John Keats Investigated

A Poet in Love by Peter Davey, Arthur Stockwell Ltd, ISBN 978-0-7223-3957-2 £9.99
Books written by enthusiasts can bring fresh ides to a hackneyed subject. So, next after Jane Austen in that hierarchy, comes John Keats. They are both examples of fractured love and its influence on their writings.
For years Peter Davey has mined the details of Keats’ life, going over the physical terrain as well as the paper archives. The book is illustrated by paintings by Mari Davey of Hampstead and Piazza di Spagna and other places that feature in the life-story.
Detail after detail is hunted down – there is a list of events from 1795 (John Keats’ birth) to 1822 and the drowning of Percy Bysshe Shelley in Italy. The information is so complete that it would be useful for anyone wanting to have some research already neatly packaged and transformed into an entertaining read. The information is presented in a different way from an academic paper, which often has a particular agenda to follow, including rivalry with other academics and institutions.
In “A Poet in Love” the story is presented clearly and with telling focus. There are always unexpected gems in the work of enthusiasts like this..
While most people know the trajectory of John Keats’ destiny, this book takes us deeper into the personal life with the correspondence between John and Fanny Brawne. It also manages to re-establish the good name of Fanny Brawne – too often easily depicted as a fickle hussy who let him down, leading to his quick downfall and that fateful trip to Italy.
An early photograph (ambrotype) from Keats House Museum shows a dark, Spanish-looking young woman, with a strong frame, totally unlike the usual delicate nineteenth century maiden. The letters between John and Fanny show that she had a gifted turn of phrase and her writing complements his own. It is a compliment to the educational standards at the time that her letters sow a precise and fluent use of words.
Given future years together, the combination of Fanny and John would have been an enrichment of John Keats’ poetry output.
As well as Fanny Brawne, other people are brought out of the shadows and given a definite shape. This, too, is the result of careful research.
The poems (27 are mentioned here) remain as the structure of that relationship too. Other poems depict the natural setting of Hampstead at the time as they wove their daily life around the lane that now bears his name.
This is a book that both academics and the general reader will find valuable, as it approaches the life of John Keats in a fresh manner with a carefully selected range of illustrations.

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