Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Denise Gigante's "The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George"

Denise Gigante is Professor of English at Stanford University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George, and reported the following:
Autumn, 1817.

The early life of the Keats brothers: three orphans, living in London.

Their mother, Frances Keats, dead of consumption (tuberculosis), having never recovered from the tragic accident that took their father—

Thomas Keats, thrown from his horse, headfirst against cobblestones.

Tom, the youngest brother, is an artistic soul dying of consumption at the unripe age of seventeen.

George, the middle brother, is twenty and unemployed. He thinks more highly of himself than anyone will later on, after his own death from consumption.

John is still an unknown poet. At twenty-two, he has been badly bruised, but he is aware of strange powers that he is determined to use. He is racing to finish his first epic poem, Endymion, before the end of the year. Unconsciously, he is aware that the family killer is stalking; he will die in three years, of consumption.

Page 99:
The noble natures that John had once admired had shown the weakness that adheres to all flesh. The world now seemed to contain ‘no quiet nothing but teasing and snubbing and vexation.’ He concluded his address to the melancholy English Muse with a humble confession: ‘I move to the end in lowliness of heart.’ Without inspiration or hope, he was limping, doggedly, to the end.

By November 18, Tom’s eighteenth birthday, Portugal had come to seem impractical. The cold weather had arrived, and with it danger to Tom’s chance of survival. In the medical wisdom of the day, different ‘airs’ were thought to have different effects on the body. Charles Brown later summed up the situation facing the brothers when he said that Tom’s ‘ill state of health required a mild air.’ Sea air was supposed to be more temperate than inland air, and Rice, Reynolds, and Bailey had all spoken highly of Devonshire. Winters there were supposed to be warmer than elsewhere in England, and Teignmouth, sheltered by bluffs from the east wind that blew down the English Channel, was said to be particularly mild. One local guide praised ‘the life-giving and altogether unrivalled climate’ of the town at the mouth of the Teign, which it boasted was ‘visited by the most genial airs only’.

Winter would be too chilly for Tom to take advantage of any of the sixteen bathing machines in operation at Teignmouth in 1817, but the town also had steam-driven indoor baths. Baths, like airs, were specialized provinces of medical knowledge. Dr. William Turton, a physician at Teignmouth, a specialist in consumption, and a connoisseur of the subtle element, was also a specialist in baths. In A Treatise on Cold and Hot Baths: With Directions for Their Application in Various Diseases (1803), Turton had written: ‘General directions for bathing to the invalid it is impossible to give, as they must be governed by a multitude of circumstances which can only be appreciated by a careful examination of existing appearances, and a knowledge of the causes of previous indisposition.” If Dr. Turton knew as much about airs as he did about baths, perhaps he was the right doctor for Tom.

A few days after Tom’s birthday on November 18, 1817, therefore, John left Tom in the care of George and got off the stagecoach at Dorking, a small coaching town nestled between the Greensand Hills and the North [p. 100] Downs on the old Roman road that ran southwest from London. John still had five hundred more lines of verse to go before reaching a goal that had once been a ‘great end’ but that had since become an uninspired, snail-paced journey, made in lowliness of heart.
Learn more about The Keats Brothers at the Harvard University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Keats Brothers.

--Marshal Zeringue