Two of Britain’s greatest poets are the subject of an exhibition at Keats House, the exhibition is entitled Keats and Milton: Paradise Lost and explores Romantic poet John Keats’s own words and thoughts about Milton’s poetry and reveals some of the impact it had on his own work.
At the heart of the exhibition is Keats’s own copy of Paradise Lost, one of his most important surviving books which provide a rich source of information on Keats’s thoughts, as it is packed with his handwritten notes and reactions. In the 19th century, this ‘marginalia’ was considered an important form of literary expression and a way to understand literary works and share views about them.
The exhibition provides evidence of the enormous cultural significance of Milton’s work and the considerable influence of Paradise Lost on a number of ‘Romantic’ poets including Keats, Shelley and Lord Byron. However, Keats notes in the margins of the book indicate that he was fascinated by the work but in some ways thought it was quite old-fashioned and too academic.
The exhibition also considers the social and cultural aspect of owning certain books, quite often poetry was a shared experience and became part of the social life of interested parties and books were often gifted to friends and family.
The leather-bound copy of Paradise Lost owned by Keats was published in 1807 in two volumes by booksellers W. and J. Deas. Keats would read the poem with his friend and neighbour Charles Wentworth Dilke. When he left London for Rome, Keats gave both volumes to Mrs Dilke and they remained with her family before being part of its eventual bequest to Keats House.
Keats House in Hampstead is a remarkable Georgian villa in which Keats lived and wrote some of his greatest and most celebrated work. It was originally known as Wentworth Place, was built-in 1815-16 for the Dilke family and Charles Brown. Keats lodged with Brown from December 1818. The following year, the Dilkes moved away and Fanny Brawne and her family moved into their side of the house, inspiring Keats’s greatest happiness and greatest work. The house was saved from demolition in 1920 and in 1925 became a museum dedicated to Keats. Now it is a museum and poetry centre, bringing to life the memory and legacy of Keats through displays and exhibitions.
The exhibition provides a fascinating insight into how the works of two of Britain’s greatest poets are linked, Keats was influenced by Milton but did not try to copy his style but worked to develop his own voice. Walking around the small rooms of Keats House, it is possible to picture Keats sitting in his room reading his copy of Paradise Lost and being inspired to create his great works before his tragic early death.
Keats and Milton: Paradise Lost at Keats House, 10 Keats Grove, Hampstead, London NW3 2RR.
Exhibition dates: 6 December 2017 – 14 October 2018.
Keats House opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 11am-5pm.
Admission: Adults £6.50; Seniors £5.50; Concessions £4.50; Children 17 and under free of charge.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Keats House website here
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