Isabella Jones and 'What can I do to drive away'

Discussion on the works of John Keats.

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Isabella Jones and 'What can I do to drive away'

Postby fishponds » Mon Jun 27, 2011 1:54 pm

Has anyone else been at all curious about Keats and Mrs Jones (cue for song.
did they really have 'a thing goin' on etc.'?). I think it was the Gittings biography that
mentioned her having a thing going on with JK's publisher at the same time, which put an end to her relationship with JK. It may well have put an end to the food parcels - of game, apparently - that this kind lady had been sending him. A cultivated and worldly-wise yet possibly also maternal (=concerned about poor JK's health, feeding him up) older woman, she may actually have underestimated the effect her free, flirtatious manner was having on the susceptible motherless young poet.

Did his reaction to her perceived insensitivity towards him inspire 'What can I do to drive away', a poem that became designated - some thirty years later, I understand - 'To Fanny'? Certain lines hint of a luxurious setting - possibly her well-appointed, extremely comfortable apartment? I have a feeling she may only really have appreciated his true nature and vulnerability on learning of his death, of which, we are told, she was one of the first to learn and comment on. I feel a film script coming on...
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Re: Isabella Jones and 'What can I do to drive away'

Postby Cybele » Fri Jul 01, 2011 2:41 am

Fishponds, I'm kind of inclined to agree with Gittings that Keats & Isabella Jones had something going on, even though I also believe that Mr. Gittings was a real world-class athlete when it came to jumping to conclusions. :D

What makes me think that there was something more than friendship? The short sentence in the letter to the George Keatses (October 14-31, 1819) in which the poet says of Mrs. Jones, “ I have no libidinous thought about her,” made me chuckle to myself when I first read it. I feel our guy protested too much after describing the meeting with the mysterious lady and the visit to her apartment in such charming detail. (I suspect that he may have put the “no libidinous thought” remark in the letter for the benefit of his sister-in-law.)

I can't remember hearing anything more about this lady later in the letters, but I do remember reading that she was one of the first people notified of the death of the poet and received a book belonging to him after his death. (I assume it was Charles Brown who gave her the book.)

However, I think I agree with the scholars who associate “What can I do to drive away. . .” (a.ka. “To Fanny”) with Fanny Brawne rather then Isabella Jones. The whole thing, to use a synesthetic metaphor, just “”smells” of Fanny. There are many echos of his letters to her. Plus, it reminds me of John's actions. He did leave Hampstead a couple of times in unsuccessful attempts to break Fanny's spell over him. (“God! I can't get this girl out of my head!!! I'll go stay in London awhile.. .”)

I'm interested in your take on this poem. I've not thought before about the possibility of it being about someone other than Fanny. We don't know much about Isabella. Yeah, we've got Gitting's steamy conjectures and speculations, but not a whole lot more than that. What parts of it make you think of Isabella?
Last edited by Cybele on Thu Aug 04, 2011 3:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"The philosopher proves that the philosopher exists. The poet merely enjoys existence."
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Re: Isabella Jones and 'What can I do to drive away'

Postby fishponds » Thu Aug 04, 2011 11:41 am

Cybele - many thanks. Thinking about the poem again, Ithink you're probably right about it being about Fanny, not Isabella.
I saw it as an expression of JK's feelings of anger and humiliation on discovering that his close friend Mrs Jones seemed to be having an affair with his own publisher. Perhaps this version seemed a little too tempting to ignore. Keats's experience of the unconventional and flirtatious Mrs J prepared him for his real, passionate and above all honest relationship with Fanny. The depth of his distress expressed in this poem goes beyond mere hurt.
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Re: Isabella Jones and 'What can I do to drive away'

Postby Cybele » Thu Aug 04, 2011 3:53 pm

I like your comment, fishponds, about how Keats's fling with Isabella prepared our guy for his relationship with Fanny.

IMO, lots of people forget just how young Keats was. He was, in many ways, wise beyond his years. He was self-aware and an absolute genius. But while he had life experiences, including the early loss of both of his parents, that made him grow up early, he was still a very young man, complete with all the yearnings and ambitions of a young adult.

I believe that Isabella did help Keats mature both as a human being and a poet.
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Re: Isabella Jones and 'What can I do to drive away'

Postby fishponds » Mon Sep 05, 2011 9:15 am

Thanks, Cybele. She sounds quite a complex character - liberated, too.
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Re: Isabella Jones and 'What can I do to drive away'

Postby avaviney » Tue Oct 25, 2011 1:49 am

Nice character!
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