In Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s poem “Gossipping,” she creates a metaphor that likens those who gossip to “the spiders of society” in order to reveal their viciousness as well as her own subversive hatred of nature (line 1). The traits normally associated with spiders, especially spiders as symbols, are not typically negative, as they include ones such as patience and persistence due to the spider’s method of working hard on a web and then waiting for prey. However, in Landon’s poem, she asserts heavily that spiders are unwelcome and unpleasant through her use of malicious diction to describe spiders and gossipers. Landon utilizes the words “petty,” “lies,” “sneers,” “misery,” “false,” “cruel,” and “torment” when discussing the subjects of her poem and their effect on their victims. Whereas the web of a spider outside of this work may resent patience and intelligence, Landon’s “cruel” spider weaves a “petty” and “false” web that only leaves “misery” in its wake. This spider is a small-minded liar that has no concern for the destruction it places upon its victims. The malicious diction incorporated throughout “Gossipping” lends the work a very angry tone, with the only indication that this spider is intelligent is the word “ingenious” placed right before the word “torment” (line 11). The overall effect of this pairing of words, however, is that Landon admits that although gossipers are clever, they ultimately use this skill for evil.
This hatred of nature seems especially significant when analyzing the transition from the Romantic period to the Victorian period. During the previous, romantic era of literature, poems praised and even seemingly worshiped nature, even if that nature was striking fear into the narrator’s heart. Most works that made allusions to nature showed an immense respect for it, and yet upon leaving the Romantic era and entering the Victorian era, Landon writes “Gossipping” to spite nature. When interpreting spiders as the link between humans and nature, it is clear that Landon is insulting nature. The angry, hateful tone in “Gossipping” directed at a part of nature is unusual during this period of literary history, and the incorporation of such a tone reveals that Landon is a rather subversive writer for her time. Even in the Victorian era of poetry, while many authors wrote about a darker side of nature, none of them incorporated the venomous hatred into their pieces that Landon has here. Her subversiveness is emphasized by the modernity of this poem. It is very easily understood by the 21st century reader due to its clarity, straightforwardness, palpable infusion of emotion, and standard word order. Where other poets of Landon’s time are following the trends of writing about the sublime, the awe of nature, and broad and complicated concepts, all while employing an unusual word or sentence order, Landon insults nature, and makes it very clear that she is doing this as well.
Landon’s subversiveness is significant because during a time where women were often discriminated against, her inclination to go against the grain paired with her gender emphasize not only her braveness, but perhaps her roadblocks to a higher status. If Landon wrote under a male pen name and made her poems as complex and pretentious as some of her male counterparts, how much more successful would she have been?