In a letter to his brother George in the autumn of 1818, John Keats wrote, “Mrs Brawne…still resides in Hampstead…her daughter senior is I think beautiful and elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable and strange we have a little tiff now and then.” The daughter who caught Keats’s attention was Fanny Brawne, Keats’s neighbor. Keats and Brawne soon fell in love, and their star-crossed relationship, thwarted by Keats’s death in 1821, inspired many of Keats’s most well-known poems, including “Bright Star,” “The Eve of St. Agnes,” and “Ode to a Nightingale.”
Displayed in this exhibition are items from the Harvard Keats Collection, including a number of Keats’s love letters to Brawne, in addition to images of places and objects associated with the couple. More information on the Harvard Keats Collection can befound on the Houghton website.
John Keats was born in London on the October 31, 1795 to a hostler and his wife. His father died when Keats was eight, and his mother when he was fourteen. Soon after his mother’s death, Keats began an apprenticeship with a neighboring doctor, and in 1815 started formal medical training at Guy’s Hospital. Despite the security that a medical career offered, Keats was ambivalent toward it, preferring instead to be a poet.
His first published poem, “O Solitude,” appeared in The Examiner in May 1816. His first volume of poetry, Poems, published six months later, was a critical failure.
Following the death of his younger brother Tom of tuberculosis in August 1818, Keats went to live at Wentworth Place in Hampstead, a semi-detached house owned by his friend Charles Armitage Brown, where he first met Fanny Brawne.
Frances “Fanny” Brawne
Fanny Brawne was born on August 9, 1800 near Hampstead. After her father died in 1810, Brawne, her mother, and her two younger siblings lived in a series of rented houses. Throughout her youth, Brawne was interested in fashion, was an expert on historical costume, and was skilled at sewing, knitting and embroidery.
The Brawnes moved to Wentworth Place in the summer of 1818. Charles Armitage Brown, the owner of the half of the house they were renting, was spending the summer on a walking tour of Scotland with his friend John Keats. The other half of the house was occupied by the Brawnes’ friends Charles and Maria Dilke, who described Brown’s melancholy friend to the Brawne family.
When Brown and Keats returned to live at Wentworth Place in August, the Brawnes removed to a nearby house. The Brawnes continued to visit the Dilkes there, where Fanny Brawne first met Keats.