Keats Context

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  • Keats Context
    • Social Context
      • Keats nursed his brother Tom in 1818, as he was dying from Tuberculosis
        • However, Keats later contracted tuberculosis, which became active in the autumn of 1819
      • Met Fanny Brawne in 1818 and was engaged to her in December 1819
        • His plans to marry Fanny, however, were thwarted by financial problems and illness- had an ambivalent relationship with women, fearing they would take him away form his poetry, but also fearing a lack of fulfilment in love
          • Letter to Fanny Brawne: 'Ask yourself my love whether you are not very cruel to have so entrammelled me, so destroyed my freedom'
      • Went on a walking tour of Northern England in 1818 with friend Charles Brown
      • In a letter to Benjamin Bailey in 1817, Keats wrote: I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of the imagination'
        • Letter to Benjamin Bailey 1817: 'What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth, whether it existed before or not'
          • 'The imagination may be compared to Adam's dream, he awoke and found it truth'
            • Keats believed that the imagination should seek to perceive a truth and beauty which does not reject or attempt to escape from reality, but explores those 'dark passages' and recognises the indivisibility of joy and the 'agony and strife of human hearts'
              • William Blake:'without contraries there is no progression'- Romantic notion of uniting contrary power
    • Historical Context
      • Keats lived through an era of turbulent change, with a severe economic crisis intensifying social antagonisms and leading to the French Revolution of 1789
        • 1789 was also the year associated with the revolutionary Romantic movement in art and literature
          • The French Revolution had an enormous appeal for the Romantic poets, who supported the revolt against oppression
            • Worsdworth's 'The Prelude': 'Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive'
            • In a letter written to his brother George in 1818,written a month after the Peterloo massacre Keats wrote that the Conservative gov't 'spread a horrid superstition against all innovation and improvement', instead supporting the progressive ideal of the French Revolution. Had a liberal view of history as progressive enlightenment, and a continual change for the better
        • Keats critiques the capitalist age of the 19th c in the figures of the brothers in 'Isabella' possibly reflecting the influence of Rousseau's 'The Social Contract' written in 1762, criticising the commercialism of the age
          • 'To Autumn' expresses a desire to escape the city- advent of the steam train in 1781, increasing urbanisation changing the appearance of the landscape, poverty and
            • Influence of Constable's romantic paintings of the landscape- 'Flatford Mill' and 'The Haywain'
        • Utopian Socialism: belief in ideal world
          • Keats believed beauty became more more valued the more one experienced its fragilities and transience; the very fact of change becomes a part of his belief in purposeful growth
      • 1750-1830- England was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, a period of social and economic change
        • The Luddite insurrections of 1811-17 in the countryside occurred as a result of new technology threatening the livelihood of many of the working class
          • Stirred memories of the frightening excesses of the French Revolution
          • In the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, a series of poor harvests led to legislation to keep the prices of corn high, leading to numerous protestss
            • People began to demand electoral reform and more rights resulting in the Peterloo Massacre 1819, in which 60,000 people gathered in support of parliamentary reform, and 11 were killed
    • Romanticism
      • Valued feeling over reason, and the investigation into the individual self
        • Caspar David Friedrich's 'The Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist' (1818)- introspection
      • Focus on the imagination, characterised by a yearning for something transcendent, beyond the ordinary world
        • Keats admired Wordsworth for his ability to incorporate the misery of the world into a transcendent vision, but rejected what he saw as Wordsworth's 'egotistical sublime'. Instead believed in 'negative capability' (letter to his brothers in December 1817)), and that the poet's function was not to impose a vision upon the world, but rather to immerse and lose the self in what is perceived
          • Believed in the sublime power of nature, perceiving a harmony between the human mind and the outside world, based on an understanding of the 'one life' that ran through both nature and humanity- believed in the synthesising power of the imagination rather than the analytical power of reason
            • Wordsworth believed in the perception of the absolute through nature, that the poet's imagination enabled him to 'see into the life of things' and to apprehend a spiritual unity in the universe which connected nature to humanity and God
              • Wordsworth believed in the power of the imagination to 'see into the life of things' and apprehend the spiritual unity of the universe, whilst incorporating 'the still sad music of humanity'
        • Rejected the rigid social and literary hierarchy of the 18th c Englightenment which placed reason above feeling
          • Coleridge: the imagination is 'the living power and prime agent of all human perception...a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation'
            • The imaginative perception of the world is part of the divine act of creation: reality is npt fixed but dynamic, alive and continually being re-made
              • The function of the poet is not to mirror reality, but to illuminate the greater spiritual reality transcending nature
                • Recognises the power of the imagination to create a transcendent vision of immortal beauty- the Grecian urn, the Nightingale's song, the power of the imagination to immortalise Psyche
                  • Plato's 'Theory of Ideas'- everything is a copy of a more perfect reality
      • Literary and artistic equivalent to the French Revolution, rebelling against conventional poetic and political institutions
    • Literary influences
      • influenced by poetry of Edmund Spencer such as his allegorical poem 'The Faerie Queene'. His first dated poem was 'Imitation of Spencer' in 1814
        • Also influenced by Shakespeare, Milton, Dante and the Gothic novelists such as Anne Radcliffe
          • Shakespeare was a model for the Romantic artists, as he did not adhere to the rules laid out by writers of his time; he endlessly experimented with new ways of presenting his stoei, and at the heart of his plays is an exploration of the inner life of characters- Hamlet's soliloquies vocalise heis inner thoughts for the audience
        • Influenced by Leigh Hunt, who was part of the 'Cockney School' which believed that the function of poetry was primarily to provide pleasure and consequently advocated luxuriant and sensuous language
          • Influence can be seen in Keats' exuberant celebration of pleasure, beauty and freedom, luxuriating in description
          • Sir Richard Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy', which Keats had been reading at the time of writing 'Ode to Melancholy', advocated full indulgence in the melancholic mood
    • Hellenism
      • With the publication of Byron's 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' in 1812, which focuses on the ruin and desired rebirth of classical glory, literary philhellenism became a widespread movement
      • The simplicity and sensuousness of the ancient Greeks affirmed the pre-eminence of Art and Beauty
      • Was a reaction against the dominant values and beliefs of policy makers in Regency Britain
      • Lord Elgin sold the Parthenon marbles to the British Museum in 1816
        • Keats saw the Elgin marbles in 1817 with Benjamin Haydon
      • Excavations in Rome and Herculaneum during the 18th c
        • Winkelman's drawings of urns, Keats himself sketched urns
          • Antonio Canova's 'Cupid and Psyche'
      • Revival of interest in classical civilisations between 1720-1850 in Europe
      • Art
        • The PRB admired the highly visual nature of Keats' poetry- Millais' painting of Lorenzo and Isabella

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