What with the release of Jane Campion's film 'Bright Star', I thought it only apt that I review this beautiful Penguin classic- a collection of Love letters and poems by John Keats, to Fanny Brawne.
Firstly, let me tell you how exquisite this little book is. The cover illustration is stunning- evidently an oil painting by the fantastic artist Aaron Robinson . It really portrays the young Miss Brawne in the heights of love. Encapsulated in a wistful look amongst wild flowers. The book has a forward by Jane Campion, who due to her research for her film, obviously has immense knowledge of the two lovers, and thus is able to give us a unique insight into their background, and situation. I found this most fasinating, and indeed a useful prelude to reading Keats letters, and explains why we see no responses included, and the gaps between writing dates.
What I was slightly shocked by, apart from the realisation that I had not explored Keats before, was how young this great and noble writer was before he died. Just twenty five. What is so lovely about this book, is that in his letter writing alone, we can see how in the few years he knew Fanny before his death, his style and technique expanded and grew into something quite wonderful. It is a real sense of progression and indeed, quite insightful to read.
Looking past the elaborate language of the time, we see that his messages and feelings are quite simple. A normal man with normal feelings and worries. Jealously, anxiety, and insecurities plague his notes to her. He begs his love for reassurance, thus accentuating the hopelessness of his situation (health and money wise), and establishing how at the time, his writing was not well received, and how this affected him.
I really quite enjoyed seeing this love between them unfold, and at times it was harrowing reading how distraught he was at not being able to see, and be with his Miss Brawne. Although at times I must admit I found him overly dramatic, it does convey how very sad he must have been, and how awful he must have felt. The hysteria bubbling up in him in the leading up to his death is evident in the letters, flowing through the wisdom and thoughtfulness of his words.
One of his earlier letters is one of my favourites. Not a particularly romantic piece, there are a few lines on where he muses on how after spilling jelly on his friends book, he tried to lick it off and ended up making a weird colour he calls 'purblue'. He decides that this very word should be adapted into everyday language and then swiftly moves on to remind fanny to beware of open doors and windows when she doesn't have a coat. This made me smile, as this intimate piece of writing makes me think of the silly conversations one has with friends and loved ones, and by reading this it showed me how close the two were. In fact Fanny Brawne would continue to wear the ring he gave her throughout her life, and until her own death.
The book ends with a collection of Keats' poems, which in turn, are just as lovely as his letters. Passionate and brilliant, I highly recommend this as essential reading for the romantic in all of us.