Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph

Knopf. Mar. 2022. 368p. ISBN 9780525655831. $32.50. LIT
In her unconventional biography of canonical English poet John Keats (1795–1821), literary critic Miller (The Brontë Myth) pairs textual analysis of his breakthrough lyric works with more personal discussion of “Keats’s stomping ground” and the experiences that inspired his poems; first-person asides, directed to readers, emphasize a continuity between Keats’s Romantic era and the 21st century. Miller is interested in the physicality of Keats, not the idea; she seeks a tangible legacy and parses the myth of the poet “killed by criticism,” in order to study the self-made writer who hedged his career risks by also training in medicine. Her textual analyses of Keats’s most famous poems incorporate correspondence and other primary sources on his abolitionist sentiments, inherited wealth, and antisemitic beliefs. Framing questions of commercialism, ethics, and aesthetics in relation to Keats’s contemporaries and modern readers, Miller studies his success not only as a writer but as a seductive symbol in a narrative retold by generations of biographers and anthologists.
VERDICT Fans of Helen Vendler’s Coming of Age as a Poet will appreciate this acute study of Keats’s democratic verse.
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