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The poetics of the "charmed cup" in Felicia Hemans and Letitia Elizabeth Landon.

THE MOTIF OF THE DRINKING CUP, RICH IN HISTORICAL AND LITERARY ASSOCIATIONS, has variously evoked Dionysian inspiration, rituals of libation, Christ's sacrifice, and, by extension, either pleasure or healing. Male Romantics as diverse as Sheridan, Burns, Blake, Coleridge, Byron, Moore, de Quincey, and Keats all utilize the motif. (1) Often, they use it to allude to Bacchic release and artistic creativity: the essence of wit and storytelling is held in the cup, and it inspires creativity and a sexually charged break from mundane life. As these writers imbue the liquid within the cup with conflicting connotations of life, pleasure, cure, and poison, the cup becomes for them a complex, metapoetic device for authorship.

Women writers of the era, negotiating the conventional ideology of male-identified authorship, adopted and refashioned the motif of the drinking cup. (2) Two such writers, Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) and Letitia Elizabeth Landon (known as L. E. L., 1802-1838), deployed the trope of the charmed cup" to explore female authorship and authorial power: the "gift" of genius, a seductive trap leading to commodification, and authorial control over self and others in seemingly uncontrollable situations. The cup emerges for them as a metapoetic device through which they analyze the intersections of gender, authorship, and life. While politically less committed to advocating the equality of the sexes than feminist writers such as Wollstonecraft a generation earlier, Elemans and Landon nonetheless expand the sites of women's writing beyond the sober reasoning Wollstonecraft advocates, as they explore ramifications of the authorial position, investing in the intoxication of authorial power.

Challenging the typical understanding of Hemans and Landon as unreflective "poetesses," this article aims to probe their artistic strategies and their reflections upon those strategies through the trope of the charmed cup. Their use of the same motifs and similar rhetoric suggests significant literary cross-influences and correlations, stemming from their shared position as middle-class women writers navigating social, linguistic, and ideological conditions. They invert and revise the male-oriented rhetoric of the charmed cup not only to signify their struggles for authorship but also to explore the transformative potential of those struggles. In particular, when they present sorceress figures who administer "charmed cups," they enact and comment on the creative and destructive power of female authorship. These rhetorical moves offer metapoetic reflections on their artistic capacity, as well as demonstrate their literary range and professional ambition.

1. The Spell of the "Charmed Cup"

In the "Introduction" to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1791), Mary Wollstonecraft attributes women's complicity in men's objectification of them to women's temporary intoxication:
   ... men endeavour to sink us still lower, merely to render us
   alluring objects for a moment; and women, intoxicated by the
   adoration which men, under the influence of their sense, pay them,
   do not seek to obtain a durable interest in their hearts, or to
   become the friends of the fellow creatures who find amusement
   in their society. (3)

A rationalist feminist thinker, Wollstonecraft argues that women inherently have access to the power of reason, a province conventionally assumed to be male. To change their inferior social status and the culture of objectification, she states, women must first awaken from their superficial and transient "intoxication." In The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria (posthumously published in 1798), Wollstonecraft presents as the most crucial moment for the protagonist, Maria, the time when she is roused from an "intoxicated sensibility" to "more matured reason" via writing. (4) Wollstonecraft constructs writing as a sober and rational act, which facilitates women's awakening from their drunken stupor and allows them to assume a position of equal partnership with men. Her criticism of woman's symbolic intoxication stresses that her temporary power over male admirers should not be confused with the sustainable subject position that she needs to acquire through cultivation of sober reason.

If Wollstonecraft suggests that intoxication is antithetical to women's authorial or subject status, Hemans and Landon explore a counterpoint to that supposition as they poeticize the dynamics of a woman's authorship, life, and fame through the rhetoric of the "charmed cup." If Wollstonecraft presents a searing voice for the reform of conventional "female manners," Hemans and Landon embody a similar challenge to gender norms, but from a literary angle; their shared rhetorical position as symbolic drinkers and makers of intoxicants challenges the feminine propriety that formed the core of gender ideology of the period, against which women writers forged their literary identities. (5) As middle-class women living by the pen, who achieved immense fame in the 1820s and 1830s, they both had to negotiate literary reviewers' and readers' expectations about women's roles and women's writing. Not only does the use of the cup link them, but so do other numerous commonalities: precocious literary output at an early age, publications in literary magazines and annuals, fame and popularity in their twenties and thirties, unhappy private lives, and early deaths. In fact, their commonalities have led both their contemporaries and modern scholars to pair them as, for example, leading figures in "the poetess tradition" or "the poetics of sensibility and sentimentality" and as domesticating geniuses, in which their common themes and tones are emphasized and amplified. (6)

The affinities and correlations between Hemans and Landon lead us to examine their work together, even as we should recognize their different authorial personas and considerable stylistic differences. Whereas Hemans guarded her public persona with matronly propriety (befitting the "Mrs. Hemans" she was known as) and religious faith, Landon seemed to identify more readily with the flawed or fallen woman, and was indeed more explicitly skeptical and cynical toward dominant social values. One of the best guides to understanding their differences is Landon herself, who, in assessing Hemans's poetry, also implies their stylistic differences. In her "On The Character of Mrs. Hemans's Writing," reflecting Hemans's attempts to harness female excess to her religious and cultural ideals, Landon describes her work as "the ideal, the picturesque, and the harmonious... and the moral." (7) Landon's characterization of Hemans places Landon herself in sharp relief: whereas Hemans maintained religious and cultural ideals, Landon was darker and transgressed more against typically prescribed domestic womanhood. (8) She deployed overt sentimentality and irony, whereas Hemans checked excessive emotions and wrote with greater formal refinement.

One of the most distinctive commonalities between Hemans and Landon, also shared by other women writers of the time, was their anxiety about literary fame. As scholars such as Ellen Moers, Margaret Homans, Norma Clarke, Marlon Ross, Dorothy Mermin, Susan Wolfson, and Angela Leighton have noted, nineteenth-century women writers, including Hemans, Landon, Maria Jane Jewsbury, and Anna Jameson, all faced social conditions that pitted women writers against fame. (9) Mermin's statement--"Perhaps the single most important gender difference among writers in the period from 1830 to 1880 was that almost all women, but almost no men, assumed that celebrity exacts such a [high] price"--applies to the women writers of the previous generation as well, who wrote their anxieties about fame into numerous works. (10) For example, Landon's Erinna, a Greek female poet and a pupil of Sappho, asks, "What is the gift of mind, / But as a barrier to so much that makes / Our life endurable,-- companionship." (11) Through the charmed cup and the rhetoric of intoxication, Hemans and Landon dramatize their struggles with desire and decorum, inverting, parodying, and revising the conventional (male) usage of the cup--as a refuge from worldly affairs such as social expectations (vanity), careers, and public recognition. Undermining the cultural expecta- tions of female sobriety, Hemans's and Landon's charmed cup fuels female ambition that transgresses domestic bounds and seeks social recognition. They present the gifted woman as occupying the authorial position, albeit precariously, navigating cultural and psychical demands; and the trope allows them to explore the depth of the female artist's intellectual and emotional capacity, including self-contradiction, self-division, and self-analysis.

Landon's "Erinna" exemplifies such poetic explorations. Landon depicts Erinna's initiation into poetry in terms of drinking: "How drank I in fine poetry, which makes / The hearing passionate" (120-21). Erinna's path as drinker illustrates how the "charmed cup" works as metonymy for authorship and, by extension, artistic fame. Landon presents Erinna's becoming a poet as her taking the position of drinker; as she continues to write, she drinks more, and the content of her cup changes: "I drank the maddening cup of praise, which grew / Henceforth the fountain of my life" (197-98). Landon charts Erinna's success in her poetic pursuits by illustrating a shift in the fulcrum of her desire: she initially desires the cup of poetry, but ultimately, the cup of fame. When a woman first tastes the (charmed) cup of poetic inspiration, she steps out of her unperturbed, private existence. The cup turns into that of fame--inducing a thrilling pleasure that portends the danger of addiction. Erinna eventually cries, "Alas! that ever / Praise should have been what it has been to me--/ The opiate of my heart" (235-37). This exemplifies the particular danger of fame for women writers. When the "proper" woman--innocent, anonymous, and privately situated as the object of one man's desire and "consumption"--became exposed to public adoration and public consumption, she was seen as dangerous, morally suspect, and, often, deserving of outright condemnation.

Both Hemans and Landon identified fame as masculine and wayward in their poems. Toward the end of The Golden Violet, which chronicles a series of verse narratives presented at a contest to win Clemenza's golden violet, Landon directly addresses fame from the perspective of a poet sending off a completed book:
      ... what art thou, fame?
   A various and doubtful claim
   One grants and one denies; what none
   Can wholly quite agree upon.
   A dubious and uncertain path
   At least the modern minstrel hath;
   How may he [the poet] tell, where none agree,
   What may fame's actual passport be?
      (The Golden Violet, 3495-3502)

The elusiveness of fame and glory (fetishistically captured in the golden violet) correlates with the speaker's divided attitude toward fame, although Landon uses the male pronoun for the generic poet figure.

Hemans, in "Woman and Fame" (The Amulet, 1829), crystallizes the attitude toward a female genius who is caught between her artistic identity and the yearning for domestic affection that precludes the cultivation of her career. Hemans's poem combines the rhetoric of intoxication Landon uses in "Erinna" and The Golden Violet, with a firm focus on the female speaker's struggle. Evoking the sentiment of her own "Corinne at the Capitol" (1827), (12) Hemans captures the allure of fame, which she has identified as male:
   Thou hast a charmed cup, O Fame!
     A draught that mantles high,
   And seems to lift this earthly frame
     Above mortality
   Away! to me--a woman--bring
   Sweet waters from affection's spring.
   (1-6) (13)

While fame may lure the woman artist, Hemans here stresses that it is incompatible with domestic happiness. She repeats the cultural understanding of domestic affection as immediate, real, and healing through the metaphor of life-giving springs of pure water.

Like Landon's The Golden Violet, Hemans's "Woman and Fame" closes with a direct address to fame: "Fame, Fame! thou canst not be the stay / Unto the drooping reed, / The cool fresh fountain, in the day / Of the soul's feverish need" (25-28). Presupposing that a woman must follow one branch of a bifurcated path, the speaker despairingly declares, "Where must the lone one turn or flee? / Not unto thee, oh! not to thee!" (29-30). This ending reveals the speaker's (and by extension, Hemans's) deep anxiety about the price of social recognition. (14)

Given the prominence of the tropes of the cup and "charm" in Hemans's poetics, it is fitting that Landon employs them to commemorate Hemans's poetic life. Landon begins "Stanzas on the Death of Mrs. Hemans" (1835), her poetic tribute to Hemans's life and work, with the line, "Bring flowers to crown the cup and lute." Here, the cup becomes a rich symbol of Hemans's poetic life. Landon describes Hemans's composition process as "call[ing] a charmed song" (line 30) from "common thoughts and things" (29). In another tribute, "On the Character of Mrs. Hemans's Writings" (1835), she extrapolates Hemans's predicament as a woman author by reflecting on those of her poetic personas: "How exquisitely is the doom of a woman, in whose being pride, genius, and tenderness contend for mastery, shadowed in the lines that succeed! The pride bows to the very dust" (178). For a female "genius" of the era, the desire to fit into woman's established social position competes with her unquenchable desire to exercise her artistic talents. Thus, into the fantastic cup, Landon suggests, Hemans--and by implication, Landon herself--pours her desire, pleasure, ambition, pain, and fear.

2. Transformative Drinks and the Female Author

Hemans's and Landon's anxiety-laden attitudes toward authorship and public recognition were shaped by the symbolic economy which they negotiated. A look at some drinking songs of the Romantic era provides a window into that symbolic economy. Representing the long-standing Anacreontic tradition, Thomas Moore celebrates the act of drinking for pleasure. Placing man squarely in the position of the poet-drinker, Moore structurally precludes women from that position. In "Drink of This Cup," the poet-speaker considers intoxicating drink a cure for the ills of life: "Drink of this cup; you'll find there's a spell in / Its every drop 'gainst the ills of mortality." (15) Moore suggests that the immortal realm to which the cup transports the drinker is actually the essence of life. In "Fill the Bumper Fair" Moore evokes the version of the Promethean myth in which the hero carries the spark of fire hidden in a drinking jar and declares,
   Hence the goblet's shower
   Hath such spells to win us
   Hence its mighty power
   O'er that flame within us. (16)

The spell of wine reignites humanity's spark of life. His creative fire reawakened, the drinker transcends human constraints and engages in the creative act of composing a poem about the life-enhancing drink.

Women clearly occupy a marginal position in Moore's drinking songs: rather than partaking as a member of the band of drinkers, woman plays the role of Muse, the server of the cup, or the "vessel" itself. Often the male drinker feminizes the cup, identifying the drink's allure as its femininity: this can only occur because of the absence of female drinkers. Through drinking, embracing, and imbibing the feminine "other"--the foreign substance, the potentially dangerous excess that induces transcendence and transgression--the male subject transports himself into an otherworldly realm. In that sense, these poems construct a poetic identity: through the trope of a drinker, the male subject, propped up by his muse, uses the raw material of life to compose art.

When female passivity (a marked term which always assumes the male norm) was presupposed in the culture as part of female propriety, female drinking and enjoyment were often seen as threats. Precisely because the typical "proper woman" of the early nineteenth century was characterized by asexuality, purity, sobriety, and self-effacement, when a woman became a drinker, she was perceived as a mad and dangerous Bacchante. Conversely, when a woman stepped out of bounds, whether political or cultural, the gendered rhetoric of drinking was adopted to discipline her excess. (17)

In the social structure of the Romantic period, where constraining gender codes permeated cultural production and interpersonal relations, a woman writer was torn between enacting the feminine ideal and breaking out of the constriction such an ideal requires. Seeing the symbolic economy as a chain of signification that subjects an individual to the hegemonic power structure, Kristeva suggests that becoming a poet involves dislocating the coherent subject-in-process within the signifying chain. A female poet faces a double dislocation: situated within the symbolic economy of objectification, she experiences ambivalence about herself as a writer, as a desiring subject, and as an object of romantic desire. (18)

This intricate symbolic economy in which Hemans and Landon were placed might explain why they found the spell of artistic intoxication embedded in the trope of the drinking cup a particularly appealing vehicle. It suggests feminine poetic production as something given to the poetess rather than something she seized. The female "agency" implied in the act of drinking was tempered by the passivity involved in gift-accepting and charm- and spell-receiving. The Sibylline priestess engaged in divination served as the fitting image of the poetess: precisely as a medium enters a trance in order to translate divine will, the poetess was seen as falling under the spell of poetic inspiration. (19) Even though the poetess figuratively drank from the cup, in the eyes of society, it was her being presented with the cup that made her exceptional status as drinker tolerable. Codifying her talent as destiny, the drinking cup metaphor naturalized the woman writer's creative faculty: if talent was her destiny, it was pointless to denounce her for expressing it; rather, the writer herself, and society at large, should accept that she was different from the norm.

The charmed cup illustrates women writers' recognition of the symbolic economy that compelled them to experience a self-division about their poetic identity. They were split between seeking literary fame and domestic wholeness. Hemans and Landon illustrate how the spell of the drinking cup blocks, albeit temporarily, the stronger "spells of home" (which Hemans explicitly celebrates in her poem of that title). As drinking induces more drinking, despite her overt disavowal of the intoxicants (authorship and fame), the woman writer experiences imaginary enjoyment of public recognition; fearing she is alienated from domestic love, she then guiltily censures herself. Since the gendered cultural paradigm not only worked as an extraneous constraint but resulted in internalized self-division for the woman writer, her storytelling often becomes a battlefield where she fights against the world and herself, rather than a playground or a haven from the "dull world," as assumed in Moore's male fantasy. The female drinker of authorship and fame becomes increasingly anxious about social perceptions of her as morally and sexually depraved.

By identifying the trope of the charmed cup with the personification of fame, Hemans dramatizes the potential drinker's self-division: she may drink either an intoxicant from the charmed cup or pure water. Water-- plain, pure, essential--stands in for nature, or the naturalized female role. A question Hemans poses in an 1827 notebook entry suggests how the imagery of water resonates for her: "what is fame for a heart yearning for affection, and finding it not? Is it not a triumphal crown to the brow of one parched with fever, and asking for one fresh healthful draught--'the cup of cold water'?" (20) The binary metaphor of wine vs. water was laden with economic and symbolic resonances. In the early nineteenth century, David Ricardo's Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817) laid out the process of value-accrual based on productive labor, but allowed for exceptions such as scarce wine. Thomas de Quincey adapts Ricardo's economic analysis, using the opening chapter of The Logic of Political Economy to suggest the significance of desire in relation to need by comparing wine with "the gratuitous article of water." (21) De Quincey's aesthetics classifies wine as the life-saving liquid: he evokes "[t]he Christological conversion of water into wine," which "vividly allegorizes the birth of exchange value, making wine ... the primal commodity." (22)

By contrast, Hemans's speakers in "Corinne at the Capitol" and "Woman and Fame" demonstrate the greater value for women of water; they quiet the disorder stirred up by the intoxicating cup and ultimately renounce it. Returning to the maidenly virtue of bringing water to the sick, Hemans's speakers suggest an impulse to purge their desire, in effect condemning the De Quinceyan aesthetic of surplus value. But the speaker does not stop at exalting the value of bare necessity, its use value; she contends that for women, the tasteless article turns "sweet," hinting at a symbolic value that surpasses the commodity value. In their implicit rhetorical move, Hemans's water-craving female speakers distance themselves from the commodification of the female body, a burden to which De Quincey was immune, by declaring a retreat into the naturalized, sanctified home.

Is it surprising to see, then, Hemans openly celebrating the female public voice as the main source of preserving and renewing women's aspirations and lives? In a series of fifteen sonnets entitled Female Characters of Scripture (Blackwood's, April 1833), for example, Hemans revisits biblical female figures (from Judah to Miriam, from Ruth to Rizpah, and from the Virgin Mary to Mary Magdalene) to honor them and to reclaim their legacy. She calls upon the "prophetic" "Daughters of Judah" to "steep [her] soul in that old glorious time" ("Invocation," 12, 11, 13), (23) so she may be empowered to celebrate them in writing for posterity. According to Julie Melnyk, Hemans's invoking of female biblical prophets and the linking of their prophetic power to the female poet amounts to "a vindication of women's public poetry" (90). (24)

Perhaps indicating Hemans's complex attitude towards domestic femininity, her earlier dramatic poem The Siege of Valencia (1823) uses the trope of the cup to encode the female desire that conflicts with a woman's gendered position. The poem presents a fictionalized but historically informed account of the thirteenth-century Moorish siege of the Spanish city of Valencia. It focuses on the conflict between Elmina's desperate love for her two sons, captured by the Moors, and the chivalric codes of her husband, the Valencian governor Gonzalez, who declares that the only option is for their sons to shed "the free blood of martyrdom" (1:3 39). (25) Elmina, while crying out, "Spare me yet / this bitter cup, my husband!" (1:349), resists the logic of chivalric martyrdom. Gonzalez's and Elmina's oppositional positions on the fate of their sons correlate with their divergent perceptions of the same cup. Gonzalez endorses the actions of their daughter Ximena, who, he states, has cast down "the wine-cup" (1:372) of "festal hours" (1:373) in order to provide "fresh[,] cool draughts to [the] fever'd lips" (1:385-86) of the Valencians. For Gonzalez, Ximena's marching song is pure, cool water, embodying the domestic and patriotic ideal; but Elmina sees it as a bitter cup of death. In her meeting with the chivalric priest Hernandez, Elmina protests against his call for the "glorious" sacrifice of her sons' blood by adopting the trope of drinks: "Their blood! my children's blood!--Thou speak'st as 'twere / Of casting down a wine-cup in the mirth / ... of feasting" (2:286-89). Elmina begs Hernandez for the key to the gate, so she may secretly visit her captured sons at the Moorish chief's camp: she "implore[s] a cup of water" (2:412), saying that "the thirst / Which burns [her] spirit up is agony / To be endured no more!" (2:415-17).

The cup of water (the key to the gate), however, is not an end-all but a mark of her intensifying thirst, since Elmina's visit to her captive sons leads her to betray the Valencian camp. Rather than remaining clearly definable according to the binary logic of the cup, the charmed drink becomes increasingly unstable. In Scene 8, Elmina uses the trope of the cup to describe her life, displacing her daughter's battle hymn with poetic melancholy and pathos: "in my day's full noon, for me life's flowers / But wreath'd a cup of trembling" (8:6-7). She then describes her life as "troubled waters" (8:285), expressing the mingling of "glorious dreams" with "[a] restless and disturbing consciousness / That the bright things must fade" (8:17-19). Thus, rather than remaining simply the opposite of cool springs of water, the charmed drink becomes unstable, and its meaning slides. In other words, a drink of holy water can become a poisonous intoxicant; or, love and destructiveness, cure and poison, can mingle in the same cup.

The same insight is captured in Landon's The Venetian Bracelet (1828). Here, the poet-speaker dreams of "fair Italie," an idealized land clearly modeled after Germaine de Stael's depiction of Italy in Corinne. But Landon acknowledges that beneath this "promised land that haunts [the speaker's] dreaming heart" (1:17)26 lurks a poisonous element. In the poem's epigraph, Landon warns against dogmatically adhering to fixed ideals of good and beauty:
   Those subtle poisons which made science crime,
   And knowledge a temptation; could we doubt
   One moment the great curse upon our world,
   We must believe to find that even good
   May thus be turned to evil.
      (1-5, page 1)

In using poison as a metaphor for any type of rigidly enforced doctrine, Landon thematizes what she poeticizes through the trope of drinks: the instability and danger of the normative values of good and evil. This dynamic movement correlates with the trajectory of the poet-drinker. The metastasizing content of the charmed cup indicates that protagonists and writers contain transgressive potential that exceeds binary expectations. It also suggests their capacity to transform themselves--from cup-bearers to drinkers and to concocters of drinks for themselves and others.

3. The Sorceress's Cup

Hemans's and Landon's self-transforming drinks lead us to ponder their more complex desires as authors. They give an authorial power--the power to create, transform, and destroy--to some of their female characters, who concoct or command drinks that can heal or kill. (27) These characters, figures of witches or sorceresses, seem to reflect Hemans's and Landon's views on poetry-making--work that is enthralling, transgressive, and threatening to the audience--especially since it exceeds gender norms. Contrary to the famed woman who renounces her artistic aspirations, these figures reside on the periphery of governable territories and form a force that subverts patriarchal gender norms, as Catherine Clement suggests in her "Sorceress and Hysteric." (28)

Landon's "poetic illustration" of Richard Dagley's painting "The Cup of Circe" conveys the bewitching power of the sorceress. Reimagining the Homeric scene of Circe fatally seducing a group of male warriors, Landon dwells on the power of a woman who originates the spell of the cup. Her intoxicating power subjugates her beholders to "passion's madness," and the cup literalizes the pleasure and danger of her seductive power:
   He [a warrior] is just turned from that bewildering face
   To the fair arm that holds the magic vase--
   The purple liquor is just sparkling up--
   The youth has pledged his heart's truth on that cup! (29)

While ostensibly focusing on the male warrior's besotted condition, the narrator shares the warrior's and then the painter's fascination with the beautiful Circe. The purple liquor epitomizes Circe's bewitching power.

Landon's interest in sorceress figures is latent in her most famous work, The Improvisatrice (1824), which contains a tantalizing section, "The Charmed Cup," used for the frontispiece of the whole collection. In that inset poem, Landon presents Ida, who blurs the lines among the damsel in distress, the redemptive, healing woman, and the femme fatale. (30) The sorcerer's drug, contained in Ida's ambiguous cup, supposedly contains a love potion that will rekindle Julian's love for her, but it turns out to be poison. The sorcerer and the cup both symbolize the dual nature of the drug as cure and poison; the cup's duality signals the deep ambivalence the spurned woman feels towards her "faithless lover."

After procuring the drug--the "forest-sorcerer's gift" (674)--Ida returns home and greets Julian, who has brought her a gift of gold to placate her. Seeing through Julian's conciliatory gesture, Ida considers the drug "[t]he last, lone hope that love [has] left" (675). Ida "took the cup, and kissed the brim, / Mixed the dark spell, and gave it him / To pledge his once dear IDA's name!" (676-78). The poem ends with a resounding note on the double meaning of the cup: "The cup her love had mixed bore--death" (686). Ida performs a deadly act in the name of love, even as she destroys her own illusory hopes. Since she gives the charmed cup to Julian in "her name," her authorial desire to control the apparently uncontrollable situation becomes evident. Ida turns from a helpless heroine into a sinister witch-figure, mediated by the Mephistophelean sorcerer--an externalized figure of her unconscious desire for revenge. Using the ambiguous "charmed" cup, Landon dives into the well of her own discontent with social codes, interrogating what lies beneath an accommodating feminine facade: the "unholy" poisoned cup signals the vengeful return of the repressed woman, as her resistance to or resentment against her situation bubbles up. Rejecting the expected role of serving the healing cup, she instead administers a poisonous cup. The recipient of her destructive cup may not only be her enemy or rival, but her unreliable lover or even herself.

Other sorceress figures of Landon's appear in "The Enchantress" (The Heath Book of Beauty for 1833), "Fairy of the Fountains" (Fisher's Drawing Room Scrapbook for 1835), and Ethel Churchill (1837). (31) In "The Enchantress," a short story centering on a female magus who drinks an elixir to become immortal, Landon continues to explore the effects of the transformative drink on the drinker. The Enchantress recognizes that the elixir changes her sense of self-identity in relation to her lover: "I was no longer the gentle, up-looking mortal he had loved. I had changed my nature; he was no longer to me the one glorious and adored being." (32) Craciun argues that here Landon is not only revising the story of Eve's fall, but commenting on her own poetic identity. Landon correlates the transformative drinks with authorial power even more elaborately in her last complete novel, Ethel Churchill. Here Landon tracks the brilliant success and tragic downfall of the talented Henrietta Marchmont; with her beauty, wit, and privileged social status, Henrietta rises to the top echelon of mid eighteenth-century English court society. She tastes the thrilling cup of fame and admiration, fulfilling her ambitious childhood dream, but she experiences its emptiness, which is confounded by her buffoonish husband's neglect. Henrietta succumbs to the advances of a seducer, but she soon learns of his hypocrisy. Then follows her husband's cruel threat of exposing her to social degradation. Henrietta resorts to poisons procured from her sorcerer uncle's laboratory, and administers "potent spells" to both her husband and the seducer before herself going mad.

Henrietta's use of poisons recalls that of Cleopatra, whom Hemans depicts in "The Last Banquet of Antony and Cleopatra" (Tales, and Historic Scenes, in Verse 1819). Set on the eve of the Battle of Actium, the poem dramatizes Antony's and Cleopatra's Bacchic outburst preceding their ultimate doom. Like Landon, Hemans emphasizes the sorceress figure's captivating power over her beholders, but she does not romanticize the spell her enchantresses cast as much as Landon does. Directly addressing Cleopatra, the speaker highlights the queen's duality:
   ... thou, enchantress-queen! whose love hath made
      His [Anthony's] desolation--thou art by his side,
   In all thy sovereignty of charms array'd,
      To meet the storm with still unconquer'd pride.
          (51-54) (33)

While establishing Cleopatra as the Roman ruler's seductress and his partner facing their doom, Hemans depicts her as a sorceress with extensive knowledge of poisons:
   Proud siren of the Nile! thy glance is fraught
      With an immortal fire--in every beam
   It darts, there kindles some heroic thought,
      But wild and awful as a sybil's dream;
   For thou with death hast communed, to attain
   Dread knowledge of the pangs that ransom from the chain.

Hemans blends the imagery of deathly poison with the mantling [blushing] wine-cup" (26) throughout the poem. Antony, in the mode of Dionysus incarnate, invites his guests to "[fill] the bright goblet" (85) and "[q]uaff, ere we part, the generous nectar deep!" (86), relying upon the drinking cup's spell to ameliorate the pain of impending doom. After the climactic downfall, Cleopatra authors her own cup of fate by applying the poisonous asp to herself, a fitting end for a heroic sorceress.

Hemans brings to life another enthralling sorceress figure who is both heroic and deadly in "The Widow of Crescentius (also from Tales, 1819), the late tenth-century Roman Stephania. (34) Hemans portrays Stephania as transforming herself from a virtuous victim ("a blighted flower") into a cross-dressing poet-musician, and then a vengeful murderer of an emperor. In the first half of the poem, we see Stephania widowed when Otho m, the German Holy Roman Emperor, betrays and executes her husband, Crescentius. After mourning her husband's death as "A broken gem, whose inborn light / Is scatter'd--ne'er to re-unite" (1:284-85), Stephania disguises herself as a young minstrel, Guido, and infiltrates Otho's inner circle of courtiers, gaining his trust only to serve him a "rich mantling goblet" (2:229) containing poison. After Otho drinks from the cup, Stephania surveys the poison's effect on him. The color of Otho's burning cheek corresponds not only with that of the potent poison, but with the color of her victory: And on the sufferer's mien awhile / Gazing with stern vindictive smile, / A feverish glow of triumph dyed / His burning cheek" (2:251-53). Stephania/Guido cries out to Otho: "Oh! well was mix'd the deadly draught, / And long and deeply hast thou quaff'd" (2:259-60). Like the charmed cups held by Ida, Circe, and Henrietta Marchmont, Stephania's lethal cup stands in for her charm, beauty, and authorial prowess. She transforms herself from mourning victim to wandering minstrel to avenging destroyer, whose charmed cup reflects her authorial power.

Through the motif of the charmed cup, Hemans and Landon explore their conflicting desires for and anxieties about authorship. While remaining beholden to the prevailing ideology of domestic femininity, the famous "poetesses" reveal their awareness of their self-division, as well as the complex operations of gendered social conditions. They revise the male-centered poetics of intoxication to encode women's artistic production and their divided attitudes towards authorship, commodification, and fame. They experiment with their authorial power by dramatizing, under various circumstances, female drinkers and makers of drinks containing both cures and poisons. Analogously, as the charmed cup transforms from "golden gift" to "opiate of the mind," from glorious lure to "faithless" charmer, and from life's thrills to its "subtler poisons," it becomes, in the hands of Hemans and Landon, not only an elastic trope, but a metapoetic device for women's poetry-making. Furthermore, they use their sorceress figures, who embody correlations between drinks and their makers, to comment on women writers creative and destructive power. Indeed, examining their uses of the charmed cup helps us understand how other women writers of the time similarly engage metapoetically with the motif. Notably, in Wuthering Heights (1847); Emily Bronte has Catherine boldly declare, reflecting her inner capacity: "I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind" (my emphasis). (35)

University of St. Thomas


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Ross, Marlon. The Contours of Masculine Desire: Romanticism and the Rise of Women's Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

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Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1791) and The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria (1798). Edited by Anne K. Mellor and Noelle Chao. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007.

(1.) For a book-length study of male drinking in Romantic-era writing, see Anya Taylor, Bacchus in Romantic England: Writers and Drink, 1780-1830 (Houndmills and London: Macmillan, 1999), an extensive critical examination of male habits of and writings about drinking. By formulating bifurcated attitudes about drinking along gender lines (associating males with Bacchus and females with Venus--and sobriety), however, Taylor discounts any impulse towards intoxication stemming from the drinker's discontent with normalcy. Further, she depicts women mainly as suffering from men's intoxication, disregarding any suppressed or subtly manifested female desire for intoxication.

(2.) Madame [Germaine] de Stael, Mary Shelley, the Brontes, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning all employ the trope in their works. Following are just a few examples: in Corinne (1807), after returning to Italy from England upon learning about Oswald's wedding to Lucy, Corinne reflects, alluding to Matthew 26:39, "... Oh God, why have you chosen me to bear this pain? May not I, like your divine son, also ask that this cup should pass from me?" (emphasis in the original; de Stael, Corinne, or Italy, trans, and ed. Sylvia Raphael [Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998]. 352). In Valperga (1823), Beatrice speaks of her ardent passion for Castruccio to Euthanasia as follows: "Victory in an almost desperate struggle, success in art, love itself, are earthly feelings, subject to change and death; but when these three most exquisite sensations are bestowed by the visible intervention of heaven ... such an event fills the over-brimming cup, intoxicates the brain, and renders her who feels them more than mortal (Mary Shelley, Valperga: or, the Life and Adventure of Castruccio, Prince of Luca, ed. Tilottama Rajan [Peterborough: Broadview, 1998], 352). In Villette (1853), Lucy Snowe comments on the restrained joy of little Polly's response to her father's visit: "... it was a scene of feeling too brimful, and which, because the cup did not foam up high or furiously overflow, only oppressed one the more" (Charlotte Bronte, Villette [New York and London: Signet Classics, 2004], 11). In Aurora Leigh (1856), Aurora recollects that, on her twentieth birthday, standing as "woman and artist," she "held / The whole creation in [her] little cup" (2:6) (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, ed. Kerry McSweeney [Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008], 38).

(3.) A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria, eds. Anne K. Mellor and Noelle Chao (New York: Pearson Longman, 2007), 24.

(4.) Wollstonecraft, A Vindication and Wrongs of Woman, 255. In Wrongs of Woman, the protagonist Maria, imprisoned in a madhouse, consumes fictions of sensibility that feed her "intoxicated sensibility."

(5.) For an influential discussion of the period's gender ideology, which coalesced around the concept of female propriety, see Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and fane Austen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

(6.) In response to Landon's and Hemans's deaths, Charles Swain wrote "A Vision of Tombs. Addressed to the Forget Me Not," mourning the loss of the annual's favorite poetesses (Forget Me Not for 1840). Contemporary critics discuss Hemans and Landon together as well, and Richard Cronin states that "[t]he two women never met, but each produced the other" (Romantic Victorians: English Literature 1824-1830 [Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002], 82. See also chapter 3, "Feminizing Romanticism," 67-108). See Derek Furr, "Sentimental Confrontations: Hemans, Landon and Elizabeth Barrett," English Language Notes 40, no. 2 (Dec. 2002): 29-47; Anne K. Mellor, "The Female Poet and the Poetess: Two Traditions of British Women's Poetry, 1780-1830," SiR 36 (Summer 1997): 261-76; Angela Leighton, Victorian Women Poets: Writing Against the Heart (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1992), 2-4, 45-46, 57; Jerome McGann, Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 164-65; and Julian North, "The Female Poet: the Afterlives of Felicia Hemans and Letitia Landon," The Domestication of Genius: The Biography and the Romantic Poet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 191-225.

(7.) Letitia Elizabeth Landon: Selected Writings, eds. Jerome McGann and Daniel Reiss (Ontario: Broadview, 1997), 183. Hereafter, unless otherwise specified, citations of Landon's poems and prose are from this edition, and will be given in parentheses in the main body of the text.

(8.) When distinctions were noted between the two writers during the Victorian period, they tended to favor Hemans, who was touted as the epitome of the poetess--feminine, proper, and self-denying. Among contemporary critics who stress the differences between Hemans and Landon, Gary Kelly notes Hemans's matronly tone and her national conscious-

ness ("Hemans, Romantic Death, and the State," in Felicia Hemans: Reimagining Poetry in the Nineteenth Century, eds. Nanora Sweet and Julie Melnyk [Houndmills and NY: Palgrave, 2001], 196-211; esp. 199-200). On the other hand, Angela Leighton states that "as a poet, L. E. L. represents an advance on Hemans" (Victorian Women Poets, 57), noting E. B. Browning's preference of Landon over Hemans. Likewise, Claire Knowles prefers Landon's more skeptical attitude towards feminine propriety in Sentimentality and the Female Poetic Tradition, 1780-1860: the Legacy of Charlotte Smith (Surrey, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 112-14.

(9.) See Homans, Bearing the Word: Language and the Female Experience in Nineteenth-century Female Writing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); Clarke, Ambitious Heights: Writing, Friendship, Love--the Jewsbury Sisters, Felicia Hemans, and Jane Carlyle (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), 50-51; Ross, The Contours of Masculine Desire: Romanticism and the Rise of Women's Poetry (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 236, 261, and 295-303; Leighton, Victorian Women Poets, 19, 31-34; Mermin, Godiva's Ride: Women of Letters in England, 1830-1880 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993), 20-59; and Wolfson, "'Domestic Affections' and 'the Spear of Minerva': Felicia Hemans and the Dilemma of Gender," in Re-Visioning Romanticism: British Women Writers, 1776-1837, eds. Carol Shiner Wilson and Joel Haefner (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), 128-66 (esp. 155-62), and "Gendering the Soul," in Romantic Women Writers: Voices and Countervoices, eds. Paula Feldman and Theresa M. Kelley (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1995), 33-62.

(10.) Mermin, Godiva's Ride, xiv.

(11.) Landon, "Erinna" (1827), 329-31. "Erinna" was published in The Golden Violet, with Its Tales of Romance and Chivalry: and Other Poems (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1827) after first appearing in Literary Gazette. Like the Improvisatrice, Erinna recalls Corinne, who is derived from the Greek Corinna. Hemans also published her "Corinna at the Capitol" in 1827 in The Literary Souvenir.

(12.) The last lines of "Corinne at the Capitol" were added as an epigraph to "Woman and Fame" when it was later included in Hemans's posthumous Poetical Works.

(13.) This first stanza of Hemans's "Woman and Fame" (published in The Amulet; or Christian Literary Rememberancer for 1829, ed. C. S. Hall [London: E. Westley and Davis; Wigman and Cramp], 89-90 [89]) was first published as one of the epigraphs to her "Joan of Arc, in Rheims," when collected in Records of Woman: with Other Poems (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and London: T. Cadell, 1828).

(14.) Susan Wolfson, Gary Kelly, and Kari Lokke all read the speaker's prioritizing domestic affection over fame ironically or paradoxically. See Wolfson, "'Domestic Affections' and 'the Spear of Minerva,'" 160; Kelly in "Introduction" to Felicia Hemans: Selected Poems, Prose, and Letters (Peterborough: Broadview, 2002), 54; and Lokke, "Poetry as Self-Consumption:

Women Writers and their Audiences in British and German Romanticism," in Romantic Poetry, ed. Angela Esterhammer (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing, 2002), 91-111.

(15.) Irish Melodies, The Poetical Works of Thomas Moore (Boston: Crosby, Nichols, Lee and Co., 1861), lines 1-2, page 258. Moore's Anacreontic drinking songs in Irish Melodies include "Come, Send Round the Wine" (234), "One Bumper at Parting" (245), and "The Wine Cup is Circling" (270), which share the common theme of drinking as a release from normative life. Illustrating the popularity of the book, Landon wrote a poem, "The Golden Grave," which accompanied Landscape Illustrations of Moore's Irish Melodies, and Comments for the Curious, No. 1 (London: J. Power, 1835).

(16.) Moore, Irish Melodies, lines 41-44, page 252.

(17.) On September 23, 1793, a revolutionary French paper, Feuille du Salut public, derided militant revolutionary Claire Lacombe by likening her to a Bacchante who needed to be rehabilitated: "The woman or girl Lacombe is finally in prison, and out of harm's way; this counter-revolutionary bacchante no longer drinks anything except water, she is known to have been very fond of wine and she was no less fond of food and of men...." It was Lacombe's gravest of violations, the transgressing of female propriety, that led the revolutionary writer of the paper to label her "counter-revolutionary"; the rhetoric of intoxication was readily available to him as he formulated his admonishment. See Elizabeth Roudinesco, Madness and Revolution: The Lives and Legends of Theroigne de Mericourt, trans. Martin Thom (London and New York: Verso, 1991), 141.

18. Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. Leon S. Roudiez, trans. Thomas Gorz, Alice Jardine, and Leon Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), 166-69, 240.

19. The depiction of the Cumaean Sybil under the spell of Apollo in The Aeneid illustrates this reading of female inspiration as submission to a dominating--and violently male-- divinity: "But the Sibyl, still not broken in by Apollo, storms / with a wild fury through her cave. And the more she tries / to pitch the great god off her breast, the more his bridle / exhausts her raving lips, overwhelming her untamed heart, / bending her to his will"; "Those words / re-echoing from her shrine, the Cumaean Sibyl chants / her riddling visions filled with dread, her cave resounds / as she shrouds the truth in darkness--Phoebus whips her on / in all her frenzy, twisting his spurs below her breast." See Virgil, The Aeneid, trans. Robert Fagles (New York: Viking, 2006), Book 6:93-97, 116-20. My thanks to Charles Rzepka for bringing this passage to my attention.

(20.) Harriet Mary Hughes, Memoir of the Life and Writings of Felicia Hemans: By Her Sister (1839, 111; qtd. in Wolfson, Felicia Hemans, 441). Wolfson links this phrase to Matthew 10:42 (King James version): "whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I [Jesus] say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward" (441). Also see Wolfson, Borderlines: The Shifting of Gender in British Romanticism (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2006), 75; 333n.

(21.) De Quincey, The Logic of Political Economy, in The Collected Writing of De Quincey, ed. David Masson, 14 vols. (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1890), 9:124.

(22.) Margaret Russett discusses De Quincey's revision of Ricardo's notion of the exchange value, focusing on the tropes of wine, milk, and water in De Quincey's Romanticism: Canonical Minority and Forms of Transmission (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 139.

(23.) The Poetical Works of Mrs. Felicia Hemans; Complete in One Volume (Philadelphia: Grigg & Elliot, 1845), 373.

(24.) Melnyk, "Hemans's Later Poetry: Religion and the Vatic Poet," in Felicia Hemans: Reimagining Poetry, 90.

(25.) The scene and line numbers cited throughout the text here are from the 1823 edition of The Siege of Valencia, A Parallel Text: The Manuscript and the Published 1823 Edition, eds. Susan Wolfson and Elizabeth Fay (Peterborough: Broadview, 2002).

(26.) L. E. L., The Venetian Bracelet, The Lost Pleiad, A History of the Lyre, and Other Poems (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1829), 4. Subsequent quotations are from this edition and are hereafter cited in the text.

(27.) Derrida's notion of the Pharmakon, the drug that can become both poison and cure, is useful in understanding the trope of drink. Derrida's tracing of the chain of signifiers that composes the Pharmakon leads to insights on linguistic ambiguity and verbal play. I suggest that the "charmed" drink/cup in Hemans and Landon reveals the duality of pharmakon for the woman drinker. See "Plato's Pharmacy," in Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), esp. 98-118.

(28.) Clement sees the sorceress figure as representing excess in a woman that cannot be domesticated by social norms or repressed by religion. See The Newly Bom Woman, eds. Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 3-39.

(29.) Literary Gazette, 290 (Aug. 10, 1822): 504. Susan MatofF, in Conflicted Life: William Jerdan, 1782-1869; London Author, Editor and Critic (Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, 2011), suggests this blatantly seductive poem may mark the beginning of Landon's affair with William Jerdan (129). Cynthia Lawford examines Landon's long affair with Jerdan, the editor of the Literary Gazette, who was responsible for Landon's popular fame as a poetess ("Diary," London Review of Books, 21 September 2000, 36-37).

(30.) The Improvisatrice and Other Stories by L. E. L. (London: Hurst, Robinson & Co., 1824). Hereafter cited in the text by line.

(31.) Adriana Craciun suggests that Landon creates "femme fatale poet figures who defy

classification" (Fatal Women of Romanticism [Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003], 206). Thus Craciun emphasizes the satirical streaks of Landon's fatal, destructive women, such as the Enchantress, Mulesine (of "Fairy of the Fountains"), and Henrietta Marchmont (of Ethel Churchill), and links them to Landon's consciousness of her own contradictions.

(32.) "The Enchantress," Heath's Book of Beauty for 1833 (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, 1832), 22.

(33.) Unless otherwise noted, quotations from Hemans's poems refer to Susan Wolfson's

Felicia Hemans: Selected Poems, Letters, Reception Materials (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000) and are hereafter cited in the text.

(34.) Tales, and Historic Scenes, in Verse (London: John Murray, 1819). Hereafter cited in the text. While basing her story on J. C. L. Sismondi's Histoire des Republiques Italiennes du Moyen Age, 16 vols. (Paris, 1809-18), Hemans revises Stephania's method of poisoning, having her use a wine cup. Sismondi notes Stephania's bewitching charms and her knowledge of medicine: "In her mourning clothes she dazzled him [Otho] with her charms; and, like his mistress or his physician, having gained his trust, she administered a poison to him that led him quickly to a painful death" (1:131). In Sismondi's footnote, he cites Landolphe the Elder, "she [Stephania] wrapped him [Otho] in the poisoned hide of a stag, every bit as lethal as the robe of the centaur Nessus" (1:13m). Thus Stephania comes across clearly as a sorceress figure. In a similar vein, Historical Pictures of the Middle Ages, in Black and White, attributed to Alicia Moore (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1848), Stephania poisons Otho with a pair of poisonous embroidered gloves (316).

(35.) Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, ed. Alison Booth (New York: Fearson Longman, 2009), 73.
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