A Question About The Essence of Keats's Character

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

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A Question About The Essence of Keats's Character

Postby Malia » Fri Jan 20, 2006 7:53 pm

As I was driving down the road this morning, I wondered about the following:

If somehow Keats were to know that TB was contageous (say--for fancy's sake--that someone was able to go back in time around the spring of 1818 and tell him all about it and he believed him) and that, if he stayed away from his brother Tom (and maybe also didn't go on the Scotland journey and catch that cold) that he might have a good chance of elluding the disease and have more years to write--do you think he would take these precautions?

Do you think he would not nurse his brother--or be near him--as a trade off for personal health and extra years added to his life for writing?

Personally, I think that it would be completely against Keats's very nature to *not* be there for Tom when he was needed and risk infection. I think, like a character in a Greek Tragedy, Keats's very nature would determine his fate.

Of course this is completely fantasy talk--obviously, people can't go back in time and change history--but I think it's fun to consider hypotheticals when it comes to Keats's character.

Does anyone have an opinion?
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Postby Credo Buffa » Fri Jan 20, 2006 10:11 pm

Hmmmm, another question we might ask in response to this rhetorical situation is how his work would change as a result. The emotions he expresses in his poetry are often such a byproduct of his personal life that had he not been right at his brother's side, watching him waste away, and had he not gone on his walking tour of Scotland and been able to have all those experiences and see what he saw there. . . would his work still be so emotionally-driven and captivating to us today?

I know it seems really stereotypical to say that great art comes out of great suffering, but at the same time, a good artist has to have a complete understanding of the human condition, and suffering is a part of that. Would Keats have had the same thoughts about death that inspired "When I have fears. . .", "Nightingale". . . ? Would Keats still be on that list of essential British Romantics?

It's the classic what if, isn't it?
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Postby Malia » Fri Jan 20, 2006 10:33 pm

Credo Buffa wrote:Hmmmm, another question we might ask in response to this rhetorical situation is how his work would change as a result. The emotions he expresses in his poetry are often such a byproduct of his personal life that had he not been right at his brother's side, watching him waste away, and had he not gone on his walking tour of Scotland and been able to have all those experiences and see what he saw there. . . would his work still be so emotionally-driven and captivating to us today?


I've thought of that, too. For instance, a lot of the scenery he experienced in Scotland fueled his imagination for Hyperion--one of his greatest works. And what you say about Ode to A Nightingale--so true. Would he have had the life experience to write these works?

Still, getting back to the hypothetical, if Keats were to have gotten--say 10,000 pounds (roughly $500,000 in today's American dollars) from someone, that would have changed his poetry, too. It would have changed a LOT of things. I think that if I or anyone else could go back in time and just deliver the money to him anonymously (so he couldn't give it back!) he probably wouldn't have gone to Italy--at least not as he did--which means that Severn's family would be composed of completely different people. . .certain people would never have been born! The same with other people that Keats knew. What if he'd been able to marry Fanny? History would be significantly changed. For the better? Who knows? But would anyone even miss these people if they'd never been born? Hmm. . .this kind of ethical dillema is really stuff for Jean Luc Picard and the members of the Star Trek Enterprise to figure out.

:lol: , we really don't have to worry about any of this, do we? OK, time for me to stop goofing off at the office and get back to editing scientific papers. . .
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Postby Saturn » Sat Jan 21, 2006 12:03 am

Interesting discussion - the 'what if's?' are always interesting to explore.

I think that at that time it was suspected that tuberculous may be contagious but, like you Malia, I think Keats love for his brother would be stronger than any fear of infection - it was his duty as a human being, a friend, and a brother to help his brother's passing be as comfortable as possible for him - I know I would do the same, whatever the risk, for my brother.
If Keats had survived into middle, or old age, he may have been wracked with guilt about not doing all he could. George and Fanny Keats may have blamed him for this and they may have become estranged as a result.

His work may have been even more dark and torturous than that he did write - no amount of possible hapiness with Fanny and a family of his own could quite make up for the terrible guilt of abandoning his dear brother.

As for the hypothesis that financial help would have profoundly affected his work I agree, but perhaps it may have been in a positive way instead.

Much as I can personally relate to a lot if the bleakness and dark imagery in Keats' later work, if he had not become consumptive, and if he had no financial worries his work may have been infinitely brighter, more hopeful, and he amy have lived to a prosperous old age, his work little known but greatly appreciated by friends, family, and critics alike.
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