Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography

Stanley Plumly, Author . Norton $25.95 (392p) ISBN 978-0-393-06573-2

The great English poet John Keats (1795–1821) wrote his last complete poems in the fall of 1819; already ill from tuberculosis, he traveled to Italy with his friend Joseph Severn in a doomed attempt to get well, and died in Rome after a year of getting worse. The prolific and widely honored poet Plumly (Old Heart ) offers seven informative, overlapping chapters that consider aspects, consequences and echoes from that sad last year of Keats's life. Plumly discusses artists' portraits of the poet (among them Severn's arresting deathbed sketch). He examines the lives and motives of the people closest to Keats, such as the faithful Severn (who outlived the poet by decades), the perhaps faithless (but perhaps not) Charles Brown and Keats's fiancée, Fanny Brawne. He considers Keats's love letters, Keats's medical training, Keatsian and Shelleyan landmarks in Rome, the fate of Keats's manuscripts and, finally, Keats's sense of his own life, as bound up in the poems. Plumly's linked essays incorporate old-school scholarship, but never seem dry or academic in the bad sense: the result feels “personal” indeed, if never autobiographical. At times Plumly seems unsure for whom he is writing. At other times, though, his unstinting admiration and evocative prose promise to create Keatsians yet unknown. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008
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