Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

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

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Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Aquarius » Mon Oct 19, 2009 6:14 pm

I'm reading a book on Keats by John Middleton Murray, and in it the author writes about Keats sickness:

"Nothing could have saved Keats save the physical consummation of his passion: and it is doubtful indeed whether that could have saved him. But it might have prolonged his life for a few years. At the very end of his life, when whatever bitterness he had ever felt against Fanny was completely purged away, he still believed that if he had been Fanny's lover, he would have been saved. 'I should have had her when I was in health and I should have remained well,' he wrote to Brown on Nov 1st, 1820. And in the very last days of all, just before the calm descended upon him on the near approach of death, Severn bears witness that 'he found many causes of illness in the exciting and thwarting of his passions..."

The book was published in 1955, so I don't know if this idea was common then, but did Keats really believe that he would've been cured of his illness through the physical consummation of his love with Fanny? I think that is how you could interpret the last part of the quote "and I should have remained well", but I always thought it was just Keats wishing he had remained well for Fanny, and that he regretted never having "had" her in health. I know Keats believed that his passion for Fanny was partly to blame for his sickness, but I'm not sure if the author's interpretation here is true.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Saturn » Mon Oct 19, 2009 6:41 pm

I don't think Keats thought it would have cured him. He was a desperately ill man who's fiance was hundreds of miles away, their relationship was unconsummated and he wished he'd had sex with her when he was well, for no other reason but the usual normal human instincts. Keats as a medical man couldn't possibly have thought that this would some way cure hm. I don't see anything else to interpret there. The author has a very strange take on that.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Aquarius » Mon Oct 19, 2009 7:26 pm

Thanks, Saturn. That's what I thought. The author is very strange, and I found myself chuckling over some of the weird stuff he wrote. He even wrote that Keats may have secretly longed for Fanny to brush aside convention and consummate their love, since Keats chivalrous attitude would have prevented it!:

"Keats was hamstrung by his vocation for poetry, and whatever he may have felt in his heart, he seems chivalrously to have urged the prudential consideration more strongly than anybody, perhaps with a secret longing that Fanny herself would brush it aside. It is a pity that she did not. But I cannot blame her for not doing it. The fire in her heart was kindled to late. Keats's frustration was destiny."

The only thing positive thing about the author is that he writes in detail about Fanny's character, and is very sympathetic to her.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Raphael » Sat Oct 24, 2009 4:09 pm

Saturn wrote:I don't think Keats thought it would have cured him. He was a desperately ill man who's fiance was hundreds of miles away, their relationship was unconsummated and he wished he'd had sex with her when he was well, for no other reason but the usual normal human instincts. Keats as a medical man couldn't possibly have thought that this would some way cure hm. I don't see anything else to interpret there. The author has a very strange take on that.


Actually it was thought at the time that strong passions could turn inside oneself and start to cause ill health in those times. I have read that John really did think that his unconsummated passion was destroying him ( the cause of his consumption)- he also believed it of his brother Tom who too had consumption before him and was recieving love letters from a mysterious woman who he felt passion for although they'd never met. John later on found out a man had been sending them as a joke and was quite rightly really annoyed.
Of course consumption is caused by bacteria, but I don't think the views of the nineteenth century are fully off the mark- we know stress and upset can weaken the immune system, so these could have increased Tom's and John's susceptability to contract consumption.
( My ref is the biography by Stephen Cootes- also you can find many refs online to the beliefs of the causes of consumption at that time).
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Aquarius » Sun Oct 25, 2009 8:15 am

I agree, Raphael on your point about how Keats did think that his passionate emotional and mental disturbances from being with and even away from Fanny exasperated his condition, but I don't think that he thought having sex with Fanny would have cured him of consumption. I don't think he thought sex would be a cure or a cause, but that his heightened passions from being with Fanny did not help his condition.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Malia » Mon Oct 26, 2009 2:50 pm

I think Keats's statement to Brown was the anguished cry of a young man facing impending death virtually alone in a foreign country. Disease and failure had twisted his reasoning by that point. I suspect that he wouldn't have had such thoughts had he been able to die in England, living with Fanny's family.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Raphael » Tue Oct 27, 2009 4:45 pm

Aquarius wrote:I agree, Raphael on your point about how Keats did think that his passionate emotional and mental disturbances from being with and even away from Fanny exasperated his condition, but I don't think that he thought having sex with Fanny would have cured him of consumption. I don't think he thought sex would be a cure or a cause, but that his heightened passions from being with Fanny did not help his condition.


Oh yes Aquarius- I agree John didn't think making love to Fanny would cure his consumption, but he thought his fustrated sexual desires were turning in inside him and a part cause of the consumption. It was all so tragic- if only he hadn't got ill and had had the money to marry her.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Aquarius » Thu Oct 29, 2009 4:31 am

Yes, it's so tragic how it all could have ended differently. I finished Gittings book on Keats last week, and in it he described how the doctor in Italy thought how pointless it was for Keats to go to Italy, as his consumption was so advanced, and nothing could have cured him. Instead, he died a slow death away from his family and friends, and Fanny. Of course, the doctor realized this after the autopsy, as before leaving Italy, no one knew really how bad the disease was.

Also, Keats had a significant amount of money in trust for him along with the regular inheritance left for him that no one knew about. Since Keats abhorred anything to do with the law and money, he never really investigated into his financial situation. The money wouldn't have cured him, but it probably would have prolonged his life or eased his death.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Saturn » Thu Oct 29, 2009 11:49 am

Well debate rages still about that last point - did Abbey know of the money, was he deliberately holding it back, or was he just incompetent. We shall never know.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Raphael » Thu Oct 29, 2009 5:13 pm

Saturn wrote:Well debate rages still about that last point - did Abbey know of the money, was he deliberately holding it back, or was he just incompetent. We shall never know.


I cannot stand Abbey- he was one mean so and so. He knew about the money.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Saturn » Thu Oct 29, 2009 9:50 pm

He certainly doesn't come out of the affair at all well. You can see his point when Keats gave up a possible stable profession he was trained for to enter the precarious world of literature, but the way he dealt with the Keats estate and how he isolated Fanny from her siblings was unforgivable.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Raphael » Fri Oct 30, 2009 5:01 pm

Saturn wrote:He certainly doesn't come out of the affair at all well. You can see his point when Keats gave up a possible stable profession he was trained for to enter the precarious world of literature, but the way he dealt with the Keats estate and how he isolated Fanny from her siblings was unforgivable.


He was vile!
John....you did not live to see-
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what it is we are in what we make of you.

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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Saturn » Fri Oct 30, 2009 5:12 pm

Well perhaps, but we don't have his side of the story, but there was certainly no love lost between hm and Keats.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Malia » Sat Oct 31, 2009 2:24 pm

While Mr. Abbey might have not played fairly with the Keats children's inheritance and been a less-than-ideal guardian for Fanny, I can't say that he was some Dickensian villain. I think that Mr. Abbey and Keats saw the world in fundamentally different ways. Keats was fairly liberal for his day and Abbey (even down to the out-of-style knee breeches he wore) was extremely conservative and, I would say, a highly practical thinker. Abbey was on board with Keats's becoming an apothecary surgeon. It was a practical career choice that would earn him an income. I think when Keats gave it all up (after spending so much money and time on schooling) that Abbey was aghast. Of course he would think Keats was a "silly boy" for giving up a respectable livelihood for something as insecure and impractical as poetry. Just because Keats rarely had a kind word to say about Abbey does not necessarily mean that Abbey was inherently evil. I think a *lot* of it comes down to differences of temperament, attitude and belief systems (e.g. liberal versus conservative social and political views). Also, it seems to me that perhaps Keats and Abbey were alike in one way--they were both stubborn as hell! Not a great likeness to have when you are different in every other way.
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Re: Question about "I should have had her when I was in health"

Postby Saturn » Sat Oct 31, 2009 3:00 pm

Completely agree with all of that. It's very easy to paint him as a villain, as you say a Dickensian monster but we have to look at how Keats' mode of life would have looked to someone in his position and of his mindset.
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