John Keats A New Life Nicholas Roe

Publication date:
14 Sep 2012
Yale University Press
472 pages: 235 x 156mm
65 b/w illus.

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's entire life, from his early years at Keats's Livery Stables through his harrowing battle with tuberculosis and death at age 25. Zeroing in on crucial turning points, Roe finds in the locations of Keats's poems new keys to the nature of his imaginative quest.

Roe is the first biographer to provide a full and fresh account of Keats's childhood in the City of London and how it shaped the would-be poet. The mysterious early death of Keats's 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's 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

“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 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

"This new book promises to become the definitive biography of one of the major Romantic poets. Keats has of course been well served by biographers, but what Roe adds to these Lives is his own superbly detailed, finely discriminating understanding of and research into the events of Keats's life, of individuals in his family and wider circle, and of the larger historical contexts in which the poet lived and wrote. The result is a book that supplements in countless minor details what is already known about the poet. 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

“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

“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, Arts 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