John Keats

(redirected from Fanny Brawne)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.
Related to Fanny Brawne: William Wordsworth, John Keats

Keats, John

Keats, John, 1795–1821, English poet, b. London. He is considered one of the greatest of English poets.

The son of a livery stable keeper, Keats attended school at Enfield, where he became the friend of Charles Cowden Clarke, the headmaster's son, who encouraged his early learning. Apprenticed to a surgeon (1811), Keats came to know Leigh Hunt and his literary circle, and in 1816 he gave up surgery to write poetry. His first volume of poems appeared in 1817. It included “I stood tip-toe upon a little hill,” “Sleep and Poetry,” and the famous sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.”

Endymion, a long poem, was published in 1818. Although faulty in structure, it is nevertheless full of rich imagery and color. Keats returned from a walking tour in the Highlands to find himself attacked in Blackwood's Magazine—an article berated him for belonging to Leigh Hunt's “Cockney school” of poetry—and in the Quarterly Review. The critical assaults of 1818 mark a turning point in Keats's life; he was forced to examine his work more carefully, and as a result the influence of Hunt was diminished. However, these attacks did not contribute to Keats's decline in health and his early death, as Shelley maintained in his elegy “Adonais.”

Keats's passionate love for Fanny Brawne seems to have begun in 1818. Fanny's letters to Keats's sister show that her critics' contention that she was a cruel flirt was not true. Only Keats's failing health prevented their marriage. He had contracted tuberculosis, probably from nursing his brother Tom, who died in 1818. With his friend, the artist Joseph Severn, Keats sailed for Italy shortly after the publication of Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820), which contains most of his important work and is probably the greatest single volume of poetry published in England in the 19th cent. He died in Rome in Feb., 1821, at the age of 25.

In spite of his tragically brief career, Keats is one of the most important English poets. He is also among the most personally appealing. Noble, generous, and sympathetic, he was capable not only of passionate love but also of warm, steadfast friendship. Keats is ranked, with Shelley and Byron, as one of the three great Romantic poets. Such poems as “Ode to a Nightingale,” “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “To Autumn,” and “Ode on Melancholy” are unequaled for dignity, melody, and richness of sensuous imagery. All of his poetry is filled with a mysterious and elevating sense of beauty and joy.

Keats's posthumously published pieces include “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” in its way as great an evocation of romantic medievalism as his “The Eve of St. Agnes.” Among his sonnets, familiar ones are “When I have fears that I may cease to be” and “Bright star! would I were as steadfast as thou art.” “Lines on the Mermaid Tavern,” “Fancy,” and “Bards of Passion and of Mirth” are delightful short poems.

Some of Keats's finest work is in the unfinished epic “Hyperion.” In recent years critical attention has focused on Keats's philosophy, which involves not abstract thought but rather absolute receptivity to experience. This attitude is indicated in his celebrated term “negative capability”—“to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thought.”


Keats's letters (ed. by H. E. Rollins, 1958) vividly reveal his character, opinions, and feelings. See his poetical works, ed. and annotated by M. Allott (1970) and ed. by J. Stillinger (1978); his autobiography, ed. by E. V. Weller (1933); biographies by A. Ward (1963), W. J. Bate (1963, repr. 1979), R. Gittings (1968), A. Motion (1998), and N. Roe (2012); account of his last days by J. E. Walsh (2000); D. Gigante, The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George (2011); studies by W. J. Bate (1945), M. Dickstein (1971), D. van Ghent (1983), S. Plumly (2008), and D. Beachy-Quick (2013).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Keats, John (1795–1821)

(pop culture)

John Keats, British romantic poet, was born in London, the son of Frances Jennings and Thomas Keats. His father, a livery-stable keeper, was killed in 1804 after a fall from a horse. His mother remarried, but it proved an unhappy union and she soon separated. She died in 1810 from tuberculosis. It was as his mother’s condition worsened that Keats, never the scholarly type, began to read widely. He especially liked the Greek myths. After his mother’s death he was apprenticed to a surgeon and in 1814 moved to London to study at the joint school of St. Thomas and Guy’s Hospitals. He passed his examination in 1816 and began a career as a surgeon.

During his years in school in London, poetry came to dominate his leisure time. He was still in his teens when he wrote his first poems, and in 1815 he produced “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” still hailed as one of the finest sonnets in the English language. About this time he met Leigh Hunt, also a poet, who introduced Keats into various literary circles. Keats’s volume of verse was published in 1817. While the book did not do well, he decided to halt his surgical career to seek a quiet existence pursuing his poetry. Through the rest of the year he produced “Endymion,” “Ode to Psyche,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” and one of his most enduring efforts “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Through 1819 he worked on “Otho the Great,” “Hyperion,” “The Eve of Saint Agnes,” and “Lamia”.

With “Lamia” he picked up the vampire theme then becoming popular in Western literature. Interestingly enough, he began working on the poem soon after the publication of John Polidori‘s “The Vampyre” (the first piece of vampire fiction in English), in the New Monthly Magazine. At this time, Keats was under some financial strain, and his love affair with Fanny Brawne was having its ups and downs. He also had developed a full-blown case of tuberculosis, a wasting disease that occasioned the periodic spitting up of blood.

Keats’s “Lamia” derived from the ancient account of the lamiai, the Greek vampirelike demons described by Philostratus in his Life of Apollonius. The story told of a lamia attempting to seduce a young man of Corinth. As he was about to marry the lamia, who would have turned on him and killed him, the wise Apollonius intervened. He unmasked her for what she was, and as he pointed out the illusionary environment she had created, its beauty faded away. She, of course, then departed. As Keats did not read Greek, and no English translation of the Life of Apollonius had been published, he had to rely upon Richard Francis Burton‘s version of the story in his Anatomy of Melancholy.

Crucial to Burton’s retelling was his deletion of a crucial sentence in Philostratus’s text, “… she admitted she was a vampire and was fattening up Menippus (Lucius) with pleasure before devouring his body, for it was her habit to feed upon young and beautiful bodies because their blood was pure and strong.” Burton presented a somewhat sanitized lamia, but Keats metaphorically pulled her fangs even farther. To best understand “The Lamia,” one must view the story, as James B. Twitchell and other critics have done, as Keats’s having adopted the vampire theme as a metaphor of human relations seen as the interchange of life-giving energies. In the process, Philostratus’s story is changed considerably. According to Keats, in her thirst for love, the lamia dropped her traditional serpentlike form and moved into Lucius’s human world. Lucius responded by becoming vampiric and attempting to gain some of the lamia‘s former powers. Thus, Keats pictured the lamia using powers of psychic vampirism, drawing on Lucius’s love as her metaphorical life-blood. In return, Lucius also became a vampire, willing to drain all from the lamia to gain new powers. Keats noted that Lucius had “drunk her beauty up.” At this juncture Apollonius appeared. He recognized the lamia and, over Lucius’s protests, drove her away. Without her, Lucius soon died.

Some critics of Keats’s poetry have suggested that an even more unambiguous vampire existed in his poetry. In “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” also composed in 1819, a knight met a lady with whom he became entranced. She fed him exotic foods and told him she loved him. He visited her underground home, where her mood changed to one of sadness. As the knight slept, he saw pale warriors and was told that he was soon to join them. After his awakening, while “palely loitering,” he encountered the narrator of the poem. There the poem ended.

As early as 1948, critic Edwin R. Clapp suggested that the unnamed female, the title character in “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” was best understood as a vampire. Clapp, for example, noted the likeness of the victim of Polidori’s vampire (“There was no color upon her cheek, not even upon her lip.”), with images developed by Keats (“pale were the lips I saw/Pale were the lips I kiss’d …”). Critic James B. Twitchell, picking up on Clapp, suggested that Keats had joined Samuel Taylor Coleridge in expanding upon the lamia myth and liberating it from the past. The lamia became a very real character and the encounter of the male with the female who had no pity, a somewhat universal experience. More detailed analysis of the poem easily led to Freudian interpretations such as the one suggested by Ernest Jones, which tied the vampire-lamia myth to the initiation of adolescent males into the mysteries of sexuality.

Twitchell suggested that the lamia theme subtly reappeared in much of Keats’s poetry, though “The Lamia” and “La Belle Dame sans Merci” were its best examples. Keats, of course, went on to write many more poems, but in 1820, his health took a decided downward turn. He died February 23, 1821, in Rome.


Capp, Edwin R. “La Belle Dame as Vampire.” Philological Quarterly 27, 4 (October 1948): 89–92.
Jones, Ernest. On the Nightmare. 1931. Rept. New York: Liveright, 1971. 374 pp.
Keats, John. The Complete Poetry of John Keats. George R. Elliott, ed. New York: Macmillan Company, 1927. 457 pp.
Twitchell, James B. The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1981. 219 pp.
The Vampire Book, Second Edition © 2011 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Keats, John


Born Oct. 31, 1795, in London; died Feb. 23, 1821, in Rome. English romantic poet.

After the publication of his first collections (in 1817 and later), Keats became the object of savage attacks by conservative critics: his life-affirming poetry sounded a challenge to the bigotry and hypocrisy of bourgeois society. Keats expressed his rejection of the triviality of the bourgeois world by turning to antiquity with its ideal of beauty and harmony (the narrative poem Endymion, 1818). He was caught up in the social enthusiasm of 1818–19; he became a close friend of P. B. Shelley and developed an interest in folklore (he wrote the poem “Robin Hood” in the tradition of R. Burns). In the narrative poem Hyperion (1819, published in 1820) Keats depicted the struggle of the Titans with the Olympian gods in the spirit of J. Milton, alluding allegorically to the revolutionary movement in Europe. The clash of pure feeling with falsehood and egoism is the subject of the short narrative poems “Lamia,” “Isabella,” and “The Eve of St. Agnes.” An outstanding romantic, Keats enriched poetic diction with expressiveness and revived the sonnet form in English literature. The bourgeois critics distort the meaning of Keats’ art by trying to represent him as an extoller of “pure” beauty and a precursor of decadence and a estheticism.


The Poetical Works, 2nd ed. Oxford, 1958.
The Letters of John Keats, 1814–1821, vols. 1–2. Cambridge, 1958.
In Russian translation:
In Khrestomatiia po zarubezhnoi literature XIX v., part 1. Moscow, 1955.
In Marshak, S. Werks, vol. 3. Moscow, 1959.


Elistratova, A. Nasledie angliiskogo romantizma i sovremennost’, Moscow, 1960. Pages 431–93.
D’iakonova, N. “Esteticheskie vzgliady Kitsa.” Voprosy literatury, 1963, no. 8.
Critics on Keats. Edited by J. O’Neill. London [1967].
Twentieth Century Interpretations of Keats’s Odes: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. [1968].
Jones, J. John Keats’s Dream of Truth. London, 1969.
Keats: The Critical Heritage. Edited by G. M. Matthews. London [1971].
MacGillivray, J. R. Keats: A Bibliography. Toronto, 1949.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Keats, John

(1795–1821) English poet died of consumption at 25. [Br. Lit.: Harvey, 443]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
On 3 February 1820, when returning from London, Keats had a severe hemorrhage in the lungs, nearly suffocating and the while having only thoughts of Fanny Brawne, his fiancee, to whom he wrote next day the following emotional lines:
"I think temperamentally and pathologically the relationship with Fanny Brawne would have floundered sooner or later if he had lived," Roe said.
wBRIGHT STAR (PG) features Ben Whishaw as impoverished poet John Keats, who falls for wealthy neighbour Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) in a goodlooking but rather dull drama.
He wrote the poem for his next-door neighbour, Fanny Brawne, whom he fell in love with and was engaged to.
She said: "Quite early on in the film Keats' brother dies, so his love interest, Fanny Brawne, makes the pillow slip for him.
Bright Star (PG) Oscar-winning writer-director Jane Campion ventures back to the early 19th Century to compose this emotionally-wrought valentine to John Keats and his lover Fanny Brawne (played by Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish).
Directed by New Zealand's Jane Campion (The Piano), the story features romantic poet John Keats falling for his 18-year-old next door neighbour, Fanny Brawne.
Abbie Cornish's portrayal of Keat's love, Fanny Brawne, is particularly exquisite.
The British movie, directed by New Zealander Jane Campion but with a UK cast and crew, tells the story of Keats' love affair with his teenage neighbour Fanny Brawne, played by Australian actress Abbie Cornish.
The director's whimsical poetical voice is readily apparent in this paean to the love between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Each shot conspires to create a delicate rhythm, with the originality of Campion's film being that nothing happens except Fanny's excitement about being in love.