Introduction: Keats in Between

This essay reflects on Keats’s crossover success as a hyper-canonical and popular poet for contemporary middle-brow readers, contextualizes scholarly discourses about his poetry’s longstanding (and often vexed) connections with popular culture, and introduces the essays in Keats in Popular Culture, which investigate popular culture artifacts and mediums as well as popular literature involving Keats. "Keats in Between" recalls three longstanding embarrassments for teachers and scholars of literary history—popular culture, media, and affect—which routinely have been defined in opposition to (while continuing to inform) the high canon of English literature, and it posits Keats’s two-hundred year reception history as an exemplary case for examining popular culture as a generative, shape-shifting borderland where liking/loving and responding to literature intermingles, sometimes indistinguishably, the tastes of the people and the elite.

Introduction: Keats in Between

[Keats] may at present be the best loved English poet of all time, with powerful appeal to every one of the broad categories of audience—fellow writers, literary professionals and academic specialists, the reading public and the nonreading public alike. He has become iconic, not so much “a writer” as “the writer,” not just canonized but worshipped. (114)
— H.J. Jackson, Those Who Write for Immortality

1.        How has John Keats (1795–1821) become such a crossover success with a “powerful appeal” to “academic specialists” and “the nonreading public”? Where and in what forms can we find evidence of Keats’s appeal outside of classrooms and scholarly publications? And, why should we (teachers and scholars) take seriously, let alone value, Keats’s afterlives created by non-academic specialists and non-poets in mediums, genres and modes that we might deem ephemeral, adulterated, and/or reductive instantiations of his high canonical poetic value? Keats in Popular Culture pursues these questions with the hope of broadening our disciplinary understanding of what Jack Stillinger has termed the “concentrated canonical complexity” of “Multiple Keats.” [1] As Stillinger reminds us in "The ‘Story’ of Keats," Keats has been classed since the middle of the nineteenth century “with Shakespeare—and Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, and a handful of others—at the top of the lists of the most esteemed writers in English poetry” (251). [2] From that Victorian reception onward, Keats’s predominating ‘story’ has been a record of his elevation from a canonical to a hypercanonical poet. [3] The essays in this collection investigate a less prominent and more nebulous story—which has mushroomed around his towering canonical mythos and which foregrounds an overshadowed affinity—Keats’s longstanding connection with popular culture.

2.        Keats in Popular Culture aims to: 1) spotlight the positive affinity, and not antithesis, between Keats and popular culture in our time and his own; 2) examine Keats’s afterlives in multi-media creations involving authorial fashioning and participatory poetics; 3) posit what we might learn through such creations about how to read, view, and hear Keats in a growing new literary middlebrow culture; and 4) prompt reflections on how we as teachers and scholars can connect with broader mass audiences interested in Keats. [4]

3.        To carry out these aims, the essays in this collection build on recent scholarship in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary and cultural studies concerning histories and theories of mediation and affect. [5] Celeste Langan, Kevis Goodman, Maureen McLane, John Guillory, Clifford Siskin and William Warner have done much to inform our understanding of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century as a hyper-mediated age of teeming material and conceptual media. Likewise, Adela Pinch, Jerome McGann, William Ready, Brian Massumi, Rei Tereda, and Thomas Pfau have reinvigorated studies of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century as a self-conscious age of sensation, emotional transference, and bodily movement. [6] Pfau’s contention that Keats’s “technique of hypersimulation […] baits its audience’s critical and melancholic recognition of poetry as semblance, and semblance as socially determined” demonstrates how mediation and affect theories can be combined to recast longstanding cruxes in Keats studies concerned with authorial fashioning and reader response (343). In "Liking/Loving: Affect Theory for Media Scholars," the closing section of their introduction to Multimedia Romanticisms, James Brook-Smith and Andrew Burkett argue further that intermingling media and affect theories can help spotlight a “productive openness of Romantic-era media discourse that is neither bounded by the technological channel of communication nor by today’s reigning norms of hyper-efficient informatics” (Par. 27). Keats in Popular Culture explores such media-affect crossovers between Keats’s age and our own where discipline-specific inquiries and hyper-canonical treatments of his poetry and biography alternately inform and give way to broader networks of connection involving multiple mediums and diverse audiences.

4.        This inquiry draws our attention beyond discourses focused solely on poetry to consider more unregulated appropriations of and responses to Keats in less specialized and more overtly commercialized mediums. As Yohei Igarashi muses, Romantic period scholars have often overlooked or been reluctant to pursue such connections because of Keats’s own characterizations of his work: “The pertinacity with which Keats strives to align himself with the longstanding medium of poetry and the book may be responsible for the lack of sustained commentary on his relation to the larger ecology of contemporaneous means of communication” (173). Likewise, Keats’s several disparaging comments about popular mass market poetry as debased literature that traffics in commercialized, often all-too “smokeable,” forms has led generations of professional writers and scholars to class his poetry exclusively within highbrow literary discourses. [7] Building on ground-breaking work about Keats and the ‘Cockney School of Poetry’—most notably by Nicholas Roe and Jeffrey Cox—affect studies about Keats have led the way in unsettling and reevaluating classifications of his seemingly highbrow poetics. [8] Most recently, Karen Swann’s Lives of the Dead Poets (2019) examines how reading Keats can “elicit untoward attachments” that “enthrall us despite our suspicion that we may be bound in a calculated effect” (31, 42). Swann’s use of “untoward” suggests that reading Keats’s poetry can draw us into intensely intimate and potentially unseemly, emotional connections that trouble our professional and personal disciplinary boundaries. Such “untoward attachments” obfuscate what Laura Mandell has described as the already blurry line “between the fan’s love for pop culture and the academic’s love for literary history” (Par. 3).

5.        Keats in Popular Culture recalls three longstanding embarrassments for teachers and scholars of literary history—popular culture, media, and affect—which routinely have been defined in opposition to (while continuing to inform) the high canon of English literature. [9] Although the term popular culture—“the cultural traditions of the ordinary people of a particular community” (OED)—first appeared in print in the 1850s, sustained intellectual discourses theorizing about popular culture emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century. These popular culture conceptions often overlapped with debates about how to define an expanding canon of English literature, and they involved proto-media articulations and new ways of describing reader-author relationships as personal affairs of liking and/or loving literature. [10] As Lionel Trilling, John Bailey, Christopher Ricks, and Marjorie Levinson have demonstrated, readers of Keats’s poetry are no strangers to feeling embarrassed over Keats’s “badness” in particular lines and even entire poems that fall well short of, or appear to mock, high aesthetic poetry standards. [11] Most resoundingly, Levinson argues that Keats had a “legitimacy problem”—anxiety about his middling social class alienation from the canon—which manifested itself in a self-consciously artificial “writing which is aggressively literary and therefore not just ‘not Literature’ but, in effect, anti-literature: a parody” (10, 5). Writing at, though not necessarily for, canonical tastes, Keats fetishizes an aesthetics of betweenness, which sensationalizes high poetic styles, poetry as a constructed medium, and the reading public’s growing desire to experience biographically-infused, authorial emotion. With Levinson’s critique in mind, Keats in Popular Culture builds on Steven Clark and Jason Whittaker’s Blake, Modernity, and Popular Culture (2007), Philip Connell and Nigel Leask’s Romanticism and Popular Culture in Britain and Ireland (2009), and Christoph Reinfandt’s "Popular and Media Culture" (2017)—each of which details dynamic, non-binary relationships between popular culture and high culture conceptions. [12] This collection of essays posits Keats’s two-hundred year reception history as an exemplary case for examining popular culture as a generative, shape-shifting borderland where liking/loving and responding to literature intermingles, sometimes indistinguishably, the tastes of the people and the elite. To make this case, these essays investigate popular culture artifacts and mediums as well as popular literature involving Keats.

6.        So, how might studying Keats’s affective, multi-media afterlives help us to read him anew? First, such an approach prompts us to continue reevaluating our profession’s longstanding repudiation of popular literature as solely market-driven, ephemeral, ‘bad’ art (overly simple, not serious, or adulterated). Second, within that reconsideration, we can re-contextualize Keats’s own dismissals of the word popular in ‘popular literature.’ Andrew Bennett’s Keats, Narrative, and Audience (1994) and Romantic Poets and the Culture of Posterity (1998) remind us of how Keats’s criticisms of fashionable authorship and poetry with a mass market appeal have led generations of Romantic period scholars to align Keats with William Wordsworth’s skewed argument in his "Essay Supplementary to the Preface" (1815) that a poet’s contemporary popularity rendered them unfit for a future place in the high canon of English poetry. [13] By all accounts, Keats was neither a popular nor a well-reviewed Regency poet, and he seemed intent upon establishing a posthumous reputation beyond the transience of what he called the “little famous” of his age so that he could finally be “among the English poets.” Keats undoubtedly had a vexed relationship with popular writing for a consumer culture that was caught up in discourses about fame and celebrity. [14] On several occasions in his letters, he expresses outright disdain for such popular or fashionable writing. [15] Keats vented some of his anxieties, frustrations, and jealousies by “smoking” the best-selling poet of his day (“Lord Byron cuts a figure—but he is not figurative”) with declarations ridiculing Byron’s seemingly too easy literary style and quasi-celebrity, aristocratic status. However, Keats’s affinities with Byron’s poetry, as well as other popular Regency poets such as Barry Cornwall and ‘Bluestocking’ writers whom he appears to dismiss, reveal how closely connected his poetry was with popular literary styles, trending topics, and fashionable reading. [16] As Richard Marggraf Turley incisively argues in Bright Stars: John Keats, Barry Cornwall, and Romantic Literary Culture (2009), Keats’s poetry and initial reception might best be understood in relation to Cornwall (pseudonym for Bryan Waller Proctor) who after Lord Byron and Felicia Hemans was one of the best-selling and most positively reviewed poets from 1819–1823. [17]

7.        Conservative-leaning reviewers for Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and The Quarterly Review directly connected Keats’s poetry with popular sensational trends, particularly a “Metromanie” (meter-mania) sweeping across Britain from “farm servants” to “unmarried ladies” and “our very footmen,” which rendered Keats too vulgar (common) to be considered for a pantheon of living poets let alone for an enduring canon of English poets (193). [18] These reviewers responded to Leigh Hunt’s "Young Poets" Examiner essay (1816) as well as to Keats’s Hunt-suffused Poems (1817) and Hunt-inflected Endymion (1818). Their ‘story’ of Keats focused on his cultural and aesthetic betweenness—a shibboleth that Keats himself foregrounds in his 1818 "Preface" to Endymion:

The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life between, in which the soul is in ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the ambition thick-sighted: thence proceeds mawkishness, and all the thousand bitters which those men I speak of must necessarily taste in going over the following pages. (140; emphasis added)
Amidst this “space of life between,” Keats describes himself as “in ferment”—intensely stirred up in a transformative process—and short on measured high culture aesthetics. He owns Endymion as a “failure,” resulting from “great inexperience, immaturity, and every error denoting a feverish attempt” (139). Moreover, he archly styles himself as an arrested cultural aspirant who “may be speaking too presumptuously and may deserve a punishment” for having “touched the beautiful mythology of Greece, and [potentially] dulled its brightness” with his adulterated poetic treatment. [19] Keats’s acknowledged “mawkishness” (over-stirred sentimentality) may well serve as self-flagellation before possible critics, but that “mawkishness” also stakes a claim for Endymion: it will have a sensational, bittersweet effect that high culture reviewers and readers “must necessarily taste in going over the following pages” (140).

8.        Blackwood’s and Quarterly reviewers reacted to this taste of Keats by relegating him to the trash bin of literary history not only because his poetry smacked of middle class pretensions, radical politics and aesthetics, but also because it seemed all too caught up in sensational aspects of popular Regency culture. [20] As Orrin Wang points out in "Coming Attractions: ‘Lamia’ and Cinematic Sensations," “Implicit in the opprobrium of Blackwood’s and others is that Keats’s writing is not real poetry, and thus, not real literature. It is sensation as entertainment; sensation not as an elite aesthetic principle, but as one diversion among many for an increasingly commercialized, mass public” (464). [21] Wang likens Keats’s sensational poetry to pre-cinematic simulations of visual movement, which he aligns with the showmanship of Vauxhall Garden’s early nineteenth-century entertainments and “mass public viewings,” particularly phantasmagorias (magic lantern shows) and panoramas (enormous circular paintings). In "Keats, Popular Culture, and the Sociability of Theatre," Gillian Russell locates Keats’s visual models and sense of class mobility in London’s labile, legitimate-illegitimate theatre productions and hybridizing audience demographics. Within that shifting theatre culture, Jane Moody, John Kandl and Jonathan Mulrooney have focused our attention on Keats’s admiration for Edmund Kean’s popular acting style and his identification with Kean’s controversial professional and cultural status. [22] Most recently in Romanticism and Theatrical Experience (2019), Mulrooney argues that Keats emulated Kean’s performative mixing and questioning of already slippery high, low, and middling aesthetic distinctions: “Keats began in 1818 to represent aesthetic experience as a continual, undecided negotiation that treated the high culture of art and the low culture of daily life with equal force and attention” (194). Through his alignments with Hunt’s new school of poetry, metropolitan visual entertainments, and Kean’s sensational Shakespeare performances, Keats wittingly and unwittingly drew his poetry into public debates about what popular and high literary culture were and might become and how they should be valued.

9.        Whether liking, loving, disliking, or hating, such valuations of Keats have often involved strong affective responses, which his poetry actively courts and self-consciously dramatizes. Keats’s affective turns have led several twenty-first century scholars and creative writers to posit “untoward” questions and statements about Keats’s readerly effects. [23] For example, in "A Friendly Return of the Author," Eric Eisner asks, “How does a shared feeling for Keats unite (or divide) communities of his readers? How have later readers with no direct relation to Keats understood themselves as ‘friends’ or ‘lovers’ of the poet?” (27). Most pointedly, in "Loving, Knowing, and Illustrating Keats," Ann Wierda Rowland asks, “What might it mean to ‘love’ John Keats?” (267). Rowland focuses her answer on Louis Arthur Holman, “‘the world’s foremost amateur collector of ‘Keatsiana’ in the first decades of the twentieth century,” who neither had a college education nor seemed interested in writing a conventional biography of Keats (268). [24] Rowland argues that Holman’s decades-long work—a labor of imagined friendship and love for Keats spent collecting, assembling, and publicly sharing his visual ephemera—exemplifies Keats’s popular following, which first took off in the late nineteenth century. Rowland maintains that Holman deeply valued “the portability of ‘Keats,’ above all” and understood his unparalleled collection of images, ranging from illustrations to postcards, as a testament to Keats’s “procreativity” and capacity to inhabit and inform multiple media contexts and walks of life (287). In "That Crafty Feeling," Zadie Smith provides a more recent testimony about Keats’s enduring amateur appeal:

Keats offers his readers the possibility of entering writing from a side door, the one marked ‘Apprentices Welcome Here’ […] Keats slogging away, devouring books, plagiarizing, impersonating, adapting, struggling, growing, writing many poems that made him blush and then a few that made him proud, learning everything he could from whomever he could find, dead or alive, who might have something useful to teach him. (105)
If in 1818 John Wilson Lockhart could derisively sentence Keats behind commercial, class-signifying doors—“so back to the shop Mr. John”—in 2009 Zadie Smith could trumpet that Keats’s poetry and biography had unlocked a side-door entrance into the “shop” of writing—a space previously closed to aspirants without proper high culture writing credentials.

10.        In the late twentieth- and early twenty-first century, this emphasis on reader-author intimacy, participatory poetics, and popularizing high literary forms has coincided with the rise of what Beth Driscoll calls “the new literary middlebrow.” Driscoll argues that new literary middlebrow culture has eight family attributes: “middle class, reverential towards elite culture, entrepreneurial, mediated, feminized, emotional, recreational, and earnest” (6). Through her amendments to what she describes as Pierre Bourdieu’s rigid, polarizing theories (art for art’s sake vs. mass market productions) about the field and habitus of literary production and cultural capital, Driscoll examines a neglected “middle space” in which the “middlebrow’s expansive, colonizing activities continually shift the boundaries between cultural categories, while the new relationships it creates between mass audiences and intermediaries recalibrate lines of authority” (17). Although Kelvin Everest does not mention middlebrow culture in "Why Read Keats?" (2002), he proffers a new literary middlebrow educational ideal: “[Keats’s] example affirms that English poetry is an art form for the people as a whole, and not the preserve of a privileged elite. In Keats’s poetry the English poetic tradition is claimed for a fundamentally democratic future, in which high aesthetic experience is the possession of a wider and socially inclusive readership” (3). [25] For Stanley Plumly—perhaps Keats’s most ardent poet-scholar advocate—associating Keats with anything middlebrow (even some of Keats’s own poetry) degrades his greatness and, thus, should be discarded. Plumly’s conviction leads him in Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography (2008) to eschew influential pre-Raphaelite tastes involving the “luxury, drapery, weft, and rich weave of the texture and rhythmic structure in Keats’s romances and ballads” because “such qualities tend to confirm rather than challenge, reinforce rather than resist convention, and meet—in spite of counter-Victorian and post-Victorian protestations of art for art’s sake—mostly middle-brow nineteenth-century expectations” (321). Despite his elegant protestation, Plumly’s concerns about the “irresistible,” convention-reinforcing “qualities” of Keats’s narrative verse underscore Keats’s powerful middlebrow appeal as well as Plumly’s own personalized literary middlebrow treatment of Keats’s biography and poetry. [26]

11.        Undoubtedly, Keats’s most popular instantiation in new literary middlebrow culture has been his negative capability concept: “when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—”. Negative capability has garnered this currency largely because it suggests an adaptable, betwixt-and-between subject position within a non-systematic philosophy for considering life and art while “remaining content with half knowledge” in the midst of unreconciled contradictions (Letters. I. 193, 194). Far from a limiting cultural shibboleth, negative capability describes being in the middle as a virtue, which can foster mental lability and creative ways of thinking about and between different epistemologies of human knowledge. As Brian Rejack and Michael Theune maintain in their introduction to Keats’s Negative Capability: New Origins and Afterlives (2019), Keats’s concept has “escaped the gravitational pull of Keats studies” to emerge not only in contemporary poetics but also in young adult literature, music, psychology, medicine, Zen philosophy, and business marketing and management (3-4). I also would add that discussions of negative capability have significantly influenced recent public education theories and transmedia story-telling practices for mass market productions. [27] Within Rejack and Theune’s compelling collection, Kurtis Hessel’s "Knowledge’s ‘Gordian’ Shape: Keats and the Disciplines" and Jeanne Britton’s "‘Irritable Reaching’ and the Conditions of Romantic Mediation" draw our attention to proto-interdisciplinary education theories and intermedial artistic practices. [28] While Hessel characterizes Keats’s negative capability as “an openness to the intermedium between thought systems,” exemplified by his “new theory of allegory” in "Lamia," Britton argues that negative capability “identifies conditions of mediation” that “must be understood in relation to the body and, specifically, the writing hand” (99, 115). Through their essays, negative capability emerges as an intermingling of thought systems, processes of composition, and the feigned presence of bodily movements—a middling mode characterized by a constantly shifting, amalgamating, but never fully reconciled, center.

12.        Although Keats associated negative capability with William Shakespeare as the prime example of a “Man of Achievement,” Keats’s popular culture reception pales in comparison with Shakespeare’s unparalleled ‘Shakespop’ industry. Nor does Keats come close to Mary Shelley’s and Jane Austen’s standing, which like Shakespeare’s has involved Hollywood movies, television shows, and a host of multi-genre and digital media forms. [29] Keats’s less prevalent afterlives come into focus most clearly in the context of the ‘Big Six’ male Romantic poets: William Blake, Lord (George Gordon) Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Of the six, Blake and Byron have garnered the largest popular culture following. As Steven Clark and Jason Whittaker’s Blake, Modernity, and Popular Culture has shown, Blake’s afterlives as a political radical and visionary iconoclast have appeared most influentially in music, experimental film, and graphic novels. [30] Arguably even more so than Blake, Byron’s rock-star charisma has thriven in music, film, and popular literature. [31] Percy Shelley’s sonnet "Ozymandias" has developed new afterlives as an ironic character statement in season five of Mad Men (2012) and as a dramatic prelude and crux for season five of Breaking Bad (2013), though overall Shelley’s late twentieth- and early twenty-first century popular culture presence has been dwarfed by Byron’s and Blake’s. Coleridge has had a slightly larger late twentieth- and early twenty-first century following than Wordsworth, largely owing to songs and visual adaptations of "Kubla Khan" and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," but both have had a smaller number of afterlives than Byron, Blake, and Shelley. [32] Perhaps not surprising, Keats’s recent afterlives suggest his appeal as a poet who is more accessible and less radically visionary than Blake, less egocentric and aggressive than Byron or (a more staid and stuffy) Wordsworth, more psychologically stable and invitingly intimate than Coleridge, and less elevated and politically idealistic than Shelley.

13.        Ranking fittingly in the middle of these six, Keats’s new literary middlebrow popularity involves intense, personal connections based on deep feeling for his short life and tubercular death, doomed romance with Fanny Brawne and poetry, underdog status and outsized writing ambitions, capacity for friendship and broad-minded sociality, and sense of identity as transformable and mobile. Like Shakespeare’s and Austen’s, Keats’s recent afterlives represent and inflect our myths about creative genius, romantic love, and individual agency. Reactions to his short biography, however, separate Keats’s afterlives from theirs. His young-adult romance with Fanny Brawne, rapid mastery of writing poetry, and death at twenty-five well before his achievements were widely recognized speak readily to post-1950s youth cultures focused on (and often marketed to) under-appreciated young adults trying to define their shifting, middle-class identities. Given Keats’s new literary middlebrow popularity, I wonder too if currently we are seeing (to borrow Gregory Dart’s term) an outsized, fun-house mirror, “Cockney moment” reflecting authors and readers. Though not focused on political enfranchisement like the “moment” (1810–1840) Dart describes, our quasi- “Cockney moment” (I submit 1990ish–present) has many of the “amphibious qualities” that he details—exemplified by Leigh Hunt’s writing, which “hovers uncertainly between the polite and the plebeian” (203). We too are immersed in a rapidly-shifting, and now expressly global, metropolitan climate, which is “liberal and open in some respects, but also superficial and fashion-hungry in others.” Marked by “very broad tastes in literature” and an “expanded field of print journalism,” our climate teems with debates about the “cultural legitimacy” of “the so-called ‘middle class’”—pointed by its young adult avatars (first Gen X, then Millennials, and now Gen Z) who continue to “transform traditional aesthetic norms” in new digital mass media (Dart 204, 205).

14.        New literary middlebrow culture has challenged high canonical gatekeeping, but its inherited tastes and largely reverential attitudes toward highbrow culture predominate, as Jane Campion’s commercially successful film Bright Star (2009) and “Introduction” to Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne (2009) demonstrate. In Campion’s transmedia introduction, “Bright Star—the Story of Keats and Fanny,” she not only summarizes the major biographical plot points informing her literary biopic; she also enthuses:

The poems, the love letters, the love story are all part of the alchemy that makes Keats so special, so available to successive generations of readers. The young man who died devastated, convinced that he would be forgotten, has been repeatedly re-discovered. For many people, he is the first point of entry into poetry and his life story is a big part of that magical equation. (vi–vii)
Campion’s affection and marketing for this Keats-Brawne story celebrate alchemical auto-biographical processes, an intensely engaging romance and devastating tragedy, and a near complete loss followed by paths of rediscovery that continually draw readers into poetry. For Campion, what makes Keats so “special” is his affective, textually embodied capacity for revival—a “magical equation” that involves his discoverers in recognizing parts of themselves which, like Keats, may appear to have been nearly lost. Campion’s biopic immerses us in melodrama and sentimentality, but it also plays high art-for-art’s sake ideals against mass commercialization and suggests an intermedium between the two: an intermingling of canonical Keats aesthetics and Brawne’s stylish stitch-work. Moreover, with Brawne as our focalizer and emotional surrogate, Bright Star grants us visual access to Keats’s personality and artistic genius while blocking any close textual/bodily understanding as Keats disappears off-screen into near-deathly anonymity while Brawne remains on screen to elicit our compassion. [33] Bright Star leaves us with a heightened semblance of deep and abiding, romantic (authorial) love as Brawne’s (Abbie Cornish’s) mourning recital of Keats’s sonnet fades into the film’s rolling credits, which feature Keats’s (Ben Wishaw’s) disembodied voice reciting "Ode to a Nightingale" with a poignant mixture of elegiac celebration and mystification.

15.        As Jacqueline Peppal’s recent short film Visiting Mr. Keats suggests, Keats’s new literary middlebrow following is not just reverential toward highbrow literary culture. [34] To Driscoll’s eight family characteristics, I would add that new literary middlebrow culture also traffics in comedic, witty, and satirical reconfigurations of highbrow culture and its gatekeepers. If in Campion’s biopic "Ode to a Nightingale" represents and elicits the elegiac depth of middlebrow reverence, in Peppal’s short the nightingale appears as a “deceiving elf” that chides high aesthetic ideals and the notion of having “front-door” access to Keats with a popular science fiction intervention that recalls mass commercialized products, communication technologies, and serendipitous happenstance. [35] Winner of the 2016 New York City Independent Film Festival’s “Best Short,” Visiting Mr. Keats spotlights the overweening drive of university academics who seek to control the reception and cultural significance of canonical writers such as Keats. Visiting Mr. Keats literalizes the notion that professors can transport students back to the very historical moment of an author’s writings, and it features an English professor (Bell), who can travel back in time, and one of her graduate students, whom she has chosen to take on a research trip to Keats’s Hampstead residence in the spring of 1819. Posing in early nineteenth-century garb as a weaver (pseudonym Cornelius Green) and his mother, this ambitious graduate student and his domineering professor visit Keats at home with Charles Brown with the stated intention of asking Keats one question: what did Keats mean in the first line of Endymion, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”? Both student and professor fritter away their opportunity by passive-aggressively arguing to such an extent that Brown politely asks them to leave. As the graduate student hurriedly bids adieu to a nonplussed Keats with an unwitting parody of Keats’s own line, “a joy forever,” the professor—contrary to her own student-directed admonishments about not violating time-travel protocols—carelessly leaves behind her iPhone with its nightingale image on the casing. At the film’s close, viewers are left with a tongue-in-cheek (inverse, interrupting man from Porlock) notion that Keats composed his fabled “Ode to a Nightingale” that very night after finding this left-behind nightingale icon from the future.

16.        Although Keats’s own humorous and pun-full personality does not appear directly in Visiting Mr. Keats (he remains mostly silent and bemused), the film’s sendup of academics captures Keats’s enthusiasm in his letters and poetry for challenging and mocking highbrow culture while inviting his audience to play alongside him, even at his own expense. Keats’s delight in elaborate word play and intense speculation informs this collection’s interlacing cultural studies, formalist, reception and reader response methodologies. [36] In acknowledging the necessarily speculative dimension of this critical task, each essay embraces the wager of what kind of methodology and type of proof might convincingly tie together the multiple Keatsian archives of past and present, canon and popular culture, knowing full well that this is an ongoing challenge for those invested in connecting our modern age with a relevant Romanticism. Rather than provide one monolithic answer to the question of methodology, causation, and proof, these essays instead foreground our awareness of and excitement over the challenge of this query. In this collection, we have delighted in Keats’s playful afterlives and in what Brian McGrath (following Gerard Manley Hopkins) describes as a “Keats for Beginners.” [37] This Keats is an amateur’s amateur (as well as a poet’s poet) who exuberantly incorporates popular culture into his poetry, mimics and calls into question highbrow aesthetics, and appeals to others to follow (on the wing) his beginning essaies, as in “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” [38]

17.        Brian Rejack’s "Quoting Keats" points the way into this space of seeing and listening to Keatsian echoes, iterations, and re-creations. His tracing of the popularity of Endymion’s first line provides a backward- and forward-turning meditation on what quoting and misquoting Keats can teach us about our own mass cultural fixations on engines of authorship and textual reproduction. In "Reading Keats Together: Cleanth Brooks and the Collegiate Public," Christopher Rovee reminds us of how Keats’s amateurish, ‘Cockney’ qualities were widely excised by Brooks’s influential, New Critical touting of Keats’s “well-wrought,” expert craftsmanship. Rovee contends that Brooks’s Keats-centered work played a significant role in transforming post-World War II university literature classrooms into places (perhaps even mediums) that rejected mass consumer culture and, instead, encouraged a new mass influx of college students to create with their professors an authentic, socially valuable, popular culture through communal acts of close reading. Forest Pyle’s "Keats Effects" theorizes about how we can identify overlooked and under-heard networks of poetic influence and sonic effects—whether “obstructive enthusiasms” or “shrines of no prospect.” Pyle’s focus on poetry, music, and image in “Cockney pop” signals this collection’s intention to describe new constellations of Keats’s presence in our contemporary skylines. Betsy Tontiplaphol’s "Bright Star and the Etsy Effect" prompts us to recognize one such constellation in Campion’s Bright Star. Tontiplaphol argues that Campion’s film lauds an imperfectly material Keats whose dynamic avatars can be found on the social media website Etsy, which celebrates the labor of amateur hands in a personalized handicrafts movement. Noah Comet’s Bridget Jones-enthused response draws these essays into stereoscopic view, suggesting what we might look and listen to as we move forward with Keats studies in the twenty-first century. In popular culture, Keatsian in-betweenness is legion. [39]

Works Cited

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[1] In The Cambridge Companion to John Keats, Stillinger defines “Multiple Keats” as “an internal complexity in the poet constituted primarily by self-division—a sort of unresolved imaginative dividedness between the serious and the humorous, the straight and the ironic, the fanciful and the real, the high-flying and the down-to-earth, the sentimental and the satiric, the puffed up and the deflated” (253). BACK

[2] Keats’s canonicity was already well-established when Matthew Arnold published his essay on Keats in T.H. Ward’s English Poets (1880). Arnold countermands longstanding positive and negative evaluations of Keats as overly sensual and effete, characterizations that peaked dramatically after Harry Buxton Foreman published Keats’s letters to Fanny Brawne (1878). On Keats’s shifting nineteenth-century reception, see James Najarian’s Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality and Desire; Jeffrey Robinson’s Reception and Poetics in Keats: My Ended Poet; and Sarah Wootton’s Consuming Keats: Nineteenth-Century Representations in Art and Literature, as well as more recent antipodal arguments in Emily Roerhbach’s Modernity’s Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation; and William Ulmer’s John Keats: Reimaging History. BACK

[3] See David Damrosch’s distinctions between hypercanon, countercanon, and shadow canon in "World literature in a Postcanonical, Hypercanonical Age." On Keats and hypercanonity, see Jeffrey Cox’s chapter section "Hypercanonical Keats and the Pantheon of Living Poets" in The Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry and James O’Rourke’s edited collection Ode on a Grecian Urn: Hypercanonicity and Pedagogy. BACK

[4] Along with Beth Driscoll’s argument in The New Literary Middlebrow, I follow Lawrence Levine’s interventions in HighBrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America—particularly his attempts “to open not close doors, to raise as well as answer questions, to stimulate as much as convince, and to lure as many scholars as possible into asking comparable questions and pursuing related lines of research” ("Prologue" 9)—and Peter Swirski’s From Lowbrow to Nobrow, which calls for a more incisive investigation of popular culture and maintains that the distinction between “Highbrow” and “Lowbrow” does not suffice in the midst of what he dubs “artertainment” and “popular literature [which] is by now the master currency for cultural transactions as well as a new constellation of myths and metaphors capable of helping us negotiate the experience of the (post)industrial age” (180). My aims for Keats in Popular Culture also align with recent arguments such as Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University and Devoney Looser’s "The Hows and Whys of Public Humanities." BACK

[5] See particularly Romanticism and Affect Studies, edited by Seth Reno and Multimedia Romanticisms, edited by Andrew Burkett and James-Brooke Smith. BACK

[6] On mediation, see: Langan, Goodman, McLane, Langan and McLane on "The Medium of Romantic Poetry," Guillory, and Siskin and Warner’s edited collection. On affect, see: Pinch, McGann, Ready, Massumi, Terada, and Pfau. More recently, see Joel Falfak and Richard Sha’s introduction to Romanticism and the Emotions. BACK

[7] In his letters Keats uses “smoked,” “smoke,” “smoking,” and “smokeable”—each of which have slightly different meanings ranging from to jest at and ridicule to noticing, seeing through, and understanding (Letters: II. 13, 19, 36, 174, 206, 217, 221, 244). In his "Smokeability" section (393–402) in England in 1819, James Chandler provides an incisive gloss of “smokeable” as “an act of condescension, toward ‘weakness’ or ‘inadequacy’” (399). Chandler demonstrates Keats’s concern about his poems being publicly “smoked” (seen through, ridiculed) and classed as trendy, light-weight knock-offs in the vein of overly sentimental or sensational poems and novels appealing predominantly to female readers. On highbrow conceptions of Keats, Virginia Woolf’s characterization in her "Middlebrow" essay offers an apt and influential example: “To be a highbrow, a complete and representative highbrow, a highbrow like Shakespeare, Dickens, Byron, Shelley, Keats […] is of course beyond the wildest dreams of my Imagination […] Look at Keats, loving poetry and Fanny Brawne so intemperately that he pined and died of consumption at the age of twenty-six” (Par. 3). Woolf closes the essay with a playful threat: “If any human being, man, woman, dog, cat or half-crushed worm dares call me 'middlebrow' I will take my pen and stab him, dead.” (Par. 10). BACK

[8] On Keats and the ‘Cockney School,’ see also work by William Keach, Alan Bewell, Theresa Kelley, Kim Wheatley, Elizabeth Jones, Greg Kucich, Ayumi Mizukoshi, Jeffrey Robinson, Duncan Wu, Rodney Edgecombe, and Charles Rzepka who have fleshed out the social class tensions, political attitudes, urban sociality, suburban tastes, artistic identities, erotic sensuality, and performative theatricality marking what Gregory Dart has called "The Cockney Moment: 1810–1840." Notably, Keats’s Victorian reputation begins to rise following the end of that “Cockney Moment.” BACK

[9] In the twentieth century, Cleanth Brooks, Lionel Trilling, M.H. Abrams, and Helen Vendler have been, arguably, the most outspoken and influential in separating Keats from popular culture, media, and affect. BACK

[10] See Peter Burke, John Storey and John Fiske on popular culture; Jonathan Kramnick and John Guillory on canon; and Deirdre Lynch on author/book love, as well as Andrew Piper and Janice Radway. Following Roger Chartier’s "What is the History of Books," John Storey argues that late-eighteenth-century intellectuals “invented” two predominating conceptions of popular culture. The first (chronologically) involved idealizations of rural folk culture, and the second involved urban-industrial entertainments. BACK

[11] From his first biographer Richard Monkton Milnes (1848) to Matthew Arnold, F.R. Leavis, Lionel Trilling, Earl Wasserman, Walter Jackson Bate, David Perkins, and Helen Vendler (among others), arguments for Keats’s elevated place in the canon of English poetry have often involved rear-guard actions to protect his poetry and biography from slighting treatments. BACK

[12] See also Benjamin Colbert’s "Popular Romanticism: Publishing, Readership and the Making of Literary History," Gary Kelley’s "Popular Romanticism," and, more broadly, William St. Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. BACK

[13] In the "Essay Supplementary to the Preface," Wordsworth declares: “Away, then, with the senseless iteration of the word, popular, applied to new works in poetry as if there were no test of excellence in this first of the fine arts but that all men should run after its productions, as if urged by an appetite or constrained by a spell” (372). On the double-sidedness of Wordsworth’s use of ‘popular,’ which pits inauthentic and degrading mass cultures against nearly lost authentic cultures, see Ann Wierda Rowland’s "The Popular Tradition," pp. 119–26. As Lucy Newlyn has argued in Reading, Writing, and Romanticism: The Anxiety of Reception, “Wordsworth went on courting recognition while also appearing to accept neglect” (98). His market struggles with the tastes of a burgeoning mass reading public multiplied as he sought to differentiate the “pleasure” that his poetry might elicit from more popular gothic sensationalism. See Michael Gamer’s Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation as well as Jon Klancher’s argument in The Making of English Reading Audiences: “Having described the middle class audience as consumers of a brutalized culture fashioned for urban readers, Wordsworth seeks in the rustic’s alternative culture a means to reverse that reception into a form of ‘consumption’” (143). BACK

[14] On Romantic period fan and celebrity cultures, see Eric Eisner’s essay collection Romantic Fandom and Eisner’s monograph Nineteenth-Century Celebrity and Literary Culture. See also Tom Mole’s Byron’s Romantic Celebrity: Industrial Culture and the Hermeneutic of Intimacy and his edited collection Romanticism and Celebrity Culture, 1750–1850; Claire Brock’s The Feminization of Fame, 1750–1830; David Higgins’s Romantic Genius and the Literary Magazine: Biography, Celebrity, Politics; and David Brewer’s The Afterlife of Character, 1726–1825. On mid-to-late eighteenth-century consumer culture, see Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J.H. Plumb’s The Birth of a Consumer Society and Paul Keen’s Literature, Commerce, and the Spectacle of Modernity, 1750–1800. For a late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century assessment, see Colin Campbell’s The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism and James Chandler and Kevin Gilmartin’s edited collection Romantic Metropolis: The Urban Scene of British Culture, 1780–1840. BACK

[15] Most damningly, during the same week in which his publishers and his close friend John Hamilton Reynolds urged him to rewrite his first (unpublished) Endymion preface, he quipped, “I hate a Mawkish Popularity; my glory would be to daunt and dazzle the thousand jabberers about pictures and books” (Letters. I. 267). BACK

[16] On Keats’s several derisive and, at times, misogynist comments about ‘Bluestocking’ female writers and Regency female audiences, see Karen Swann’s "Harassing the Muse" (81–92), Sonia Hofkosh’s "The Writer’s Ravishment" (93–114), Margaret Homans’s "Keats Reading Women, Women Reading Keats," and Susan Wolfson’s Borderlines: The Shifting of Gender in British Romanticism. BACK

[17] Turley demonstrates how reading Keats’s poetry alongside Cornwall’s “cast[s] into relief issues of audience, taste, critical reception, ‘high’ versus ‘low’ culture, and literary commercialism,” and he shows how, in contrast to Keats, Cornwall “successfully commodified ‘Cockney’ School’ aesthetics” and “populariz[ed] a filtered version of ‘Cockney Romanticism” by “configuring [his readers] as constituents of a mass audience” and “reassur[ing] book buyers of their competency as readers” (4, 45, 40). On Keats and Byron, see Levinson’s Keats’s Life of Allegory, Beth Lau’s Keats’s Reading of the Romantic Poets and William Keach’s "Byron Reads Keats," pp. 203–13. BACK

[18] All quotations from reviews of Keats’s poetry and from his poetry are from Susan Wolfson’s John Keats: A Longman Cultural Edition. What often is left out of this ‘story’ of Keats’s early reception is that his 1817 Poems received at least as many positive as negative reviews. See John O. Haydon’s The Romantic Reviewers: 1802–1824, pp. 188, 190. Keats’s newspaper reception also tells a more positive story, as Lewis Schwartz demonstrates in "Keats’s Critical Reception of the Newspapers of his Day." BACK

[19] Keats also aligns himself with Thomas Chatterton and the cult of the Romantic genius who dies young—see Thomas Cook’s Thomas Chatterton and Neglected Genius—and recalls what Charles Rzepka astutely characterizes in "‘Cortez: Or Balboa, or Somebody Like That’: Form, Fact, and Forgetting in Keats’s ‘Chapman’s Homer’ Sonnet." BACK

[20] See Christopher Rovee’s "Trashing Keats," which concludes: “Taking seriously the wonder of those who most cherished it, we encounter the ‘trash of Keats’ as generative in its own right, supplying a model to subsequent connoisseurs of the second hand, aesthetes and otherwise, who would piece together an oppositional stance from the refuse of consumption’s logic” (1016). BACK

[21] Wang’s insights build on Levinson’s evaluation of Keats’s parodic “non-poetry,” James Chandler’s investigation of Keats’s “cockney sensationalism,” and Nicholas Roe and Jeffrey Cox’s arguments about the significance of ‘Cockney’ literary culture and politics. BACK

[22] In Illegitimate Theatre, 1770–1840, Moody points out that an “interesting parallel exists between the mockery of Edmund Kean’s lowly social origins and illegitimate apprenticeship in the role of Harlequin, and the critical disdain which greeted John Keats. In both cases, the language of vulgarity neatly encompasses accusations of stylistic uncouthness and social pretension, as well as charges of unjustified aesthetic innovation” (234). See too John Kandl’s "Plebian Gusto, Negative Capability, and the Low Company of ‘Mr. Kean’" and Jonathan Mulrooney’s "Keats in the Company of Kean." BACK

[23] The following statement from Stillinger captures the intimacy of such responses: “The accumulation of information from so many sources allows us to know Keats better than most of Keats’s contemporaries knew him, even those who saw him every day; and modern scholars who study the record undoubtedly know Keats better than they do most people whom they see in everyday life” (John Keats ix). BACK

[24] Rowland’s quotation is from the Daily Boston Globe, Dec. 15, 1939, p. 21. BACK

[25] Nicholas Roe maintains a similar view in his biography John Keats: A New Life. Roe, however, identifies Leigh Hunt as the catalyst: “Two hundred years on, we can see how Hunt’s ‘New School’ anticipated modern ideas of poetry as a form of expression open to and enjoyed by all” (188). BACK

[26] In his "Preface," Plumly describes his desire to create a fitting voice and point of view as “a middle way of discovering and articulating Keats in his possible and potential afterlife, not only his life. I needed to be able to think with a warm mind through the mortality—and its meander—that helped bring about his ultimate immortality” (17). For an incisive critique of Plumly’s “middle way,” see Michael Theune’s review of Posthumous Keats. BACK

[27] On the former, see Elaine Unterhalter’s "Negative Capability? Measuring the Unmeasurable in Education." On the latter, see Geoffrey Long’s Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics, and Production at the Jim Henson Company (2007). Also relevant is Marcello Giovenalli’s characterization of a Keats 2.0 whose works offer a “cognitive poetics of texture” (7). BACK

[28] On ways of distinguishing between transmediation, intermediation, and remediation, see: Bolter and Grusin, Rajewski, Hayles, and Rippl. BACK

[29] See Douglas Lanier’s Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture, Devony Looser’s The Making of Jane Austen, Christopher Frayling’s Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years, and Dennis Cutchins and Dennis Perry’s Adapting Frankenstein: The Monster’s Eternal Lives in Popular Culture. See too Mary Shelley’s abiding presence also has anchored such wide-ranging projects as "Romantic Bicentennials": BACK

[30] See as well Whitson and Whittaker’s more recent argument about Blake and fandom, virtuality, new media, creative participation and “zoamorphasis” in William Blake and the Digital Humanities: Collaboration, Participation, and Social Media (2013). For a catalogue of Blake’s popular culture presence, see: Notably, the ‘Big Six’ and Mary Shelley have helped shape prominent aspects of John Milton’s enduring presence in pop culture—see Laura Lunger Knoppers and Gregory M. Colon Semenza’s Milton in Popular Culture. BACK

[31] In Byron’s Romantic Celebrity, Mole has demonstrated how Byron’s portraiture histories provide the most revealing focal point for tracing the public’s enduring fascination with his scandalous biography, roguish sexual behavior, and rapier wit. See also Ghislaine McDayter’s Byronmania and the Birth of Celebrity Culture about Byron’s female audiences and mass fan appeal, as well as Andrew Elfenbein’s Byron and the Victorians and Dino Franco Felluga’s The Perversity of Poetry: Romantic Ideology and the Popular Male Poet of Genius. BACK

[32] Coleridge and Wordsworth appear, most notably, in steampunk novels such as The Difference Engine (Spectra, 1990), Julien Temple’s movie Pandemonium (Mariner Films, 2000), a few BBC television shows, and several songs. On Romantic period literature and contemporary music, see James Rovira’s Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 and his related forthcoming edited collections For a popular culture catalogue of all six male poets and Jane Austen and Mary Shelley, see Romantic Circles’sRomanticism and Pop Culture.” And, for several astute contextual essays, see Mandell and Eberle-Sinatra’s Romanticism & Contemporary Culture and BACK

[33] See Jacques Khalip’s argument in Anonymous Life: Romanticism and Dispossession, which describes, among other Romantic period writers, Keats’s “fascination with anonymity as an ethics of engaged withdrawal or strategic reticence” that “resists the requirement to inhabit a social category and remains open to change and re-description (3). Khalip contends that “since [Keats] the poet cedes his identity to those around him, it is only through his expropriated creations that he can be known” (46). BACK

[34] BACK

[35] For related recent Keats scholarship, see Turley’s edited collection Keats’s Places. BACK

[36] Speculation was a signal word for Keats, which figures prominently in several of his most famous letters, including "Adam’s dream," "Negative Capability," "Mansion of Many Apartments," "cameleon Poet," and "vale of Soul-making." For more, see Lisa Heiserman Perkins’s "Keats’s Mere Speculations," which investigates Keats’s aesthetic, medical, philosophical, and economic understanding of speculation. BACK

[37] I follow McGrath’s assertion that early reviews of Endymion reveal how “Keats’s focus on words makes something happen in the writing of those attempting to respond to and curtail the forms of attention Keats’s writing makes possible. Keats’s readers bear witness to his beginnings” (366). BACK

[38] My characterization of Keats as an amateur’s amateur builds on John Fiske’s description in Understanding Popular Culture of creative amateurs who engage in acts of “excorporation” that coopt, transform, and make use of mass market consumer productions to create bricolages, new art forms, and even subcultures. Fiske’s work builds on Michel De Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (1984) and Raymond Williams’s "Culture is Ordinary" in Conviction, edited by Norman McKenzie (1958). BACK

[39] Twenty-first century popular culture renditions of Keats’s poems offer a synesthetic feast for the senses that welcomes the animating play of his canonical and non-canonical poetry and revels in his experimental, many-chambered, multicursal poetics. As starting points, I suggest the following admixtures:

A) A high school choir singing Keats’s posthumously published "Welcome joy, and welcome sorrow":

B) The band Kate Moths’ 2017 song version of Keats’s "This Living Hand": See too the 1995 album cover for Consolation Prize by the band This Living Hand.

C) Graphic Memoirs and Poetry Comics of "La Belle Dame sans Merci" are growing steadily. Perhaps most notable is PM Buchan’s (with Karen Yumi) four-part graphic memoir (three parts are published with the fourth seemingly forthcoming), which followed his ten-minute film and companion mini-album (2011):; On poetry comics, see my "Graphic & Digital Keats: La Belle Dame sans Merci in Poetry Comics"; pdf version at:

D) For two Keats-inspired video games, see Elegy for a Dead World (2015), and Apotheon (2015), Apotheon led one (albeit factually inaccurate) reviewer to exclaim: “If Keats had been alive 200 years later, he might have quit his job and become a game developer, not a poet. And if he had, Apotheon, a new game for the PC and PS4, might be his ‘Ode To A Grecian Urn.’ It takes the gameplay of classic side-scrollers like Legend of Zelda II and Castlevania and applies it to the side of an Athenian amphora, bringing the art of ancient Greece to vivid life” (Brownlee).

E) The San Francisco conceptual, performance artist and experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats continues to stretch the bounds of Keats’s namesake and negative capability concept. Most prominently, see Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age. His major claim—“No authentic masterpiece is as provocative as a great forgery. Forgers are the foremost artists of our age”—uncannily echoes John Keats’s appreciations of Thomas Chatterton’s Rowley forgeries (4).