In October 1838, four months after Victoria’s coronation, shocking news filtered back to England from West Africa. Letitia Landon, once hailed as Byron’s poetic heir, was dead. The empty bottle of prussic acid clasped in her hand pointed to suicide. A sense of self-preservation prompted Dr Anthony Thomson, the bottle’s supplier, to suggest murder. Wasn’t it a fact (Thomson loudly whispered to the press) that George Maclean, Landon’s husband of eight weeks, in order to marry her had cast aside a previous consort, a woman in whose veins ran ‘the hot blood of Africa’?
Lucasta Miller, the author of a brilliant study of the Brontës, dismisses Thomson’s suggestion that Maclean’s spurned mistress was responsible for Landon’s death. She does, however, point out that the young Brontës were avid readers of the annuals and magazines in which reports of Landon’s demise were published.