Best collection of Letters by Keats

The life of John Keats the man: his family, his friends, and his contemporaries.

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Best collection of Letters by Keats

Postby Realmsofcopper » Fri Nov 10, 2006 9:12 pm

Hello, fellow Keats admirers, I have just found this forum and have joined it.

What a terrific forum! I wish I had known about it before.

I wonder if I could ask for some ideas from you about the best book of collected letters of John Keats. I'm really looking just for the letters, not a book containing the letters and poetry -- since I already have a lot of the poetry.

The striking thing about Keats, for me, is how colloquial and "slang-y" he could sometimes be in his letters. When I was an undergraduate, Keats was presented as this ethereal being who Wrote Great Poetry (caps intended), to whom we were to bow down and solemnly worship.

As I read portions of some of his letters now, I see how funny, sharp, lively, smart, goofy, tender, and sometimes bawdy he could be. I love that. The man who wrote the best poetry also wrote some great letters -- he was a fully realized human being. (I really enjoy Virginia Woolf's letters for the same reason.)

Could I ask for suggestions about what might be the best collection of his letters out there? Is there a book or some other medium which includes all his letters? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks you so much!
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Postby Malia » Fri Nov 10, 2006 9:23 pm

Welcome to the forum, RealmsofCopper (love your handle, btw :) ). I absolutely agree with what you said in your post--Keats is considered one of the everlasting bards and, as such, has been put on a pedistal and turned to stone--at least that's how many woud-be poetry and Keats lovers might first be taugh to see him in class. Keats was anything but a "cold pastoral", to be sure! In fact, I love his letters (and biographies about him) even more than his poetry. His letters stand alone as works of art, in my estimation. I have two collections of his letters; one is a collection edited by the Keats scholar, Robert Gittings and the other is by a professor named Grant Scott. Gittings focuses on presenting Keats's letters the way Keats wrote them. . . i.e. containing all his dashes, misspellings, incomplete punctuation and other Keatsisan idiosyncracies of the pen (such as capitolizing the first letter of words that mean something special to him).

Grant Scott's edition is edited to make Keats's letters easier to read, so he's removed many of the idiosyncracies. However, unlike Gittings, Scott includes letters from Joseph Severn that detail the end of Keats's life--which is a nice addition as, to end with Keats's last letter, seems to leave his story incomplete. Grant Scott also writes an *amazing* introduction to his edition and he makes sure to introduce you to the "real" Keats--a man who was at times an amazing friend, a powerful thinker, a tender, caring brother and and other times was an anti-semite, a misogynist, a cruel lover, and tortured soul. I like the fact that Scott takes Keats *off* that pedistal of "perfect poet, perfect being" and introduces the man--warts and all--to us. I think that makes Keats even more engaging and full of life.

So, to put it all together--I suggest both Gittings edition of Keats's Selected Letters and Grant Scott's edition. With both of them, you'll get a nicely rounded view of Keats. If you could only buy *one*, however, I'd recommend Grant Scott--if only for the inclusion of Severn's letters and the amazing introduction.
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Thank you!

Postby Realmsofcopper » Fri Nov 10, 2006 9:46 pm

Thank you so much, Malia! Terrific information, just what I needed!

Not to mention timely. :D
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Postby Saturn » Sat Nov 11, 2006 1:01 am

Welcome Realmsofcopper to our little community. :D

I have to agree with Malia - go for the Gittings version.
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Postby dks » Sun Nov 12, 2006 6:51 pm

Yes, welcome Realmsocopper--Robert Gittings is your best bet. There's also a nice edition of letters by Sidney Colvin. It's old (the edition I have is dated 1891) but it is comprehensive and almost pocket sized! :wink: I found mine at Hampstead back in January.
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Postby Malia » Sun Nov 12, 2006 7:38 pm

I would recommend that if a reader is new to Keats and his letters, she should first purchase the Grant Scott edition. But those of us who have read his letters a million times and know Keats fairly well might enjoy Gittings' edition, for one reason because he includes Keats's original sense of punctuation, spelling, grammer, etc. Nothing, though, takes the place of reading Keats's letters in his *own* hand. One thing Grant Scott contains that I forgot to mention earlier, are a few photocopies of original manuscript so you can read a letter printed in his edition in the original. It makes a lot of difference. I remember reading an actual letter Keats wrote when I visited Keats House at Hampstead. It was the letter he wrote to Mrs. Brawne while on board the Maria Crowther. I was extremely moved by the post script Keats wrote--he said, "Good bye Fanny! God bless you" Now, in printed editions of his letters, it is often written "Good bye Fanny! God bless you!" in the same font and same size type as all the other letters on the page. However, in Keats's hand, those few words are written in a tiny scrawl and seem to dissolve at the end--the word "you" is almost illegible. One can feel his despair and torment when reading those words. You just don't get the emotional ressonance with typeface.
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Thank you, everybody

Postby Realmsofcopper » Sun Nov 12, 2006 11:17 pm

Thank you, all, for your further responses to my query.

That description of his handwriting, Malia, trailing off like that, is heartbreaking.

I borrowed the Colvin from the library down here, and had trouble getting interested in it for some reason, so I returned it fairly quickly. Ironically, the library system now says it has not been returned and is "lost." I'm 99.9% sure I returned it. I will not embarrass my region by mentioning what library system I use, in what state, but.....suffice to say, it's not the best in my opinion!

I'm reading Aileen Ward's bio right now, I like it quite a bit. (The only bio of Keats that really bugs me is the one called "Darkling, I Listen," or something like that -- whoever wrote it really has a vendetta against Fanny Brawne. Which I think is undeserved 8) )

In Ward's bio, she mentions that Keats noted that young men of his time used the term "hanging out," to describe what tavern they frequented. (As in, "What pub do you go to? Where do you hang out?") How cool is that? :D

Thank you again, good people, for all your suggestions and ideas.
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Re: Thank you, everybody

Postby Saturn » Sun Nov 12, 2006 11:19 pm

Realmsofcopper wrote:

In Ward's bio, she mentions that Keats noted that young men of his time used the term "hanging out," to describe what tavern they frequented. (As in, "What pub do you go to? Where do you hang out?") How cool is that? :D


You see all these slang terms are nothing new.
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Re: Thank you, everybody

Postby Malia » Sun Nov 12, 2006 11:37 pm

Realmsofcopper wrote:Thank you, all, for your further responses to my query.

That description of his handwriting, Malia, trailing off like that, is heartbreaking.

I'm reading Aileen Ward's bio right now, I like it quite a bit. (The only bio of Keats that really bugs me is the one called "Darkling, I Listen," or something like that -- whoever wrote it really has a vendetta against Fanny Brawne. Which I think is undeserved 8) )

In Ward's bio, she mentions that Keats noted that young men of his time used the term "hanging out," to describe what tavern they frequented. (As in, "What pub do you go to? Where do you hang out?") How cool is that? :D

Thank you again, good people, for all your suggestions and ideas.


Realmsofcopper, you and I are on the same wavelength, I think. :lol: I ABSOLUTELY agree with you about "Darkling I Listen". I thought the punk who wrote it was a mysogynist and was *looking* for a way to blame Fanny Brawne for Keats's mental and emotional anguish. OK, Fanny might not have been the most outwardly emotional woman; she was practical in the affairs of love--but so are many, many decent people. Walsh could have spent some time focusing on Keats's wacko attitude about *women* before bashing Fanny Brawne. (Whew, I definitely have some pent up anger about that book, don't I?) Anyway, in Walsh's defense, I will say that he makes some nice statements about Severn and his description of the end of Keats's life (minus the negative stereotyping of Fanny) was moving.

As for Alieen Ward's bio--hers is my *favorite* by far. I love the poetry of her words and I appreciate the psychological approach she takes when analyzing Keats and his poetry. One of my favorite parts of the bio is when Ward analyzes Moneta in the Fall of Hyperion--she analyzes this character in terms of his own life and family connections. . .it is wonderfully written and, I think, quite apt.

Ward's was the first bio of Keats I ever read, so I'm partial to it in part for sentimental reasons--but those aside--it is an *excellent* book and worthy of the awards it's won. :)

I remember reading about "hanging out" in Keats's letter to George (and Tom?) and I *loved* it! I have used that information as a bit of trivia when I'm "hanging out" with my friends. "Say, did you know that hanging out has been used as slang for nearly 200 years?" It would make a great answer on Jeaopardy! :lol:
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Postby Saturn » Sun Nov 12, 2006 11:41 pm

I've still yet to read that biography - never even seen a copy.

It's out of print - right Malia?

Oh and some of Keats' attitudes to women were appalling, but then again they were pretty much in keeping with that whole Regency period, or in fact virtually all of human existence until the 20th century women's liberation movements.
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Postby Saturn » Sun Nov 12, 2006 11:42 pm

I just realised Malia that your name is an anagram of Lamia :lol:
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Postby Malia » Mon Nov 13, 2006 1:31 am

Saturn wrote:I've still yet to read that biography - never even seen a copy.

It's out of print - right Malia?


You're talking about the Ward biography, Saturn? "Darkling I Listen" is still in print, so the Ward must be the one you mean. Yes, it is out of print--but, at least in America, it is easy to find on on-line used bookstores.
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Postby Malia » Mon Nov 13, 2006 1:33 am

Saturn wrote:I just realised Malia that your name is an anagram of Lamia :lol:


Isn't that interesting! Must be subliminal. ;) I used Lamia as "pen name" once long ago. . .
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Greetings, everyone

Postby Realmsofcopper » Fri Nov 17, 2006 8:53 pm

Well, I just got the Grant Scott letters and I am enjoying them immensely.

I had just received some amazon.com gift certificates for my birthday, so I used them to order the Gittings, the Grant Scott, and the Aileen Ward. (My Ward copy was borrowed from the library, and I'd like to have a copy of my own.)

The Gittings and the Ward are out-of-print, so they are coming from 2 separate used-book sellers who sell under the auspices (or the jurisdiction, ha ha) of amazon.com and thus accept amazon.com gift certificates. Huzzah! But used-book sellers usually fulfill their orders more slowly than in-print booksellers.

I love the letters in the Grant Scott that Severn wrote to Haslam and Taylor. ("Don't breathe on me, it comes like Ice." Oh, Severn was a good letter writer, too.) And Severn's description of the "brutal Italians" who burned the furniture and scraped the walls after Keats' death. What a horrible aftermath to the death of a dear friend, Although it probably made sense, as callous as it might seem....it was not clear at that time whether tuberculosis was contagious or not. Poor Severn.....it's obvious that he was at the end of his rope physically and emotionally. Question: where was Brown? He should have been there.

I'm perceiving Fanny Brawne as being less and less of a ditz all the time. I started out with a guarded positive impression of her anyway, based on Keats' love of her and the things he wrote to her. She's no ordinary teenage flirt, I think. He could not have written about her with such depth of feeling if she had been. And frankly, some of the supposedly harsh things he said to her, his jealousy, etc. -- scary, dysfunctional? Yeah, but exacerbated by illness or laudanum, which was used pretty universally to curb the unproductive and painful coughing of TB.

But....impassioned and exciting, as well. Oh, yeah. I take it in the same spirit as Emily Bronte writing in "Wuthering Heights." When women read this type of thing today, or hear song lyrics that catch that "I'll die for you if you die for me" kind of passion, I have a sneaky feeling that their response is not "euuuwwww" but "I would love it if a guy would talk to me like that." As opposed to more mundane matters such as "Do you want to go clubbing tonight, hon?" Or whatever.

So, I'm thoroughly enjoying the Grant Scott!!

Best Regards,
K
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Postby Malia » Fri Nov 17, 2006 9:30 pm

Yea! I'm so glad you like the Grant Scott ed. of Keats's letters, Realmsofcopper :) Severn's account of Keats's last days is moving--I always feel a tremendous anguish in my chest when I read those letters. I read in a biography of Keats (can't remember which one--or, wait, it may have been in a bio of Severn I have called "Against Oblivion") that Severn was so worn out physically and mentally from nursing Keats that a friend of Severn's had to dress him the morning of Keats's funeral and that when Severn returned from the funeral and found his landlady trying to present Severn with a bill for some broken crockery, he was so angry and distraught, he took up his walking cane and smashed them to dust with it.

Where was Brown, you ask? Well, he obviously wansn't with Keats. I don't know how to feel about Brown in this instance. True, he treated Keats with kindness during his first illness and even paid Keats's bills (though I'm sure he expected to be repaid with interest). But Brown had a kind of selfish nature, ultimately. He had to hide away his pregnant housekeeper that summer while she gave birth and, frankly, I think he didn't want to be bothered with any entanglements. I think he felt guilty about not joining Keats in Rome (he should have felt guilty!)--but he never intended to go, himself.
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