John Keats

Richard Marggraf Turley, Keats's Boyish Imagination

Richard Marggraf Turley, Keats’s Boyish Imagination. Routledge, 2004. Xiv + 158pp. $145.00 (Hdbk; 0-415-28882-7)

Reviewed by
Jonathan Mulrooney
College of the Holy Cross

A concern with “maturity”—psychological, social, poetic—has informed critical discussions of Keats more than those of any other English poet. For much of the twentieth century, the concern was framed biographically: how is it that one so young could have developed so quickly? In 1988, Marjorie Levinson’s shattering Keats’s Life of Allegory: The Origins of a Style turned that question upon itself, claiming that profound cultural dispossession rather than transcendent formal mastery constituted the most radical element of Keats’s poetry. Measuring as it does the psychological (if not the psychoanalytic) valences of the poet’s verses, Levinson’s study continues to serve as a salutary counter to the historicisms that have illuminated Keats studies over the last three decades. As the social and material conditions within which the poems were produced and circulated have been recovered, we have recognized a serious political dimension to Keats’s aesthetic project. Yet Keats’s Life of Allegory reminds us that the formal standards by which we came to value Keats’s lyric form—and the lyric persona they enact—have not, even by virtue of Levinson’s inversion of them, been discarded. In short, Keats’s formal achievement endures in a way that historicism cannot entirely explain. We might reframe my opening question: how is it that an historically informed criticism might attend to matters such as stylistic and psychological “development” without embracing once again an exhausted Romantic ideology?

James Najarian, Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire

James Najarian, Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire. New York: Palgrave, 2003. x + 240pp. $110.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0-333-98583-4).

Reviewed by
Peggy Dunn Bailey

In Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire, James Najarian traces the influence of Keats upon the ways that male sexuality came to be understood and expressed in the Victorian era. One of the most valuable and insightful elements of Najarian's discussion, however, is that he extends his analysis beyond the Victorian era to the World War 1 era poetry of Wilfred Owen and to appropriations of Keats's "story" by contemporary artists struggling to find a language for the horrors of HIV/AIDS and its legacy, especially for the gay community. Doing so solidifies his point that Keats became, and continues to be, a phenomenon of sorts, not just because of his poetry but because of the ways in which the poet himself was turned into a symbol of transgressive sexuality and a commentary on its manifestations and potential consequences. Najarian is careful to point out that Keats's "influence" was transmitted not just by his poetry but also by biographies and conceptions of the "doomed," "sensuous," "effeminate" poet and to make clear that his goal is not to uncover the "real" John Keats but to examine the legacy of "Keatsianism" (2). Will we understand Keats and his poetry better if we "prove"/"know" him to have been a latent homosexual instead of (or, titillatingly, in addition to) a frustrated heterosexual? Not necessarily. Najarian astutely points out that late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century attempts to categorize would be unwise for practical and theoretical reasons; we would do well to remain vigilant regarding the dependability of our knowledge of the sexual proclivities and practices of human beings in a culture and a time within which the discourse of sexuality was so very different from our own. Furthermore, such attempts to "out" Keats, the man, are irrelevant to Najarian's project. In the Introduction, Najarian candidly announces his text as "unashamedly a literary history" (2).

Nicholas Roe, John Keats and the Culture of Dissent

Nicholas Roe, John Keats and the Culture of Dissent. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. xviii + 315. $75.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-19-818396-8). $24.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-19-818629-0).

Reviewed by
Anne Janowitz
University of Warwick

Nicholas Roe's John Keats and the Culture of Dissent is a substantial contribution to the on-going debate about Keats's politics. As Roe notes in his discussion, Jerome McGann's 1979 article, "Keats and the Historical Method in Literary Criticism" (Modern Language Notes 94 [988–1032]), and Marjorie Levinson's subsequent Keats's Life of Allegory: the Origins of a Style (Oxford Univeristy Press, 1988) developed a historico-political reading of Keats's poetics in the context of class culture and politics. But it was the discussion of Keatsian stylistics presented by William Keach in a 1986 Studies in Romanticism forum on "Keats and Politics" that may well be a more crucial inspiration for Roe's thorough and wide-ranging study of the elements that together add up to the political-poetics of the "Cockney School." For the main investigation of Roe's study is how "Z"'s Blackwood's articles shaped a set of erroneous critical commonplaces about Keats (which, Roe wryly argues, underpin the greater part of twentieth-century Keats criticism, including the ostensibly demystificatory approach), but also, paradoxically, accurately responded to the force of a coherent political grouping. But if Roe shows us how we came to have a version of Keats that has until recently dominated the critical tradition, he also opens up the questions of Keats's own literary and political inheritance by looking closely at his formation in the culture of Dissent. So Roe is able to place Keats within a consistent narrative of the trajectory of the liberal intellectual tradition from the 1780s through the 1820s.

Daniel P. Watkins, Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry

Daniel P. Watkins, Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996. vxii + 157 pp. $34.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8130-1438-7).

Reviewed by
Samuel Lyndon Gladden
Texas A&M University

Daniel P. Watkins's study of works by three major Romantic writers—Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats—examines the place of sexual roles and gendered struggles for power within a social and political landscape marked by profound economic change. Specifically, Watkins investigates the shift from an aristocratic, feudal economy to an emerging capitalism, and he points to gendered subjectivity as the primary experiential space through which anxieties over that shift were mediated. Posing the model of "sadeian logic" as the template for making sense of both social and interpersonal relations, Watkins reads a number of well-known Romantic works through the lenses of gender, class, and power finally to conclude that while the idealistic tendency of Romanticism remains compromised by the masculinist biases of its day, a feminist materialist investigation of the history and historicity of that dilemma—the very sort of project in which Watkins' study participates—offers Romanticism its only way out of the convoluted patriarchalism that structured social, economic, and interpersonal relationships in the early nineteenth century.

Subscribe to RSS - John Keats