Do You Have a Favorite?

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

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Do You Have a Favorite?

Postby Malia » Fri May 19, 2006 6:47 pm

OK, I'd say we pretty well agree that we all think Keats is tops :)
But what about his circle of friends and family? Though I know they were *real* people, I often see Keats' family and friends as a cast of characters that color the drama that is Keats's life.

Who, out of those characters that make up Keats's circle, is your favorite and why? Does someone's colorful character grab you? Do you feel for one of his friend's or family member's plight? Is there one person you believe influenced Keats more than anyone else?

I'll start with my favorite, to give you an example of what I mean.

If anyone has ever read any of my posts, it should be pretty obvious by now that my favorite "supporting character" in the cast of Keats's drama is his brother Tom Keats.

For some reason, Tom absolutely grabs at my imagination. We don't know an awful lot about him. (That's part of the reason he intrigues me--he's somewhat mysterious.) We know that in temperment he was what Keats called "sanguine"--he had a happy disposition to the point of being somewhat naive. He was well liked by nearly everyone who knew him. He was fairly outgoing, enjoyed reading almost as much as Keats himself did, and--of course--was sickly. We also know that he was tall and fairly good looking. And most importantly, Tom was supposedly the one person in the world who understood Keats in and out.

Gittings helped fire my interest in Tom because, throughout his biography, he makes a point to link Tom to Keats's poetry and "fatal attraction" to Fanny Brawne. He thinks (and I agree with this) that Keats--and perhaps Tom, himself--believed that Tom's pathetic "love affair" with Amena Bellifalia--who ended up being a practical joke and not even a real woman--caused Tom to contract TB and die. This sowed the seeds in Keats's mind that when he began to suffer under TB that he, like his brother, was dying of a broken heart. (SO pathetically tragic! The idea absolutely tugs at my heartstrings.)

Tom--especially the ghostly influence he had on Keats after his death--seems to appear in several of Keats's poems and the way he compares his fate with Tom's after Keats becomes ill is almost an obsession.

I think that Tom plays a huge role in Keats's life--and it seems kind of ironic in a way, becuase Tom himself was nowhere near as flamboyant or colorful as some of Keats's friends were. I see Tom and Keats as being inextricably linked in a spiritual way--a unique bond that Keats shared with no one else. This bond helped shape the tragedies of Keats's last two years; by nursing Tom so faithfully--almost obssessively he contracted TB and also the diseased idea that he would die of a broken heart, like Tom. His relationship with Tom (both the living Tom and the "ghost" of Tom) influenced his poetry, too.

I like the idea that someone so quiet as Tom (as far as we know him) played such a huge role in helping to craft the Keats we know today.
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Postby Saturn » Fri May 19, 2006 11:54 pm

Severn has always been someone I've admired greatly - such a selfless and caring man who was with Keats to the end and nursed him when no-one else could.

That, and the fact that he never tried to capitalise on his association with Keats later in life. His portraits were tributes, not cash-ins.

The idea of self-sacrifice for a dear friend is such a noble and beautiful thing - we all hope we could do the same for our dearest friends.
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Postby Malia » Sat May 20, 2006 12:00 am

Severn definitely stepped up to the plate, didn't he? Granted, he was kind of duped into going on the journey to Italy to begin with--but he never abandoned Keats in his time of need.

I remember reading about how Isabella Jones berated Severn for being selfish and whiney about his situation with Keats in Rome in his letters to England. True, Severn had some faults in that way, but good gracious! let him be human for Christ's sake. I mean, I'd like to see Isabella Jones cleaning up blood and vomit--humoring Keats through delerium and stopping him from committing suicide. Severn's job wasn't a walk in the park.
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Postby Credo Buffa » Sat May 20, 2006 3:49 am

Oddly enough, based on our recent conversation, I think Keats's mother is the "character" I find the most interesting. She's so important in the Keats story, and as a person, she's really engaging. She starts out as a fun-loving young woman (she almost strikes me like she would have been the "cool mom" that all the kids on the block would be envious of), and is tragically torn down to the point where she's almost a completely different person, unrecognizable. It's terrifying and depressing and fascinating, all at the same time. Aside from her imact on Keats, I continually find myself considering her and what must have gone through her mind for such a dramatic change to take place, and how she must have felt coming home in her illness, the regrets she must have had, the utter despair at not being able to make amends.
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Postby Malia » Sat May 20, 2006 5:04 am

Credo Buffa wrote:Oddly enough, based on our recent conversation, I think Keats's mother is the "character" I find the most interesting. . .Aside from her imact on Keats, I continually find myself considering her and what must have gone through her mind for such a dramatic change to take place, and how she must have felt coming home in her illness, the regrets she must have had, the utter despair at not being able to make amends.


Interesting choice, Credo. Francis Keats did play a huge role in Keats's life. And to think of her and her experience as a person (apart from being the "mother of Keats")--is also interesting. I rarely think of her as a *person* in and of herself with her own life, so to speak. I can only imagine the shame and regret she must have felt when she returned home worse than destitute and dying.

I swear, Keats's whole life--and everyone in it--could be a Dickens novel!
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Postby dks » Sat May 20, 2006 9:08 pm

Yes, his life could be a Dickens novel--couldn't it??

For me...the 'characters' from Keats's life that stand out are all his 'women.' From Fanny, his mother, to Alice, his 'granny good,' and Isabella Jones, The mystery Vauxhaull woman-for sure! and Fanny B., of course--they fascinate me in that they all helped shape his view of romantic love in one way or another--they all helped him get to that point where he decided to reconcile happiness with sadness or life with inevitable death--they were all instrumental in showing him divergent modes of affection...he gleaned much from these women--whether he realized it or not--and I would bet good money that their lives were forever changed (even if just slightly) by merely knowing him...it's a very intricate web of delicate, yet profound associations, Keats and those ladies... :wink:
"I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the Truth of Imagination."
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Re: Do You Have a Favorite?

Postby SnuggleKeats » Wed Oct 08, 2008 2:08 am

Definitely Severn. Such a good man, and his art is lovely if not always perfect.
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Re: Do You Have a Favorite?

Postby Malia » Wed Oct 08, 2008 3:03 pm

Severn is interesting, to be sure. Many would say he was duped into going to Italy with Keats on the "last journey". Severn wasn't the most perceptive of men and seemed to believe everyone's assurances that Keats would convalesce in Rome. Little did he know! But, Severn may have had his own reasons for going to Italy (not just to be the true, good friend of Keats). Seems Severn got a girl pregnant and was eager to "leave the scene" for a while. I've read that he felt somewhat guilty for abandoning the girl, but I suppose it was not uncommon for a guy to do such a thing at the time. (Heck, it's still not that uncommon, unfortunately.) I mention this because Severn often comes off as a very green, sweet, if not deep young man. In fact, he had his own problems or, as Keats might say, his shade as well as his light.
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Re: Do You Have a Favorite?

Postby AsphodelElysium » Fri Oct 10, 2008 6:51 am

How did I miss this thread before? I'd have to say Haydon, because he was a blow hard and no one ever likes him. His suicide is rather haunting also.
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But, when I am consumed in the fire,
Give me new Phoenix wings to fly at my desire."
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Re:

Postby Raphael » Tue Oct 27, 2009 5:56 pm

Saturn wrote:Severn has always been someone I've admired greatly - such a selfless and caring man who was with Keats to the end and nursed him when no-one else could.

That, and the fact that he never tried to capitalise on his association with Keats later in life. His portraits were tributes, not cash-ins.

The idea of self-sacrifice for a dear friend is such a noble and beautiful thing - we all hope we could do the same for our dearest friends.


I agree- and it was a risk for Joseph to be with poor John when he was so ill- he could easily have caught the consumption from him, but of course John deserved the devotion he was given by Joseph, for after all look how he had cared for others.
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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