Railing at his tragic fate and convinced that he had failed to produce any poetry that would keep his name alive, John Keats was only twenty-five years old when he died of tuberculosis in Rome in 1821. It took over twenty years after his death for him to be proved wrong, and since the mid-nineteenth century, Keats’s lofty reputation has never been challenged; his poems are among the most read and anthologized in English literature.

KEATS, Andrew Motion’s detailed, painstaking biography presents an attractive, humane Keats—lively, sociable, sometimes pugnacious, a good friend to many, a man whose ideas and speculations about the nature of art matured rapidly over the course of his short creative life.

Keats struggled gallantly against adversity and misfortune, convinced of his calling as a poet but full of insecurities regarding his position as an outsider, for whom the class-based gates of literary acceptance would not open. For the vicious, socially conservative critics of BLACKWOOD’S MAGAZINE and the QUARTERLY REVIEW, poetry was an art suitable only for a gentleman, not a lower-middle class young man who lacked a Classical education and who had been trained as an apothecary.

Given these politically inspired attacks, as well as Keats’s humble social background and the radical circles he moved in, it is not surprising that he possessed strong liberal views on the major issues of the day. Arguing that this aspect of Keats has often been overlooked by critics and earlier biographers, Motion places Keats firmly within his time and place. Within the rich sensuality of his poetry and his love of beauty and imaginative transcendence, Keats tried to find expression for his democratic ideals and his belief that poetry should play a role in the betterment of the human community.

Sources for Further Study

America. CLXXIX, September 12, 1998, p. 21.

Choice. XXXV, July, 1998, p. 1856.

The Economist. CCCXLV, November 15, 1997, p. 13.

Essays in Criticism. XLVIII, July, 1998, p. 269.

Library Journal. CXXIII, December, 1997, p. 106.

The New Leader. LXXX, December 29, 1998, p. 20.

The New York Review of Books. XLV, May 14, 1998, p. 39.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, February 1, 1998, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, November 10, 1997, p. 60.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 24, 1997, p. 3.