Joseph Severn, A Life: The Rewards of Friendship

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This biography of Joseph Severn (1793-1879), the best known but most controversial of Keats's friends, is based on a mass of newly discovered information, much of it still in private hands. Severn accompanied the dying Keats to Italy, nursed him in Rome and reported on his last weeks there in a famous series of moving letters. After Keats's death in relative obscurity, Severn pressed hard for an early biography and a more fitting memorial in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.

In the nineteenth century Severn's friendship with Keats was seen as a model of devoted masculine companionship and he was reburied by popular acclaim next to Keats in 1882. In the twentieth century, by contrast, he was denigrated as an unreliable, self-promoting witness. Sue Brown's book fills a major gap in studies of Keats and his circle. It reassesses Severn's character, friendship with Keats, and influence on the posthumous development of the poet's fame and provides new information on Keats's death.

The significance of Severn's artistic career has previously been downplayed. This book offers the first full assessment of his work and of his turbulent spell as British Consul in Rome from 1860 to 1871. Keats was not Severn's only famous friend. For most of his adult life Severn was at the heart of the large, lively British community in Rome welcoming amongst others Gladstone, who became his most important patron, Ruskin, Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Turner, Samuel Palmer, David Wilkie, and many more. He maintained long friendships with Leigh Hunt, Mary Shelley, Charles Eastlake, Richard Monckton Milnes, amongst others, and enjoyed a rich family life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Crisply written and clear-sighted Sue Brown's hands [Joseph Severn] becomes a cockney chancer, a charming maverick, a spinner of yarns whose name will never be writ in water." —Times Literary Supplement

"Sue Brown's lively new biography of Severn will be an invaluable contribution to Romantic scholarship." —The Keats- Shelley Journal

"A balance portrait of Severn...This accessible book will interest Keats fans and scholars, and it will also attract readers interested in 19th-century British communities in Italy or in the sometimes-nasty British artistic community...Recommended." —Choice

"This rich biography is a major contribution to the icreasing body of good work on members of Keat's circle." —Jack Stillinger, University of Illinois

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199565023
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/25/2009
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Sue Brown is an independent scholar based in London and Malta. She read history at Oxford and Toronto Universities. For over thirty years she was a career civil servant, including spells with the British Embassy in Washington and as Head of the Arts Division at the Department of National Heritage. She has published a number of articles on Gladstone and on Severn and co-edited with Grant Scott New Letters of Charles Brown to Joseph Severn (2007).

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

List of Plates|xiii

Abbreviations xiv

Introduction 1

1 A Hazardous Childhood 5

2 The Royal Academy Student 17

3 Painter and Poet 33

4 The Warm South 55

5 Piazza di Spagna 79

6 'Thanks Joe' 95

7 'The Most Striking Year of My Life' 114

8 The RA Pensioner 134

9 'Searching for Fame and Fortune' 153

10 Love, Marriage, and Persecution 170

11 'Everybody's Man and a Very Obliging Creature': Severn in his Roman Prime 189

12 Going Home 211

13 The Passion for Fresco 231

14 The Friend of Keats 249

15 An Interlude in Pimlico 265

16 British Consul 282

17 The New Rome 299

18 Keeper of the Flame 318

Epilogue: A Fitting Place 340

Notes 347

Select Bibliography 392

Index 404

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