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John Keats and the Ideas of the Enlightenment

Porscha Fermanis

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John Keats is generally considered to be the least intellectually sophisticated of all the major Romantic poets, but he was a more serious thinker than either his contemporaries or later scholars have acknowledged. This book provides a major reassessment of Keats's intellectual life by considering his engagement with a formidable body of eighteenth-century thought from the work of Voltaire, Robertson, and Gibbon to Hutcheson, Hume, and Smith.

The book re-examines some of Keats's most important poems, including The Eve of St Agnes, Hyperion, Lamia, and Ode to Psyche, in the light of a range of Enlightenment ideas and contexts from literary history and cultural progress to anthropology, political economy, and moral philosophy. By demonstrating that the language and ideas of the Enlightenment played a key role in establishing his poetic agenda, Keats's poetry is shown to be less the expression of an intuitive young genius than the product of the cultural and intellectual contexts of his time.

Key Features

  • The first book-length consideration of the relationship between Keats and the ideas of the Enlightenment
  • New and distinctive argument about Keats reassessing his intellectual life and contexts
  • Contributes to our understanding of the relationship between the Romantic period and the eighteenth century/Enlightenment, currently one of the most important debates in literary scholarship
  • Wide appeal to scholars, postgraduates and advanced undergraduates of eighteenth-century and Romantic period literature, history and philosophy; cultural and intellectual historians; historians of ideas


Introduction: Keats, Enlightenment, and Romanticism
1. Ancients and Moderns: Literary History and the 'Grand March of Intellect' in Keats's Letters and the 1817 Poems
2. Civil Society: Sentimental History and Enlightenment Socialisation in Endymion and The Eve of St. Agnes
3. The Science of Man: Anthropological Speculation and Stadial Theory in Hyperion
4. Political Economy: Commerce, Civic Tradition, and the Luxury Debate in Isabella and Lamia
5. Moral Philosophy: Sympathetic Identification, Utility, and the Natural History of Religion in The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream
Conclusion: Ode to Psyche

About the Author

Porscha Fermanis is a lecturer in Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Literature at University College Dublin. Her research interests include Enlightenment philosophy, Romantic historicism, and historical fiction.


Porscha Fermanis argues persuasively for a reassessment of Keats's relationship with Enlightenment ideas. In cogent, lucid, and well-informed readings of Keats's longer poems, she provides a creatively enabling sense of what the Enlightenment was and meant to the poet. Keats may have mistrusted aspects of rationalist or progressivist thought, but Porscha Fermanis shows how profoundly his poems engage with the Enlightenment 'science of man'. Offering an original perspective from which to think about the poet's thought, John Keats and the Ideas of the Enlightenment is an impressive and important achievement.
- Michael O'Neill, Durham University
In this consistently illuminating and original book Porscha Fermanis places Keats within the history of ideas, persuasively offering us a poet-thinker whose response to the great writers of the Enlightenment was both informed and sympathetic. In a scholarly and thoughtful account, she presents fresh and invigorating readings of the great narrative poems, inviting us to re-consider our normal assumptions about Romanticism and its relationship with eighteenth century thought. John Keats and the Ideas of the Enlightenment is a substantial contribution to our growing sense of the historical Keats.
- Seamus Perry, Balliol College, Oxford

John Keats and the Ideas of the Enlightenment provides an important addition to the historicising of Keats that has been advancing over the past few decades. It also contributes to recent debates about the relationship between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and by identifying the ideas that distinguish these periods, while keeping sight of their continuities, this book helps to enlighten our own ideas about Romanticism as a period.

- Stacey McDowell, University of Bristol, Romanticism Vol 18, No3