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Customer Review

5 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better for Special Interest Readers; General Readers Be Warned, 8 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography (Hardcover)
"Posthumous Keats" is described as a personal biography, of John Keats, of course, one of the famed English "Romantic Poets" of the early 19th Century, who, in a very short life, gave us such works as "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode to a Nightingale," and "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." The book has been authored by Stanley Plumly, a talented, prize-winning poet himself, currently Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. Plumly has won a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry, the Delmore Schwartz Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other honors.

Keats was only 25 years old when he died in 1821, after an agonizing year-long struggle with tuberculosis, in Rome, where he'd gone to flee the harsh English winter. He left behind, too, a secret engagement, and an ambivalent relationship, never consummated, with Miss Fanny Brawne. He was almost alone in Rome, little-known and quite poor; but at his death, he did also leave behind several devoted friends, and family members, many in possession of "fair copies" of his best-known poems, and a great deal of insightful correspondence. Their memorialization made his short life, significant work, and hard death the stuff of undying legend.

Plumly has obviously done a great deal of research in creation of this work, and it shows. "Posthumous Keats" is full of highly-interesting information, on England, particularly London; and Italy, particularly Rome; as they existed in the 19th century; on the social life and organization of those societies as they then existed, and most particularly on the parlous state of medicine then. Seems like the universal cures were laudanum (an opium derivative) and bleeding, just what a tubercular patient needed. Furthermore, as a poet himself, Plumly is extremely well-qualified to explicate Keats' limited oeuvre. He also has a poetic writing style: in fact, the book's an excellent combination of subject and author. However, it's nearly 400 pages long, and I wouldn't call it easy reading, or particularly accessible. There is no biographical material on the subject per se, I can't think why not: anyone already familiar with the poet's life need not have read it. And just a page or two's worth of introduction would have been most helpful, instead of the teasing little hints about the poet's life that Plumly drops here and there.

Finally, and I know I've gone on about this subject before, but the illustration situation in this book is dire. They are very few, quite small, in muddy black and white, at the heads of chapters. They aren't identified on site; the reader must look to the end of the book to discover their titles; then back to the beginning of the book, to discover their page locations again. And: the illustrations are discussed in the book's text, but nowhere near their actual locations: what general reader is going to look back through the text to find the discussions of the illustrations?

So I'm afraid I can't recommend it for the general reader, which I consider myself to be. I've said it before elsewhere, but it probably bears repetition, in the interests of disclosure; I never have been a great fan of the English Romantic Poets. The required course in this subject caused me to drop the English major at Cornell University, after I'd bought the six required books of poetry, one of them Keats', to be sure, and realized, once again, that they weren't for me. And during my stay in Rome, I certainly found my way to the Spanish Steps, but, thoughtlessly, never to the house where Keats died, now a museum, in plain view from the site. Still, I was eager to learn more about Keats, his life and work, from this book. And, mind you, I did. But only with a certain amount of difficulty, and not as much as I hoped to. "Posthumous Keats" should be welcomed by special interest readers, but general readers, be warned.
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Location: Wilmington, NC USA

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