusions which had opened a remarkable breach in the figure of a hero traditionally seen as a Machiavellian political leader: harsh, unrepentant and wildly macho. Castruccio, while holding in his arms the dead body of Claricha,  addresses the crowd of Lucca in the following way: "[...] I kept down/ Natural emotions, young and cheerful thoughts, / Yet were they warm and eager at my heart. / With her they perish! Fate has claim'd the last, / Cruel and terrible the sacrifice! / All but my country shares Claricha's grave – (Raising her in his arms.) / This, Lucca, is my latest offering!" (Castruccio Castrucani, Act.V, sc. ii. Blanchard, 1841, vol. II: 78). 

  29. It may be thanks to the final and unexpected Machiavellian coup de théatre of the repentant hero in La Vita di Castruccio Castracani Da Lucca, that Landon, in the very last scene of her tragedy, gives Castruccio a line in which he identifies the best part of himself with Claricha – “natural emotions, young and cheerful thoughts” – and, vice versa, identifies Claricha's sacrifice with his own spiritual and emotional death.

 Lilla Maria Crisafulli (University of Bologna)

This article is copyright © of the author, and is the result of the independent labour of the scholar or scholars credited with authorship. The material contained in this document may be freely distributed, as long as the origin of information used has been properly credited in the appropriate manner (e.g. through bibliographic citation, etc


[1] Editions of Valperga have been edited by Curran (1997), Tilottama Rajan, (1998), Nora Crook (1996), Michael Rossington 2000. [back]

[2] Niccolò Machiavelli, La vita di Castruccio Castracani da Lucca (1520); Sismonde de Sismondi, Histoire des republiques du moyen age (1807-1809) 16 vols; Lodovico Antonio Muratori Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, 25 vols. (1723-1751), first Italian trans., Dissertazioni sopra le Antichità italiane, (1765-1766); Giovanni Villani, Croniche fiorentine (1537); Louis Moréri, Grand Dictionnaire Historique, 4 vols., (1694);  Niccolò Tegrimi, Vita Castruccio Antelminelli Lucensis Ducis (1496). [back]

[3] “[…] She chose a subject, new doubtless to the stage, but not strikingly fitted for it in such hands as her own – the fortunes of  "Castruccio Castrucani". It was commenced and carried through, as almost all her writings were, too inconsiderately; though the few days, perhaps, which she devoted to deliberation and forethought, seemed to her an eternity, because they were days instead of hours. Impatient to begin she was at least as impatient to end. […] Before it was quite finished, she discovered the unfitness of its plan for the stage of such a theatre as Covent-Garden. […] and she instantly and earnestly set about  the toilsome work of reconstruction and improvement, making many essential additions, and then altering again. “ (Laman Blanchard, 1841: 163-164). [back]

[4] In his article, Lews points outs that Mary had picked up "Euthanasia" from Hume’s "Whether the British Government Inclines More to an Absolute Monarchy, or to a Republic," in Essays, Moral and Political, Essay n.7 (which she read in December 12, 1817) where the philosopher was drawing a metaphorical equation between absolute monarchy and the etymological meaning of the word, namely ‘easy death’ (see Hume, 1985: 52-53, quoted in Lew, 1993: 162). I believe that the name of the prophetess of Ferrara, Beatrice, may similarly not be without significance, bringing to mind not only Dante’s idealized woman, but also Beatrice Cenci and her madness after the incest in Shelley’s play. Like Mary’s Beatrice in Valperga, Claricha, Castruccio’s lover in Landon’s play, will encounter first insanity and then death due to the pain she is unable to bear. [back]


Works Cited and Consulted

Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 1823. March,  XII.

Blanchard, Laman. 1841. Life and Literary Remains of L.E.L., in two vols. London: Henry Colburn.

Enfield, D. E. 1928.  L.E.L. A Mystery of the Thirties. London: The Hogarth Press.

Hart, Renalds Berta. 1986. Letitia Elizabeth Landon: A Literary Life Dissertation. University of South Carolina.

Hemans, Felicia Dorothea. 1978. The Siege of Valencia, ed. Donald H. Reiman. New York & London: Garland.

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