John Keats: Poetry, Life & Landscapes – Book Review

Today marks the bicentenary of the death of John Keats. On the 23rd of February 1821, Keats died of tuberculosis in Rome, at the age of just 25. To coincide with this momentous date, Suzie Grogan’s biography-cum-memoir, John Keats: Poetry, Life & Landscapes, was recently released by Pen and Sword Books, who kindly offered to send me a copy for review.

A life-long Keats devotee herself, Grogan’s book takes readers on a journey through the poet’s short life by exploring the places where he lived, worked, wrote, travelled and died. Many other poets are enduringly associated with a certain place – Wordsworth with the Lake District, for example, and Baudelaire with Paris – and Grogan felt that the influence of certain cities and landscapes upon Keats merited greater attention. Thus, through each chapter, she charts a (largely chronological) voyage through the places which so defined his work and life.

This culminates in a transportive and richly evocative illustration of social history, of the potency of nature, and of Keats as both a poet and a man. What makes this work so special, however, is Grogan’s poignant weaving of personal testimony throughout the text. She details her own love affair with Keats’ poems and letters – the ways his words have accompanied her from adolescence, and throughout some of the darkest periods of her life. And with each setting she takes us to, she interlaces impressions from her own trips there – her near-sacral enthrallment at Keats House, Hampstead; her complex, curious awe at the undulating panorama of the Lake District. It’s as much a personal pilgrimage as a poetic one, and told with real tenderness. (Her chapter on Keats’ protracted death in Rome was particularly, profoundly harrowing.) Each passage stirred my teenage adoration for Keats all over again. It was wonderful to so connect with a kindred spirit, and to feel so much wanderlust!

‘A Melodious Plot’, Amanda White (www.amandawhite-contemporarynaiveart.com/)

Another element that made this biography so noteworthy was Grogan’s adamant efforts to authentically portray Keats as he truly was. While he is often painted as the eternally doleful, tragic, effete Romantic, here we see Keats as a charismatic, quick-witted, adventurous, popular, idiosyncratic and effervescent young man. He felt life intensely, and harboured a lively, eternally-inquisitive passion for art, philosophy, politics and beauty. In these pages, Keats really, truly seems alive. It’s touchingly human – a very precious portrait indeed.

I really do recommend this book to anyone with even the slightest interest in Keats’ poetry and character. The writing is accessible, and the book’s latter pages even offer an expansive overview of Keats’ family and friends, followed by a carefully curated selection of his finest poems, for those less familiar with his story. The book itself is brimming with art and photographs which make Keats’ travels all the more vivid, while the cover boasts a gorgeous cut paper collage by Amanda White. Grogan unravels the poet’s writings in such a sumptuous, adoring fashion – her passion is evident, her love for language infectious. The book, ultimately, brings so much of the past, and of Keats’ own personal world, intensely alive. It is a wonderful exploration of human and natural history, as well as of a singular, indelible spirit.

You can buy it here.

(And if you’re interested in any other posts I’ve written about John Keats, you can find them here.)

“Merry Christmas, world”

Hello all! I doubt I’m alone in saying that this year’s Christmas has been strange, at best. I hope you’ve all managed to find some rest and cosiness over the past few days, however you ended up spending it. And if not, I’m sending out my love to you – it really can be such a tough time.

I thought I’d just pop by to share some of the bookish gifts I was lucky to receive over the past few days. Despite my boyfriend moaning increasingly about the sheer number of books piling up in our flat (which I have to admit is quite reasonable), he treated me to these:

Like every other book-lover on the planet, I’ve been obsessed with the Vintage Classics Brontë Series ever since I first saw it. Plus, Anne is the only sister I’ve not yet read (which some people find absolutely outrageous!) I’m so looking forward to correcting that, and to hopefully branching out soon and buying the full, gorgeous set.

I asked for North and South specifically, since I’m currently reading Mary Barton and I’m completely transfixed. With almost every page I read I can’t help berating myself for not having read Gaskell sooner. Her description of Victorian poverty, class inequality, capitalism, grief, injustice, loss and love is utterly spellbinding. I am just infatuated. I am so in awe of her spirit, her fearlessness and her storytelling prowess. I’m going to read North and South as soon as possible, and hopefully make a visit to Elizabeth Gaskell’s house here in Manchester (once it’s open again, of course). Once I do, I’ll be sure to write about it here.

Now, my boyfriend didn’t stop there. In fact, he went a little bit overboard and surprised me with this:

A Kindle!!! I couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t really sure how to accept something so sweet, and so obviously above our agreed budget. (I think it had a lot to do with the fact that he received a compensation pay-out recently for whiplash. But I was still mad!) Now, though, I really am over the moon about it, and feel so lucky to have someone like him in my life. It’s such a fantastic little gadget. And it will be so much more comfortable for reading books I request through Netgalley, and will make luggage much lighter once we are able to travel about again. It may even clear up some space on our bookshelves at home (time will tell…)

Aside from all this, I received some book tokens from a relative – so any recommendations for what I should buy with them are very much welcome!

My reading progress might be quite slow for a while, though, since I have 16,000 words to write for three different assessments before the end of January. It’s going to be a busy month or so – wish me luck! (And pray the Kindle doesn’t distract me too much…)

Finally, I wish you all a happy new year! I sincerely hope that things get better and easier for all of us soon.

November Check-in !

Hello all! It has been quite a while since my last post. I officially started my full-time Master’s in October and, along with working part-time, I’ve barely had the energy for reading! It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been spending practically every hour of the day reading books and articles for my classes. The last thing I ever want to do at the end of the day is read even more… and it’s making me miserable!

Regardless, I promised myself I’d post here at least one a month throughout my degree, so I thought I’d do a quick update before November ends.

Daphne du Maurier

While reading full novels has seemed impossible, I’ve fortunately still been able to enjoy slowly reading through short stories. My current read is Daphne du Maurier’s collection, The Rendezvous And Other Stories. The decision to pick it up off my shelf came from the (frankly incredibly disappointing) Netflix adaptation of Rebecca which surfaced last month. This collection includes stories du Maurier wrote at a very young age, some even before the publication of her debut novel. However, this is rarely obvious. Her writing is shockingly consummate, and I was stunned by her early mastery of plot. Each of the stories so far have been bewitchingly dark, disturbed, unsettling. Some of the issues she confronts – teen pregnancy, suicide, adultery – are illustrated with scathing frankness and striking liberality. I was, of course, already a huge du Maurier fan, and this has not disappointed. It is so strangely, bleakly fantastic.

I’m also gradually making my way through a collection of memoiristic essays entitled Treasure Palaces: Great Writers Discover Some of the World’s Greatest Museums. As you can imagine, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. Accomplished writers – including Ann Patchett, Julian Barnes, Neil Gaiman, Michael Morpurgo, William Boyd, Margaret Drabble, Carlos Fuentes, Jacqueline Wilson, Ali Smith and more – have each contributed short, precious odes to their favourite museums or art galleries. Much of the writing I’ve enjoyed so far has been luminous – rich, emotive, evocative and joyous. A diorama of palatial loveliness.

Dead people had felt these things; and the living went on feeling them. Rodin’s sculptures made that connection for us; they continued to struggle and gasp and yearn and caress beneath their marmoreal skins.

Allison Pearson, ‘Rodin’s Sonnets in Stone: Musée Rodin, Paris’

Ultimately, it’s really helping me to stay focused on why I chose to study Museum Studies, and keeping my passion for that world aflame.

Finally, I just wanted to share my excitement for a book which arrived in the post just yesterday. Well, it’s technically an essay, but it has been published as a fabulous hardback in the UK following widespread controversy following its initial release in France. I Hate Men*, by Pauline Harmange, seems set to be an undeniably provocative marvel. The blurb is as follows:

“Women, especially feminists and lesbians, have long been accused of hating men. Our instinct is to deny it at all costs. (After all, women have been burnt at the stake for admitting to less.) But what if mistrusting men, disliking men – and yes, maybe even hating men – is, in fact, a useful response to sexism? What if such a response offers a way out of oppression, a means of resistance? What if it even offers a path to joy, solidarity and sisterhood? In this sparkling essay, as mischievous and provocative as it is urgent and serious, Pauline Harmange interrogates modern attitudes to feminism and makes a rallying cry for women to find a greater love for each other – and themselves.”

A French government official even threatened to have I Hate Men banned. Fortunately he failed, and instead caused Harmange’s opus to fly off the shelves. Since then, it has been seated firmly at the centre of a societal storm. You can read more about it here. As far as I’m concerned, all of this makes the book completely irresistible. I’m determined to read it straight away, and hopefully should find some time in the near future to write about it here.

For now, though, that’s all from me. Fingers crossed my reading mojo returns from war, but if not, I should at least write a quick round-up of everything I’ve read this year before 2020 ends.

Until then, enjoy your tier-ridden December, one and all!

*The original title is wonderfully French: Moi les hommes, je les déteste