Denise Gigante: The Keats Brothers

Parallels in the lives of two temperamentally different brothers

William Christie

 

The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George
by Denise Gigante
Harvard University Press (Inbooks), $45 hb, 499 pp, 9780674048560

 

On the morning of 17 September 1820, a consumptive John Keats and his travelling companion and nurse, the artist Joseph Severn, boarded the 127-ton brigantine Maria Crowther bound for Italy. Ahead of them lay thirty-four days of foul weather, fouler food, and close quarters shared with another consumptive (a young girl) and a horrified matron; thirty-four days, for Keats, of agonising regret and mortal fear. It was the first stage of what he called his ‘posthumous existence’: the twenty-five-year-old poet was sailing out to die. And because Keats was prevented by the well-meaning Severn from swallowing the phial of euthanasian opium he had bought before leaving England, this posthumous existence would drag on until nearly midnight on Wednesday, 21 February 1821, when Keats died in Severn’s arms in an apartment in the Piazza di Spagna in Rome.

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Published in April 2012 no. 340
William Christie

William Christie

William Christie is Associate Professor and Chair of the English Department at the University of Sydney, and president of the Romantic Studies Association of Australasia (RSAA). His publications include the play for voices, Under Mulga Wood (2004), Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Literary Life (2006) – awarded the NSW Premier’s Biennial Prize for Literary Scholarship in 2008 – and The Edinburgh Review in the Literary Culture of Romantic Britain (2009).

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