Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography

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A Los Angeles Times Favorite Book and a Washington Post Best of 2008: “A book worthy of Keats—full of feeling and drama and those fleeting moments we call genius.”—Ted Genoways, Washington Post Book World
John Keats’s famous epitaph—”Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water”—helped cement his reputation as the archetype of the genius cut off before his time. In this close narrative study, Stanley Plumly meditates on the chances for poetic immortality, an idea that finds its ...

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Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography

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Overview

A Los Angeles Times Favorite Book and a Washington Post Best of 2008: “A book worthy of Keats—full of feeling and drama and those fleeting moments we call genius.”—Ted Genoways, Washington Post Book World
John Keats’s famous epitaph—”Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water”—helped cement his reputation as the archetype of the genius cut off before his time. In this close narrative study, Stanley Plumly meditates on the chances for poetic immortality, an idea that finds its purest expression in Keats. Incisive in its observations and beautifully written, Posthumous Keats is an ode to an unsuspecting young poet—a man who, against the odds of his culture and critics, managed to achieve the unthinkable: the elevation of the lyric poem to sublime and tragic status.

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Editorial Reviews

Ted Genoway
…this bitter conundrum—the poet's ardent wish to glimpse his death while still alive and his friends' equal desire to keep something of the poet alive after his death—is the subject of Stanley Plumly's obsessive, intricate, intimate and brilliant new book…Plumly's prose is a model of readability. He navigates expertly between the pauses of poetic meditation and the necessary forward momentum of a compelling story…more than just another dispassionate biography. His is a book worthy of Keats—full of feeling and drama and those fleeting moments we call genius.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

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)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

A beautifully written work that examines Keats's place among his contemporaries and the definition of poetic immortality, this book nevertheless suffers from a confusing organizational scheme. Noted poet Plumly (poetry, Univ. of Maryland, College Park), a National Book Award finalist last year for Old Heart, assumes that his readers are fairly familiar with Keats's life and has arranged his biography thematically. While this works well for Plumly's poetic analysis, not surprisingly one of the book's strengths, it will puzzle readers expecting a more traditionally formatted biography. Plumly neglects to explain, e.g., who exactly Fanny Brawne was to Keats (his onetime fiancée) before mentioning several times, offhandedly and without clarification, the great effect "the Brawne family" had on the Romantic poet. Plumly also unrealistically assumes knowledge of certain past events, as when he states that only one person in an 1834 audience would have had "the slightest knowledge of, let alone more than passing interest in, the work of John Keats." Part biography, part poetic analysis, and part hypothesis, this will make a worthwhile addition to the collections of larger academic libraries for its unique critical analysis of Keats's poetry; smaller libraries should stick with more conventional biographies.
—Megan Hodge

Kirkus Reviews
A gentle, concentric chronology of the English poet's life, pausing occasionally for close-sometimes too close-discussions of poems and individual lines. Plumly (English/Univ. of Maryland; Old Heart: Poems, 2007, etc.) brings his training, art and craft to bear on the sad case of John Keats (1795-1821), seeking to illuminate "certain connections and crossovers [that do] not fit the profile of strict biographical narrative." Ruminating more than explicating, Plumly seeks to celebrate the verse and to illuminate the man. He visits and revisits the views of Keats's friends and family, lovers and rivals. He interprets images of the poet made during Keats's life, paying special attention to Charles Brown's portrait, drawn just before consumption had begun its wasting work, and to Joseph Severn's justly celebrated deathbed sketch of the friend he nursed during the final months in Rome. Quoting generously from Keats's correspondence with his friends, Plumly gradually adds other portraits. Clustered around the poet were his brothers Tom, who died before him of the same disease, and George, who emigrated to America. His rival Percy Shelley invited the dying Keats to stay with him and Mary in Italy; his great friend Brown may have deliberately avoided accompanying the poet to Rome. Fanny Brawne, the great love of Keats's final year, also comes to life here, as the author quotes from her sad letter to the poet's sister: "All his friends have forgotten him, they have got over the first shock . . . They think I have done the same, but I have not got over it and never shall." Severn emerges as the brightest hero in Keats's darkest days. Filling out the canvas, Plumly examines the inadequacies andbiases of the earliest biographies and offers educative asides on everything from tuberculosis and its treatment to 19th-century travel and Rome's Protestant Cemetery. A work animated by deep affection and informed by sturdy scholarship.
Los Angeles Times
A beautiful book. . . . [W]hen Plumly turns his laser-like gaze on Keats’ letters and his verse, the book is brilliant.— Nicholas Delbanco
New York Times
Mr. Plumly writes beautifully and very movingly.— Charles McGrath
Slate
Plumly has written a book to last: worthy of its subject and commensurate with both words of its title.— Robert Pinsky
Los Angeles Times - Nicholas Delbanco
“A beautiful book. . . . [W]hen Plumly turns his laser-like gaze on Keats’ letters and his verse, the book is brilliant.”
New York Times - Charles McGrath
“Mr. Plumly writes beautifully and very movingly.”
Slate - Robert Pinsky
“Plumly has written a book to last: worthy of its subject and commensurate with both words of its title.”
Nicholas Delbanco - Los Angeles Times
“A beautiful book. . . . [W]hen Plumly turns his laser-like gaze on Keats’ letters and his verse, the book is brilliant.”
Charles McGrath - New York Times
“Mr. Plumly writes beautifully and very movingly.”
Robert Pinsky - Slate
“Plumly has written a book to last: worthy of its subject and commensurate with both words of its title.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393065732
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Stanley Plumly is the author of many volumes of poetry as well as a biography, Posthumous Keats. The winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, among other honors, he lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

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