John Keats A New Life Nicholas Roe

Publication date:
04 Sep 2012
384 pages: 234 x 156 x 47mm
60 black-&-white illustrations

This landmark biography of celebrated Romantic poet John Keats explodes entrenched conceptions of him as a delicate, overly sensitive, tragic figure. Instead, Nicholas Roe reveals the real flesh-and-blood poet: a passionate man driven by ambition but prey to doubt, suspicion, and jealousy; sure of his vocation while bitterly resentful of the obstacles that blighted his career; devoured by sexual desire and frustration; and in thrall to alcohol and opium. Through unparalleled original research, Roe arrives at a fascinating reassessment of Keats' entire life, from his early years at Keates's Livery Stables through his harrowing battle with tuberculosis and death at the age of 25. Focusing on crucial turning points, Roe finds in the locations of Keats' poems new keys to the nature of his imaginative quest. Roe is the first biographer to provide a full and fresh account of Keats' childhood in the City of London and how it shaped the would-be poet. The mysterious early death of Keats' father, his mother's too-swift remarriage, living in the shadow of the notorious madhouse Bedlam - all these affected Keats far more than has been previously understood. The author also sheds light on Keats' doomed passion for Fanny Brawne, his circle of brilliant friends, hitherto unknown City relatives, and much more. Filled with revelations and daring to ask new questions, this book now stands as the definitive volume on one of the most beloved poets of the English language.

Nicholas Roe is professor of English, University of St. Andrews. He is the author of numerous biographical and critical works on writers of the Romantic period. He lives in Scotland.

"A wonderful work that has many new things to say about Keats, his extraordinary work and inner life. A finer biography is unlikely to emerge this year."—Ian Thomson, Financial Times

“Roe’s is a remarkable achievement, authoritative and imaginative to a degree that should make all future Keats biographers quail.”—–John Carey, Sunday Times

"Roe’s very thorough new biography is full of scruple. It reminds us that, for all that the letters reveal Keats’s ‘inward mind’, there are still many uncertainties, many gaps in our knowledge… He brings Keats’s environment more alive than any previous biographer."—Jonathan Bate, Times Literary Supplement

“There have been many fine biographies of Keats since the war…. But none, I think, conveys quite so well as this one the sense of Keats as a poet of the London suburbs. Roe reconstructs beautifully the milieu from which he and his friends all came, on the northern edge of the city where they had their day jobs and dreamed of fame.”—Ferdinand Mount, The Spectator

"Keats emerges from this excellent biography as a wise and complex man, tender towards those who needed his care, ardent in love and a brilliant poet."—The Lady

"Roe rescues Keats from the soft-focus of romance and restores stars, brooks, fields and seasons to their anti-Classicist politics of the 19th century. In doing this, the book is a major work of literary rescue."—Irish Examiner

"In Roe’s outstanding new biography, John Keats is revealed as a vigorous, nature-loving free spirit… As Roe brilliantly shows, Keats’ troubled past and sexual anxieties travelled with him to the imaginative realm where he created his immortal verse."—Ed Voves, California Literary Review

"It is Roe’s achievement to have written the most Keatsian biography of Keats we will ever have… What we have in this superb new biography is neither the exquisite poet of the aesthetes, nor quite the pugnacious radical of Roe’s own earlier work. This new Keats is stranger than both, and it is another of Roe’s Keatsian achievements to have let this strange and contradictory figure come into the light, without on his part any irritable straining after biographical fact and reason… Richly detailed and often beautifully written… It loads each rift with the oar of biographical detail (often marvellously retrieved), and threads the whole story of Keats’s life with intriguing and imaginative speculations."—David Womersley, Standpoint

"Nicholas Roe’s book is fluently written and contains more information about Keats’ family and friends, some of whom have never been investigated before." —A.O.J. Cockshut, Church Times

"The great Romantic poet is recast in this highly energetic life not as the ‘sickly boy’ of tradition but as a much more ‘vigorous, colourful and animated’ figure… Roe is sensitive about the poetry, and writes with real panache, in a book that is driven by his contagious enthusiasm for his subject."—Andrew Holgate, The Sunday Times, 2nd December 2012

"Roe discards the image of Keats as a sickly, pallid weakling and portrays a robust, spirited character with a passion for life which is especially evident in his love letters to Fanny Brawne. Roe also revisits Keats’s poems from this fresh perspective."—Charlotte Heathcote, Sunday Express, 23rd december 2012

"Keats is still popularly thought of as wan and delicate, but Roe's biography firmly readjusts that. Roe sees the poet as "streetwise" - a habitue of the back alleys around Moorgate where his father kept a livery stable. [...] None of this is new, but Roe presents it freshly. Keats emerges from his book as a complex and subtle being, ardent, tender, determined, impulsive, deeply wise about life and poetry, and at the centre of a group of brilliant young men, mostly lower middle class, who were eager to make their mark in a society that was still rigidly class-bound and exclusive. Roe's is a remarkable achievement, authoritative and imaginative to a degree that should make all future Keats biographer quail" —John Carey, The Sunday Times, 7th July 2013

“This absorbing, diligently researched biography draws us into the North London homes of Keats’s circle, imagining even the warmth of the fireplace as the poets challenged each other to sonnet-writing competitions.”—New Yorker 

'An astonishingly  fresh and observant new biography, with a magical sense of shifting moods and places. Meticulously researched and precisely visualised, it produces a kind of hypnotic video portrait of Keats, day-by-day and sometimes hour-by-hour. The fine evocation of the poet’s disturbed City childhood is brilliantly fed back into the complex imagery of the later poetry. Above all perhaps, Roe’s deep knowledge of Keats’s wide and raffish circle of London friends – Hunt, Haydon, Brown, Hazlitt, Lamb, Reynolds, Severn and all the others – makes us see the poet from multiple angles, in all his fierce contradictions, so sympathetic and so strangely modern.' - Richard Holmes, author of The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

'This radical, restless Keats, with his high ambitions and up-and-down moods, is a wholly convincing and endearing portrait. The background, too, Keats's world and the individuals who populated it, is done with thorough understanding, so that the central figure stands there - or rather grows, acts and suffers there - all the more realistically and vividly.' - Christopher Reid

"This new book promises to become the definitive biography of one of the major Romantic poets. For decades to come, readers and scholars of Keats will rely on the wealth of detail that Roe has uncovered and recorded."—Andrew Bennett, author of Keats, Narrative and Audience: The Posthumous Life of Writing

“A tightly focused and highly useful biography . . . [that] acutely displays the intensity, anguish and triumph of a great life.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[A] sumptuously written biography . . . Roe sees complex connections between the poet’s life and art that have eluded other biographers. . . . Poetic in its own right, this absorbing book is a masterly study of its subject.”—Publishers Weekly

“A fine biography full of the sharp sense of place and particularity that distinguishes Roe’s earlier work” – Seamus Perry, Literary Review

?Roe writes well and clearly. . . . [his] engagement with Keats is deep and unflagging.. . . Something of what it felt like to be around John Keats remains, as things do when truly experienced.??Marcia Karp,ÿArts Fuse

"John Keats: A New Life has much to recommend it. . . . [Roe] comes to his mighty task with superb credentials . . . [and] writes, moreover, with reportorial crispness."—Michael Dirda, Weekly Standard

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2013 in the English American Category.

Related links

 Nicholas Roe's website