Home > 19th Century, British Literature, Correspondance, Keats John, Made into a film, TBR20 > Letters of John Keats to Fanny Brawne

Letters of John Keats to Fanny Brawne

January 26, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

Letters of John Keats to Fanny Brawne (1819-1820) French title: Lettres à Fanny. Translated by Elise Argaud.

As far as they regard myself I can despite all events but I cannot cease to love you.

keats_fannyI don’t remember how I came to buy Letters of John Keats to Fanny Brawne. It was probably on a display table in a bookstore and since I enjoy reading letters…

I knew Keats by name but had never read him. I’m not used to reading poetry, even in French. And in English, well, it’s very difficult. Reading his letters to Fanny was an opportunity to read about Keats, his life, his untimely death. What a waste of talent, like Pushkin or Petőfi. It’s disgruntling to think of all the poems he could have left us if he had had more time. It pushed me to get a bilingual edition of a collection of his poems. I read them after the letters and I thought there was a contrast between the sheer ethereal beauty of the poems and the relative plainness of the letters. We’re talking about Keatsean plainness, which means it’s still beautiful literature for anyone else.

These letters have the usual moans, angst and happy moments that you expect in love letters. Looking for signs. Playing his own game of she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not. Keats complains about giving away his heart and freedom and not liking it.

Ask yourself my love whether you are not very cruel to have so entrammelled me, so destroyed my freedom.

These letters seem written by someone insecure, someone who’s not sure his love is requited. If the foreword hadn’t told me that Keats and Fanny met almost daily at the time, I would have sworn that they were apart. There is no mention of their meetings, their story sounds mostly epistolary when it was not.

The most moving aspect of Keats’s letters are his declining health. He’s ill, most of the time. It cripples him and gets in the way of his love, his happiness and his relationship with Fanny. He’s not well enough to party and he doesn’t want to imprison her, to deprive her of the fun she deserves at her age. (She’s only 18)

I would never see anything but Pleasure in your eyes, love on your lips, and Happiness in your steps. I would wish to see you among those amusements suitable to your inclination and spirits; so that our love might be a delight in the midst of Pleasure agreeable enough, rather than a resource from vexations and cares.

We reader know that Keats will die soon. And we read his letters knowing his fate while he suspects it but obviously doesn’t know the actual term of his life. It adds to the emotion and to the impression of fleeting moments that need to be cherished.

My edition of the letters includes an informative foreword by Laurent Folliot. He explained that when they were published in 1878, it was a scandal. The letters showed a side of Keats that the Victorian society wasn’t ready to see. He’s needy, in love and this love is not just cerebral and poetic. Fanny is not a poet’s muse. She’s disconnected from poetry and Keats doesn’t want their love to be a literary relationship or more precisely, a relationship based upon her admiration for his poems.

I must confess, that (since I am on that subject) I love you more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else. I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel.

Fanny is not a Laure, a Beatrice or an Hélène. She’s a flesh and blood love. She’s wife material; meaning she sees him fully. Not just the poet façade or the thrill to be associated to a poet. He wants to be loved for himself. I find this consideration very modern. It is a pity that Fanny’s letters are lost to us. Keats destroyed them. I wonder who she was, what she looked like, how she moved. I wonder about her wits, her conversation or her dispositions.

I’m not comfortable with writing about Letters to Fanny Brawne and I hope I didn’t write anything stupid. Since I know nothing about poetry at the time, I’m sure I’m missing their invaluable worth. I can’t read between the lines and connect one detail or the other with a poem or an element of Keats’s life. For me, it was a reconnaissance, images and information to store and use for further exploration of his work.

Next billet will be about my experience with reading the actual poems and till then let’s read Bright Star, a poem allegedly written for Fanny. Enjoy.

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art —

Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night

And watching, with eternal lids apart,

Like Nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,

The moving waters at their priestlike task

Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,

Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask

Of snow upon the mountains and the moors —

No — yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,

Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,

To feel for ever its soft swell and fall,

Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,

Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,

And so live ever — or else swoon to death.

 

  1. January 27, 2016 at 10:19 am

    I really enjoyed your review, Emma. Lovely commentary around the need to cherish fleeting moments…it sounds like a very poignant read. Have you seen Jane Campion’s film ‘Bright Star’ which tells the story of their relationship? It’s been a while since I saw it at the cinema, but I recall liking it very much.

    Like

    • January 28, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks Jacqui.

      I haven’t seen the film but I’d love to. I guess I bought the book when the film was released.

      Like

  2. January 27, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Stupid, au contraire! You are right in describing this relationship – Brawne was not a muse, thank goodness.

    Keats’s letters to his brother are filled with original and profound ideas about poetry, and there are lots of connection to individual poems. Some of the poems are actually in the letters. But the letters to Brawne are something different.

    Like

    • January 28, 2016 at 10:37 pm

      Me voilà rassurée!
      I like that he’s a self made poet. What a brilliant mind.

      Like

  3. January 29, 2016 at 1:41 am

    I was going to ask you how you came to buy this…

    I saw Bright Star and it was too romantic for me. I usually like Jane Campion films.

    Like

    • January 30, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      I ordered the film, I’ll watch it soo.
      Did you read the letters?

      Like

  4. September 6, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    “The most incredible insight. I used to think Keats was one of the more obscure romantics – character and personality wise – but this article proves he has been wholeheartedly celebrated, over the years….. I actually knew – the bronze bust in Italy – but lack of material to read, such as above, has enabled me to harbour real doubts, until now….. thanks for the above.” Henry York.

    Like

    • September 10, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      Thanks for your comment and welcome to Book Around the Corner!

      Like

  1. January 31, 2016 at 11:58 am
  2. November 29, 2016 at 1:12 am

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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