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Keats Hardcover – January, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Whitbread Prize-winning biographer Andrew Motion (Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life) aims to broaden our understanding of John Keats (1795-1821) by paying close attention to the historical context in which he wrote and the political opinions he voiced. The poet was "of a sceptical and republican school," Motion argues, and Keats's work reflected his experiences "not just as a private individual, but socially and politically as well." This bracing reinterpretation stresses the vigor of Keats's character as well as his verse, burying for good the sentimental cliché of a sickly dreamer concerned only with art for art's sake.

From Library Journal

Motion's previous work, Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life (LJ 8/93), won Britain's Whitebread Prize. In his new book, he has re-created the life of the poet John Keats (1795-1821) through insightful observation and narrative clarity often lacking in such a scholarly work. Keats was orphaned as a boy, trained as a doctor before becoming a poet, and died in Rome at age 25. Immediately after his death, Shelley mythologized him in the elegy "Adonais," which helped create the myth of Keats as the quintessential poet. In this original biography, however, Motion has provided a thorough examination of the social, familial, political, and financial forces that shaped the real man rather than the poet of myth. One highlight is a discussion of the factors in Keats's short but productive life that influenced themes prevalent in his poetry, such as beauty and healing. Recommended for large public libraries and all academic libraries.?Kim Woodbridge, Athenaeum of Philadelphia
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 636 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T); 1st American ed edition (January 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374181004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374181000
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,362,816 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Michael Wischmeyer on August 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Andrew Motion made extensive use of primary documents, including the fascinating letters of John Keats, to explore the personal, social, economic, and political context in which Keats created his remarkable poetry. This biography of John Keats ranks among the most carefully researched, best documented, and most detailed available. Andrew Motion's work will undoubtedly serve as essential critical reference work for English majors.

However, this highly detailed approach does make this biography rather formidable. I occasionally found myself lost in the details, searching for some path that would lead me closer to Keats' poetry. This is a long biography, almost 600 pages. I enjoyed those sections most in which Motion examined influences on particular poetry by Keats. In retrospect, I should have browsed some chapters, and even skipped some sections, rather than persistently read every page.

I have subsequently read a shorter biographical analysis by Stuart Sperry, titled Keats the Poet (Princeton University Press, 1973) that is better suited for a reader that desires to focus more closely on Keats' poetry, rather than upon details of Keats' personal life. The chapters have titles like The Allegory of Endymion, The First Hyperion, and From The Eve of St. Mark to La Belle Dame sans Merci, clearly illustrating the close alignment between biographical study and poetic interpretation.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 12, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Andrew Motion's biography recognizes the historical circumstances in which Keats lived, approaching new historicist tenets while maintaining a clear focus on the poet's individual life and works. He traces political tensions and medical practices of the time to expand upon the existing academic vision of Keats's poetic life; here he is more than a poet. That said, Motion, a poet himself, exemplifies the sensitivity to the writing process when discussing Keats's work. His criticism of the poems is well-rounded, balanced, and aware of the poet's process of composition. Overall, the book is well-reseached and a necessary addition to the scholarship we have on John Keats.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kevin M. Derby VINE VOICE on February 23, 2009
Format: Paperback
Considering how short the life of John Keats was, it still amazes me that his biographers are able to create such weighty tomes. Andrew Motion's take on Keats, while long, is very through and readable. Motion argues that Keats, if not overtly political as say Shelley, was a poet who did care about the world of power and politics and was not content with poems on nature, the role of the artist etc. It's an interesting argument and Motion makes a strong case. The chief weakness of the book is Motion's habit of straying a bit too far from Keats and focusing on his friends and acquaintances. Now in some cases that is fine (his take on Haydon on Hunt and their influence on Keats is superb) but the reader can be forgiven if he wants to skip paragraphs and even pages on friends and acquaintances of Keats who did little to shape his life or his work. If not quite up to the magnificent biography of Keats by Bates, Motion's book is very good and, with his different take on the tragic poet, useful, even needed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By eledavf Vivian on August 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I read this book twice, many years apart, and enjoyed it each time. His walking tours, his sickness, his hopeless love and his final desperate voyage to Italy are all carefully narrated. How unfortunate that his most devoted friend could not accompany him to Rome, being away on a trip when Keats hurriedly left England. That friend, Charles Armitage Brown, remained faithful to his memory and was instrumental in preserving, even rescuing, many of Keats' masterpieces.

This book is not a light and superficial read. Instead it tells in great detail the story of a pitifully short life full of sadness and disappointment and of desperation as his disease closed in upon him, made so much more harrowing by the poverty he could never escape.

How fitting that the poet's gravesite near Rome is remembered as one of infinite pathos.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By kim-Jenna Jurriaans on January 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I'm not a quick reader but finished this biography (which, in hardcopy, weighs a few pounds...) in no time -- a testament to Andrew Motion's ability to create multidimensional characters and vivid imagery to portray Keats, his entourage and surroundings. I knew next to nothing of the poet's life beyond his poetry when picking up this book and was left with a thorough understanding of the events (personal, political and historical) that prompted Keats' poems, his upbringing and family background, as well as some of his inner struggles and insecurities. Motion spends equal time delving into Keats's poems as he does into political events of the time that shed a new light on his poetry. He also goes to great lengths to reconstruct the environment Keats experience as a surgical student, which later serves to explain certain poetic imagery in his written work. Keats was also a skillful letter writers and Motions uses many of these personal letters between Keats and his brothers, as well as artist friends, to create a understanding of Keats as a person, as well as the artistic process behind his poetry. If I'd have to fault this biography for anything, then it would be for its abundance of detail in some areas that may not be of interest for anyone but the most avid fan and scholars of Keats' life (think a page-long description of the family background of an inn-keeper with minimal importance the larger storyline). But those sections are easy to skip without loosing anything of the "plot".

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in biographies and certainly anyone wishing to learn more about Keats.
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