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Conflicted Life

William Jerdan, 1782-1869
London Editor, Author and Critic

Susan Matoff is an independent scholar, with an MA in English Literature from the University of London (Fact and Fairy Tale in the Novels of George Gissing). In conjunction with a career in marketing and management of a mental health charity, she has published three local history studies for the Bushey Museum in Hertfordshire, and undertook research for an Open University history course – both investigations leading her to the discovery of William Jerdan.

William Jerdan was a pivotal figure in the history of English literature spanning the Georgian and Victorian eras. For thirty-four years he was the editor of the first weekly review of literature, the London Literary Gazette, where he wrote most of the journal's critical reviews which made or marred literary success in this period of exceptional growth in book production and rise in readership.

Jerdan's convivial character and central place in English literary life caused him to be personally acquainted with almost all the creative and influential figures of his day. He was raised in the Scottish Borders where he met Robert Burns and Walter Scott. Later Byron, Wordsworth, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Dickens and many other luminaries played a part in his life. At the time of the attack in the House of Commons he detained the assassin of one Prime Minister and was the intimate friend of another. Jerdan was a founder member of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Garrick Club, a maverick member of the Literary Fund, and an honorary Fraserian.

This first biography of Jerdan discusses his own fiction and poetry, revealing several works not previously attributed to him. Many aspects of his colourful professional and private life are explored, including the scandalous relationship with his protegé, the famous poet L.E.L., for which he was lampooned in the satirical press. His conflicted life led him from the heights of literary and social celebrity through the Bankruptcy Court and into penury. His life at the centre of literary London mirrored the violent swings in the country's political and financial affairs - events which provide the background to Susan Matoff's extensive and revealing biography.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-417-8
Hardback Price: £65.00 / $99.50
Release Date: October 2010
Page Extent / Format: 660 pp. / 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: Yes


List of Illustrations
A Note on Money

Part I The Early Years, 1782–1817
1 From the River Tweed to the River Thames
2 Embarking on Journalism
3 Editor of the Sun
4 Turbulent Times

Part II The Literary Gazette – The First Decade, 1817–1827
5 The Literary Gazette – An Ideal Occupation
6 Love and Literature
7 Out in Front – Problem Poetics
8 Social Climbing
9 Financial ‘Panic’ – Personal Attacks

Part III The Editor’s Life, 1828–1840
10 Athenaeum Competition and Challenging Projects
11 ‘Wing-spreading’ Editor
12 The Literary GazetteTeeters
13 Financial Ruin
14 Notoriety and a New Family
15 Conflict and Loss
16 Encouraging Authors – Creating Fiction

Part IV Times of Change, 1841–1851
17 Sole Possession – Serious Pursuits
18 Struggle for Financial Survival
19 Leading to Bankruptcy
20 Losing the Literary Gazette

Part V Life after the Gazette, 1851–1869
21 Publication ofAutobiography
22 Widened Horizons
23 Poverty in Old Age
24 Biographies – Concerning Madness
25 Men I Have Known
26 Characteristic Letters

Part VI Remembrances
27 Death, Obituaries, Posthumous Publication
28 Epilogue

Appendix Jerdan’s Descendants

“From his central position within the notoriously factional journalistic culture of the Regency and early-Victorian period, Jerdan became a highly visible arbiter of literary taste … Matoff provides a balanced and broadly sympathetic interpretation of an intriguing figure… [and] valuable material for scholars of Landon [L.E.L.] This is a thoroughly researched academic biography … a valuable repository of information for readers interested in the history of literary periodicals during the early Victorian period.” Richard Salmon, University of Leeds, Victorian Studies, Vol. 54 No. 3

“This important book will interest those concerned with publishing history in the first half of the nineteenth century …Matoff has done an extraordinary amount of research to create a full sense of what it meant to be an editor of the leading weekly literary journal, [Literary Gazette, editor 1817–1850]. This book should be consulted by anyone interested in the contexts and consequences of English Romanticism. Matoff and Sussex Academic Press (for the courage to publish such a long book of 659 pages with 500 words per page) earn excellent marks here.” Professor Charles E. Robinson, University of Delaware, Keats–Shelly Journal, Vol. LXI

“This account of the life and times of William Jerdan (1785–1869), London author, editor and critic, with its cover picture of a dashing young Regency blade, is deeply researched and at the same time entertaining.
Jerdan, editor of the popular Literary Gazette, moved in exalted circles and was involved in the establishment of the Literary Fund for distressed authors, the Royal Society of Literature, The Society of Antiquaries and the Garrick Club.
A kind man, he always tried to encourage aspiring writers and pay them fairly. In this golden age of poetry he published Elizabeth Barrett’s first poem in 1825 and promoted the poetry, and later prose, of Letitia Landon, known as LEL. By doing so he became in effect the first literary agent. LEL’s strongly emotional output and ready wit caused her to be taken up by society hostesses and gave her remarkable independence for a young, single woman then.
By coincidence (or because we are seeing a revival of interest in the work of LEL), Poisoned Lives by Julie Watt, reviewed in the last Woman Writer, gives a biography of LEL. Conflicted Life answers many of the questions asked in that review. Jerdan, married with a growing family, and LEL had three children together, fostered and well concealed of course, and both in these pre-Victorian times seem to have protected their reputations well.
Jerdan’s energy and literary output were impressive but a combination of bad luck, changing tastes, recession and his own hopeless financial management ruined him. His next young mistress bore him 13 children. Jerdan loved the company of children and worked loyally for them and their careers until his death.
This book can be read and studied for many reasons. It is an account of Jerdan’s crowded life and kindness (he opposed animal cruelty, sweated labour, adulterated food and the power of advertising). It is a social and political history of the period. It is an important history of the literature of the times, tastes changed, novels supplanted poetry, literature became a commercial, not a gentleman’s, business. And, especially for our members, it is a study of writers’ perennial problems – getting paid or rejected, conned or outsmarted, facing poverty, keeping up to date.
The rude, venomous, and personal attacks that editors and politicians exchanged in those days must make us thankful for today’s libel laws and injunctions. Jerdan, though, never engaged in them, he was too kind and generous for that.” The Woman Writer

Susan Matoff's impressive and thorough biography of the editor and critic William Jerdan spans the best part of 700 pages and 100 years, and represents a substantial scholarly endeavour. The first question therefore must be whether the editor of the Literary Gazette and author of his own four-volume autobiography deserves such an effort and the answer is certainly yes. ... This is an exemplary biography of a man who, though now largely forgotten, was a fixed point in Britains literary constellation for much of the nineteenth century. Studies in Hogg and His World, No. 24, 2014, published by The James Hogg Society, reviewed by Tom Killick

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