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Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography Hardcover – May 17, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The great English poet John Keats (1795–1821) wrote his last complete poems in the fall of 1819; already ill from tuberculosis, he traveled to Italy with his friend Joseph Severn in a doomed attempt to get well, and died in Rome after a year of getting worse. The prolific and widely honored poet Plumly (Old Heart) offers seven informative, overlapping chapters that consider aspects, consequences and echoes from that sad last year of Keats's life. Plumly discusses artists' portraits of the poet (among them Severn's arresting deathbed sketch). He examines the lives and motives of the people closest to Keats, such as the faithful Severn (who outlived the poet by decades), the perhaps faithless (but perhaps not) Charles Brown and Keats's fiancée, Fanny Brawne. He considers Keats's love letters, Keats's medical training, Keatsian and Shelleyan landmarks in Rome, the fate of Keats's manuscripts and, finally, Keats's sense of his own life, as bound up in the poems. Plumly's linked essays incorporate old-school scholarship, but never seem dry or academic in the bad sense: the result feels personal indeed, if never autobiographical. At times Plumly seems unsure for whom he is writing. At other times, though, his unstinting admiration and evocative prose promise to create Keatsians yet unknown. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A beautiful book. . . . [W]hen Plumly turns his laser-like gaze on Keats’ letters and his verse, the book is brilliant.” — Nicholas Delbanco (Los Angeles Times)

“Mr. Plumly writes beautifully and very movingly.” — Charles McGrath (New York Times)

“Plumly has written a book to last: worthy of its subject and commensurate with both words of its title.” — Robert Pinsky (Slate) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (May 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393065731
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393065732
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,456,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Michael Greenebaum on July 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Stanley Plumly finds Keats companionable -- and so do I. Plumly is a distunguished poet, yet his interest here is less in the poetry than in the poet. The story of the poet is sad and heroic, courageous and pitiable, and Plumly touches all these themes with generosity and compassion as well as a hard critical eye. Plumly is also interested in what might be called the myth of Keats - how his story and even his appearance have been burnished and reworked by his friends and the generations that follow. It takes a remarkable youth to have friends like Keats had, and Plumly has earned his place in the Keats Circle.

A few of Plumly's interests here threaten to become obsessive - the need to count the days til Keats's death appears throughout, whereas it would need be a source of profitable speculation only once. That Keats lived in the shadow of death is true enough, but the truth becomes diminished when it is mentioned so often. Still, any lover of Keats will embrace this work and acknowledge that it holds a unique place on the very long shelf of Keatsiana.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Rob Jacques on May 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's fitting and satisfying that it's two poets who have brought John Keats and his immediate world to vivid life. Way back in 1925, Amy Lowell gave us the first well-researched biography of Keats that is still a relevant and great read today. And now poet Stanley Plumly has given us a profound, demythologizing study of Keats's last 18 months and the reactions of his family and friends to his death.

Plumly's volume is an obvious work of love. He writes a straightforward history of Keats's last months, and then muses over the details from different perspectives. He turns a forensic as well as a philosophical eye on the motives and actions of Keats's inner circle of friends, spending considerable time ruminating on the characters and principles of Charles Brown, William Haslam, George Keats, and - of course - Joseph Severn. We see Keats's last days not just as they probably were, but as they must have been. And we see John Keats himself: fragile and anguished, full of vigor, innocence, trustworthiness, incredible talent, and deep, abiding love for Fanny Brawne and life itself.

Plumly's most remarkable accomplishment is his interweaving much of Keats's great odes with the young poet's experiences and literary philosophy. That a youth so inexperienced in life, so poor, and so desperately ill could write what many believe to be the greatest series of odes in English is astounding. I remember being blown away by Keats's odes in my high school English class, and now Stanley Plumly has written a book that explains to me why.

Keats's opening lines of his long poem, Endymion, certainly apply to his own work:

"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By carey roberts on June 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Maybe because I recall with haunting clarity a visit made years ago to the small apartment above the Spanish Steps in Rome where the 25 year old poet, John Keats, died .... I was moved, engaged and enlightened by this wonderfully-written record of the poet's last days. Plumly's writing is masterly, the information well delivered. A book to enjoy and muse over. Carey Roberts
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Scott on August 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am an college English major from nearly forty-five years ago, and rarely have looked at Keats' poetry since. Plumly's book elegantly recreated for me the milieu of Keats' last few years, when he lived with the certain knowledge that his life was ebbing because of TB--an illness whose signs and symptoms and course he recognized well from his education as a medical student and his experience with the deaths of his mother and brother from the disease. The biographical details of his travels, companions and caregivers, the inevitable course of his illness and the futile attempts to stem its progression, and concomitant production of his extraordinary poetry were fascinating to me. The book gave me a new appreciation of certain poems -- particularly Ode to Autumn -- and made me want to re-read Keats' poetry -- which I am in the process of doing. Some of the extended quotations from his and contemporaries' letters, as well as some extended literary criticism by Plumly were not my cup of tea -- but all in all, this was a wonderful book. I passed it along to my college roommate, also an English major, knowing he would enjoy it as well. Any reader remembering the beauty of Keats' poems and wanting a illuminating entry into their restudy would enjoy this book very much.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Emily Kurtz on June 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read the Ricks' review of this book in the NY Times and ran to get it. Ricks is the best Tennysonian I have ever read and i respect his work a lot. However, I was a bit perplexed at all the hoo-ha. First, you must come to this work very well-versed in your Keats--both his poetry and his life. So if you have not read (about) Keats, this is not the autobiography for you. That said, Plumly is clearly besotted with his subject matter, and that can be good and bad. His imagistic, tender, subjective musings can also be jarring and confusing. His use of the present tense is pretentious, and sometimes he goes way overboard with his own poetic musings on the poet's feelings about death (all conjectural).

And yet, a lot of this book is compelling simply because of the emotion behind it, the sheer investment. However, if you want to know about Keats' youth, his boyhood, you get almost nothing. The lack of sequence can also be annoying--you are forever returned to that ghastly death-chamber. It gets to be too much. Also, Plumly tries to outdo Keats in terms of the sensuality, the fullness, of his figurations--as if he is competing with the poet. A no-win situation.

So I give a divided review here. i am glad I read this book but do not feel as if i gained much knowledge about the poetry or the poet. i did learn a lot about TB and 19th c quackery, however.
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