The Magic Spell

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

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Postby Malia » Thu Mar 23, 2006 11:10 pm

Despondence wrote:
Malia wrote:As to his not so "right feeling towards women", how could he have any "right" feelings with no experience? He was just expressing his ignorance on the matter.


I disagree there. I think it was less a matter of ignorance about women (though I'm sure, to a degree that played a part) and more a reaction to his painful experiences of abandonment by his mother. I know, sounds a little "Freudian" but I think psychologically, Keats was hurt by the fact that his mother abandoned him 3 times. First, when she married Richard Rawlings only a few months after Keats's father died, then when she abandoned the family to live in London (perhaps with another man--there were rumors Keats had to contend with that she was a prostitute) and then again after coming home and being nursed by him during his vacations to die of TB while he was away at school. I'd say that his mother never meant to hurt him--and didn't abandon him in these ways with any thought of malice toward him. But I am positive that those painful experiences wounded Keats emotionally and psychologically--it makes sense, when you take his experience with his beloved mother into account, that he would be wary of women; be angry with them; suspect them of perhaps hurting him sometime in the future or in fact leaving him. I think, in part, Keats understood that this was part of the reason for his prejudice against women. He also knew it was wrong and he knew it was part of a "gordian complication" of feeling--it was a complex and knotted issue in his psyche--not just the result of not having had much experience with women.

Keats did have women friends (the Reynolds sisters, the Jeffrey sisters, Isabella Jones, Mrs. Dilke) and so he wasn't afraid of being friends with women, per se. He also had had sexual experience with women, too.

This might be a stretch, but I think that Fanny Brawne reminded him (even on a semi or sub-conscious level) of his mother--who was also known to be fond of music, dancing and flirting in her day, just as Fanny B. was--and whose name was also Fanny. I think part of jealousy, bitterness and anger toward Fanny B. was a semi-conscious lashing out at his mother whom he adored and also hated.
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Postby Saturn » Thu Mar 23, 2006 11:21 pm

Also remember people this was a time when feminism was non-existent, women were second-class citizens - male chauvinism was rampant, and not peculiar in Keats at all - Byron, Shelley, Clare all of them had particular prejudices of their own against women.

It was a VERY different time in the relationship between the sexes.
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Postby Malia » Thu Mar 23, 2006 11:35 pm

That's true, Saturn. Mysogyny was an accepted practice. Keats's best friend Brown was a terrible mysogynist. Severn got girls pregnant (at least one girl) and no one thought it was a big deal. (It wasn't like he was married to the girl and had a responsibility to take care of her or the child.) Keats himself made jokes about Severn and his pre-marital "by blows". Truly, that was the way people thought back then.

Though I'd go on to say that Keats *knew* his bad feelings toward women were *wrong* and didn't like them. Whereas a confirmed mysogynist like Brown would either be happy with his feelings about women or wouldn't care. Keats did care--and that makes him somewhat different from the rest.

Keats said in a letter to Bailey in July 1818:

"When I am among Women I have evil thoughts, malice spleen--I cannot speak or be silent--I am full of Suspicions and therefore listen to nothing--I am in a hurry to be gone. You must be charitable and put all this perversity to my being disappointed since Boyhood" (I think here we can gather he knows some of this anger has to do with his mother)

Then he goes on to say, "I must absolutely get over this--but how?"

He knows this hate--this prejudice is not helpful or right and he wants to get over it. That I think shows him to be at least *less* of a mysogynist than his friends.
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Postby Saturn » Thu Mar 23, 2006 11:50 pm

He also said something on the lines of 'I don't write for ladies, I write for men' when Taylor criticized some of the risque lines in The Eve of St. Agnes, though this I suspect was a rash remark, written in anger, and regretted later.
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Postby Despondence » Fri Mar 24, 2006 1:44 am

Your analyses far surpass mine, as usual, Malia and Saturn. And I expressed myself clumsily, of course Keats had some experience, I should not have said he didn't. But my own experience on the matter (as being one source for my previous "interpretation") is that you can have experience, and still be ignorant. If I'm allowed to rephrase myself, what I believe he expressed in the "not a right feeling" statement was not ignorance, but a persistent uncertainy. It is the kind of statement that easily fits onto someone like myself who, having had my share of experience, still don't quite get it. Of course, by my lack of childhood tragedies and oedipal complications, this can not be a fair comparison. But I am thinking that such ought not to be prerequisites for someone to have/express such feelings towards women.

Reading from your posts, I might get the impression that Keats by his childhood of mixed tragedies and by the misogyny of the times was doomed to be stymied in his disposition toward women. I don't think this is true, I think he was much stronger in his mind and against the prejudices of the time than you give him credit for (just like we know from his own hand that the Quarterly reviews did not at all have the impact on mental or physical conditions as some of his contemporaries believed). Indeed, he writes a lot of strong statements in his letters that would make us think he has some serious issues with women; he is young, a poet and a genius and not yet emotionally mature - what do you expect him to write about, pink unicorns? I am sure, had he lived, he would not have stayed aloof or nurtured a misogynist view, nor would he have become a Brown; he would have found his own balance, to put everything we've read so far in a different light. Goodness, reading his final fevered letters to Fanny Brawne, how can one think that he would not become a different person, had he survided his consumptive ordeal? But that's just speculation. If you perfer the Freudian line of reasoning, you may be more correct. I think he was just a man, all in all, expressing himself in the only ways he knew at the time.

Addendum: And it just occurred to me, that this feeling of mine sort of answers your first question, Malia, which started this thread: that all the myth-building, deificaiton and posthumous deconstruction notwithstanding, it is still possible to see the Keats persona which was just an ordinary man, of however extraordinary expression. If I couldn't see this side of Keats, he would seem totally unreal and unhuman to me. I guess that's just what several of you have said already in this thread, but rephrased from my perspective :)
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Postby Despondence » Fri Mar 24, 2006 3:26 am

Addendum II: Sorry for the spamming, but now that I got pulled into the what-if discussion, all sorts of weird ideas just popped into my head. Here's a "what-if" that might make for a fabulously iconoclastic film script:

What if, Keats had actually survived the consumption (miraculously) and recovered his health in Rome. With a new lease on life he then journeyed back to England to act on his engagement to Fanny Brawne, and ask for her hand in marriage - only find himself turned down, and learn that Fanny had been having an affair behind his back (how about, with Severn?) I can't think beyond this point, the thought is too surreal. :shock:
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Postby Malia » Fri Mar 24, 2006 3:39 am

Despondence wrote: just occurred to me, that this feeling of mine sort of answers your first question, Malia, which started this thread: that all the myth-building, deificaiton and posthumous deconstruction notwithstanding, it is still possible to see the Keats persona which was just an ordinary man, of however extraordinary expression. If I couldn't see this side of Keats, he would seem totally unreal and unhuman to me. I guess that's just what several of you have said already in this thread, but rephrased from my perspective :)



Oh that is so true, Despondence. One of the major reasons I like studying Keats is because of the fact that he *is* so human and fallible. People (critics) talk about his genius--and yes, he had that--but the fact that he was able to "buffet it" through the world as well as he did and with the humor and courage he had is wonderful. His humanity makes him all the more amazing, I think. And doesn't that give the rest of us fallible humans hope? To think that we, too, can do extraordinary things (under the right circumstances)--just as Keats did. I'm not saying we all could be poetic geniuses--but that we can have the courage to face our particular challenges. Because, after all, Keats was a mere mortal--like the rest of us.
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Postby Malia » Fri Mar 24, 2006 3:43 am

Despondence wrote:Addendum II: Sorry for the spamming, but now that I got pulled into the what-if discussion, all sorts of weird ideas just popped into my head. Here's a "what-if" that might make for a fabulously iconoclastic film script:

What if, Keats had actually survived the consumption (miraculously) and recovered his health in Rome. With a new lease on life he then journeyed back to England to act on his engagement to Fanny Brawne, and ask for her hand in marriage - only find himself turned down, and learn that Fanny had been having an affair behind his back (how about, with Severn?) I can't think beyond this point, the thought is too surreal. :shock:


:lol: Hmmm! Interesting speculation there, Despondence. I'd say if Fanny was seeing Severn on the side, Keats--with all his energy and strength back after defeating the consumption--would have beaten Severn to a bloody pulp. Frankly, I think if Fanny was going to cheat on Keats it wouldn't be with Severn--he'd be too "easy". She'd want a challenge.
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Postby Despondence » Fri Mar 24, 2006 4:06 am

Malia wrote:Frankly, I think if Fanny was going to cheat on Keats it wouldn't be with Severn--he'd be too "easy". She'd want a challenge.

Hmmmm ok. Then who?
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Postby Credo Buffa » Fri Mar 24, 2006 4:26 am

Malia wrote:I'd say if Fanny was seeing Severn on the side, Keats--with all his energy and strength back after defeating the consumption--would have beaten Severn to a bloody pulp.

HA HA HA!!! You bet he would!

I'm now imagining "miraculously cured Keats", with his new lease on life, going out and laying the smack down on the world, not letting anything or anyone get in his way. I see Severn cowering in a corner while Keats shouts "You gonna mess with my woman?! Huh, punk?!" Hee hee hee, it's too much.

A fair soap opera we have going here :wink:
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Postby Despondence » Fri Mar 24, 2006 5:46 am

Malia wrote: I'd say if Fanny was seeing Severn on the side, Keats--with all his energy and strength back after defeating the consumption--would have beaten Severn to a bloody pulp.

All right...and that's when sulky Severn retaliated from his hospital bed by sending this to Hunt, who sneaked it into the Examiner under the threat of having the same done of himself and mailed to Blackwood..

(hence, the origin of the term "blackmail")

Image
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Postby Saturn » Fri Mar 24, 2006 9:59 am

Despondence wrote:All right...and that's when sulky Severn retaliated from his hospital bed by sending this to Hunt, who sneaked it into the Examiner under the threat of having the same done of himself and mailed to Blackwood..

(hence, the origin of the term "blackmail")

Image


Very interesting Despondence.

You learn something new every day here :D

To steer this topic ever so slightly back to the issue...

I apologise Despondence if you got the impression from my prervious posts that I thought Keats was an irredeemable mysoginist - I did not intend to give that impression, nor do I have that opinion of Keats.

I think that Keats tended to either put women on an idealistic pedestal or at the opposite extreme thought them "flippant, vain".

Having even less experience than Keats myself I can relate to the idealising of women he indulged in, so I can understand that completely.
Last edited by Saturn on Fri Mar 24, 2006 11:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Despondence » Fri Mar 24, 2006 11:08 am

Saturn wrote:I think that Keats tended to either put women on an idealistic pedestal or at the opposite extreme thought them "flippant, vain".

Yes, and, between us guys - don't we all, at some point? (until we know better!)
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Postby Malia » Sun Mar 26, 2006 9:45 pm

Despondence wrote:
Saturn wrote:I think that Keats tended to either put women on an idealistic pedestal or at the opposite extreme thought them "flippant, vain".

Yes, and, between us guys - don't we all, at some point? (until we know better!)


Interesting point. I often wonder why many guys have this impression. I see it often enough in literature. . .you can see this idea woven through works written by men throughout the ages. . .that women are seen as either perfect vestal virgins or downright whores. In literature, I've seen this and I've dubbed it the "virgin whore" syndrome. There's this idea that the perfect woman is someone who is virginal and pure but who, at the same time, knows and is skilled at all the arts of love and lovemaking. OK. This is impossible of course and it puts women in a rather awkward situation, to be sure. Keats mentions the "virgin whore" in Lamia when he writes that Lycius sees Lamia as:
"A virgin purest lipp'd, yet in the lore
Of love deep learned to the red heart's core"

(Right when a person read those words, he should realize that Lycius is falling for a woman that doesn't exist--because that combination of qualities is downright impossible! And yet, he falls.)

I have my ideas about why this syndrome came to be--I think it is in part because of the inherent nature of male and female sexuality. Men have a very noticable sexuality--when they are aroused, you know it--can't quite hide the fact. A woman's sexuality is more hidden and therefore could be interpreted as being more mysterious. This mystery can be frightening for guys (as well as exciting)--and that combination of feelings can cause this paradox of the "virgin whore" to arise. Men want the excitement--the woman who knows everything--but they also want to be able to be the master of this feminine sexuality to a certain degree. . .thus they want a virginal woman, too.

Of course when I say "men" I don't mean *all* men--I don't mean to lump every guy into this category--but it is a way to explain at least in part why we see this so much in literature.

I think women (in general) often have unrealisitic views of men, too. So the pendulum swings both ways, to be sure. I know many women who are constantly looking for the "knight in shining armor"--now ladies, I hate to tell you, but that man *doesn't* exist.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all see each other as real beings (flawed and gifted as we are) and love each other for that?
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Postby Saturn » Sun Mar 26, 2006 10:30 pm

Malia wrote:
Wouldn't it be nice if we could all see each other as real beings (flawed and gifted as we are) and love each other for that?


Amen. :D

You made a lot of very salient points there Malia.

Speaking personally, though I do tend to idolise some women and put them on idealistic pedastles, I never go to the other extreme and think of other woman as whores - it's not as cut-and-dry as that. We all make judgments about people [rightly or wrongly] on their actions most of the time and if someone acts in a manner we disapprove of we will probably form a bad opinion of them.

It's not just a literary syndrome either - in the movie business I remember reading about a Hollywood actress who said something along the lines of "there are three roles which women play in Holywood movies - the virgin, the whore and the mother".

We are of course all flawed individuals, but sometimes we need someone to look up to, for whatever reason.

Love is the quintessential irrational emotion which gilds all things with a sheen so bright it obscures the tiniest crack in the dome of pleasure.
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