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John Keats: A New Life Hardcover – November 13, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Keats has been overburdened by the recent biographies of Stephen Coote (1995), Andrew Motion (1997), Stanley Plumly (2008), R. S. White (2010), and Denise Gigante (2011). Desperately striving for originality, Roe states, “This book begins with a new account of his family and earliest childhood and finds in London’s inner city and shape-shifting edges the beginnings of his life as a poet.” He also, unconvincingly, describes the tiny Keats as “a smart, streetwise creature—restless, pugnacious, sexually adventurous.” But Roe’s excessively detailed week-by-week account is academic and dull, with scores of dubious speculations. His commonplace comments on the poems do not explain Keats’ astonishing progress after turning out a mass of mediocre verse, nor do they significantly illuminate the suddenly great poetry of his “miraculous year.” Roe repeats the familiar story of Keats’ tormented love for the shallow and self-absorbed Fanny Brawne and his inexorable destruction by the tuberculosis that led to his premature feeling of “the cold earth upon” him before his tragic death in Rome at the age of 25. Large public libraries that need every Keats biography should order this one, but others can skip it. --Jeffrey Meyers

Review

"A wonderful work that has many new things to say about Keats, his extraordinary work and inner life. A finer biography is unlikely to emerge this year."—Ian Thomson, Financial Times
(Ian Thomson Financial Times 2012-09-22)

“Roe’s is a remarkable achievement, authoritative and imaginative to a degree that should make all future Keats biographers quail.”—–John Carey, Sunday Times
(John Carey Sunday Times)

“This absorbing, diligently researched biography draws us into the North London homes of Keats’s circle, imagining even the warmth of the fireplace as the poets challenged each other to sonnet-writing competitions.”—New Yorker 
(New Yorker)

'An astonishingly  fresh and observant new biography, with a magical sense of shifting moods and places. Meticulously researched and precisely visualised, it produces a kind of hypnotic video portrait of Keats, day-by-day and sometimes hour-by-hour. The fine evocation of the poet’s disturbed City childhood is brilliantly fed back into the complex imagery of the later poetry. Above all perhaps, Roe’s deep knowledge of Keats’s wide and raffish circle of London friends – Hunt, Haydon, Brown, Hazlitt, Lamb, Reynolds, Severn and all the others – makes us see the poet from multiple angles, in all his fierce contradictions, so sympathetic and so strangely modern.' - Richard Holmes, author of The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science
(Richard Holmes)

"This new book promises to become the definitive biography of one of the major Romantic poets. For decades to come, readers and scholars of Keats will rely on the wealth of detail that Roe has uncovered and recorded."—Andrew Bennett, author of Keats, Narrative and Audience: The Posthumous Life of Writing
(Andrew Bennett)

"This new book promises to become the definitive biography of one of the major Romantic poets. Keats has of course been well served by biographers, but what Roe adds to these Lives is his own superbly detailed, finely discriminating understanding of and research into the events of Keats's life, of individuals in his family and wider circle, and of the larger historical contexts in which the poet lived and wrote. The result is a book that supplements in countless minor details what is already known about the poet. For decades to come, readers and scholars of Keats will rely on the wealth of detail that Roe has uncovered and recorded."—Andrew Bennett, author of Keats, Narrative and Audience: The Posthumous Life of Writing
(Andrew Bennett)

“A tightly focused and highly useful biography . . . [that] acutely displays the intensity, anguish and triumph of a great life.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
(Kirkus)

“[A] sumptuously written biography . . . Roe sees complex connections between the poet’s life and art that have eluded other biographers. . . . Poetic in its own right, this absorbing book is a masterly study of its subject.”—Publishers Weekly
(Publishers Weekly)

“A fine biography full of the sharp sense of place and particularity that distinguishes Roe’s earlier work” – Seamus Perry, Literary Review
(Seamus Perry Literary Review)

“There have been many fine biographies of Keats since the war…. But none, I think, conveys quite so well as this one the sense of Keats as a poet of the London suburbs. Roe reconstructs beautifully the milieu from which he and his friends all came, on the northern edge of the city where they had their day jobs and dreamed of fame.”—Ferdinand Mount, The Spectator
(Ferdinand Mount The Spectator)

“Roe writes well and clearly. . . . [his] engagement with Keats is deep and unflagging.. . . Something of what it felt like to be around John Keats remains, as things do when truly experienced.”—Marcia Karp, Arts Fuse
(Marcia Karp Arts Fuse)

"John Keats: A New Life has much to recommend it. . . . [Roe] comes to his mighty task with superb credentials . . . [and] writes, moreover, with reportorial crispness."—Michael Dirda, Weekly Standard
(Michael Dirda Weekly Standard)

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2013 in the English American Category.
(Outstanding Academic Title Choice 2014-01-21)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 472 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (November 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300124651
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300124651
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,274,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
As someone who has read several of the previous biographies of Keats, I was intrigued by the idea of a 'new life,' and to give Roe his due, he provides previously unknown and fascinating material about the poet's early life and his years working at Guy's Hospital. Dealing with his later life (an odd phrase since Keats died at twenty-five), there is more with which to take issue. To suggest that Keats had an abnormal rather than a healthy interest in sex might be a stretch. The idea that he was dosing himself with mercury to cure a suspected venereal disease is not new, nor is the fact that he resorted to laudanum, especially while he was dying, but Roe presents us with a poet who is both a drug addict and an alcoholic---some truth, probably not the whole truth. But the life aside, it is in the area of dealing with Keats' literary output that Roe has less to offer. It is somewhat interesting to suggest that this phrase or that image was based on Keats' early proximity to Bedlam or on his gruesome dissections at Guy's. A biographer becomes tedious when he attempts to find a source for many of the poet's lines and images in the works he had read by friends and fellow poets--- Hunt, Taylor, Wordsworth etc. Similarly to keep continually connecting the date of the composition of a poem to the date of an event in the poet's early life seems unnecessary. The magnificent and sensuous imagery and the complex ideas for which Keats is so justly admired are all his own and have much to do with his amazingly rapid maturing as a poet. When Roe arrives at the Great Odes and "To Autumn", he has little to say about these poems other than when and where they were written and how they contain images seen in embryo in the poet's own earlier work. And yet, these complex and beautiful poems in particular earned Keats his place of enormous consequence in English Poetry.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Roe might not wish to be compared to sometimes off-the-metaphorical-rails Hilaire Belloc, but he brilliantly employs Belloc's technique of exploring geography in order to explain history, in this instance the personal history of John Keats. Mr. Roe certainly took a great deal of physical exercise in his journeys, as did Keats, but when Mr. Roe describes the weather and the geography of Ben Nevis in Scotland, we understand more deeply Keats' use of them in HYPERION. The gentler WIND IN THE WILLOWS southern landscape of Hampstead Heath helps one's appreciation of, say, "I Stood Tip-Toe Upon a Little Hill" (the Winnie-the-Pooh-ish title does not serve the poem well).

Mr. Roe's book catalogues the people, time, and place, extending his biography of Keats into a social, political, and economic history of England in early post-Napoleonic times, all of which is interesting in itself and useful in understanding Keats and his work.

One quibbles only reluctantly (I barely graduated from high school, and am not worthy to unlace Mr. Roe's well-worn hiking boots or diagram one of his sentences): Mr. Roe occasionally lapses into slang ("box-office smash") and the first-person voice, perhaps in order to be more accessible, but this could with time sound as creaky as "Dig those cool hepcats, man." The sources, almost all primary, are well-documented but never collected into a bibliography.

The typeface of the Yale edition is far too small, and even after a first reading the spine continues to crackle as if it is going to fall apart, none of which is Mr. Roe's fault of course! I would happily have paid more for larger volume with larger print and a quieter binding that does not remind one of Miss Pittypat calling to the long-suffering Uncle Peter for her smelling salts.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was surprised that another biography was published so soon after Andrew Motion’s very thorough work on the life of John Keats. I had hoped that meant that Roe was going to offer new insights on some of the points that remained mysterious: how was Keats personally affected by the gruesome practices at Guy’s Hospital; was Isabella Jones a great love or just a friend and what did she look like; was Keats’s sexually transmitted disease killing him as much as consumption? Roe tantalizingly ruffled those areas of special interest to me, but stopped short of answers or even meaningful informed hypotheses. As for my reactions to Roe’s work on the whole, any minor revelations were mixed with a number of irksome ongoing and loose suggestions about how various details of Keats’s life surfaced in his work. Roe’s major addition to Keats’s biography was to insist on the importance of Keats’s father’s death on his life and work, but the connection of the event to any statement by Keats or poem is not proven or supported, just announced. Roe takes up his father’s death and the anniversary of it as influential; however, everything is influential. Far less notable events are also considered to underlie Keats’s poetry—almost everything figures. Every museum, ruin, field, cliff, street, room Keats has seen lies behind a description in a poem. In a way that might be true because writers blend their own experience with imagination, but Roe does not offer any argument showing the meaning of such a purported connection to enhance one’s understanding or appreciation of the poem. The worst instance of an unsubstantiated connection between Keats’s life and his poems pertains to eating.Read more ›
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