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Keats Was No Wimp

February 21, 1988

Whatever Thomas Mallon may have intended, the picture given by Georgia Jones-Davis (The Book Review, Feb. 14) is not the real John Keats: "Nervous, self-involved, puny . . . a self-indulgent wimp . . . with no one to lean on anymore."

No one was more resilient and less in need of protection than Keats. A vigorous athlete and natural leader, he once thrashed a bully twice his size who had been abusing a kitten. As a boy, he once even struck his schoolmaster for an imagined slight to his younger brother. As for "lack of grounding in the classics," he had learned Latin so well at Enfield (translating all of the Aeneid on his own) that his later medical classmates turned to him for help.

He was in every way unlike the pallid romantic stereotype. It is quite surprising how this misconception, which dampened even Matthew Arnold's enthusiasm for Keats for so long, still crops up, a full century after finally being corrected.

LAWRENCE GURNEY

SANTA MONICA

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