I've read the Gittings biography and the Selected Letters of Keats, and the one thing that remains unclear is the root of Keats' dislike of females. It wasn't simply fear - it seemed to run a lot deeper than that. Perhaps it was that the majority of the women of his time were, in general, a bunch of boring gossips with no real value in society. Maybe that's why Fanny Brawne was so refreshing. My other idea is that Keats recognized in his own passionate temperament the capacity he had for love, for truly all-consuming love (which was later realized in the relationship with Fanny) and wished to avoid it because he knew it would be destructive to his work. But the fact that his dislike of women was just so intense, baffles me.
Any theories? PLEASE enlighten me on this! It's compelling and also sort of distressing. In one of the letters, he even stated that he didn't want women to read his poetry, that he wrote it for men. It was sort of off-putting. I love the guy to death, don't get me wrong. But I definitely feel a need to understand it. If anyone has any insight, please share!
First a question: How is the Gittings? I've got the Motion and the Bate and am looking for something with a bit more extraneous detail and a bit less literary analysis.
Well, according to the (very dated!) Bate biography, Keats was unfortunate in that some of his good friends had obnoxious female relatives. John Reynolds had four sisters who were apparently pretty gossipy... and who didn't approve of Fanny.
Then you have Leigh Hunt, who had such a formative influence on Keats's early work; he lived in a kind of domestic chaos, all cluttered tables and rampaging children---which Keats may have, unfortunately, associated with "family life" and hence women?
In any event, Keats was puzzled over the attitude himself---since you own a copy of the Selected Letters, see if you've got the one he wrote in July of 1818 to Benjamin Bailey. My apologies if you've already read this through and digested it (and the way you use the phrase "root of Keats' dislike" suggests you may have...). But just in case you haven't yet, here's an excerpt (there's a lot more):
"I am certain I have not a right feeling towards women---at this moment,I am striving to be just to them, but I cannot---Is it because they fall so far beneath my boyish imagination? When I was a schoolboy I thought a fair woman a pure Goddess; my mind was a soft nest in which some one of them slept, though she knew it not. I have no right to expect more than their reality---I thought them ethereal above men---I find them perhaps equal---great by comparison is very small... Is it not extraordinary? ---when among me,I have no evil thoughts, no malice, no spleen---I feel free to speak or to be silent... when I am among women, I have evil thoughts, malice, spleen... I am full of suspicions and therefore listen to nothing---I am a hurry to be gone. You must be charitable and put all this perversity to my being disappointed since my boyhood... I must absolutely get over this---but how? the only way is to find the root of the evil, and so cure it..."
And this is just my own personal obsession with Romantic medicine taking over, but maybe Keats was influenced more than he realized by his surgeon's training at Guy's? Romantic/Victorian ideas about "the weaker sex" were pretty backward, and that's being charitable.
I would say that Keats was predisposed to melancholy, and there's an anti-feminist or misogynistic rhetoric associated with it for reasons I'm not sure I understand at this point in time. A good example in literature is Hamlet, who suffered that same obsession with death and also had many momenti mori. If you've read the letters then you already know that Keats kneeled before The Bard's altar, especially the play of The Dane ("should like to make a bodkin point" etc etc).
I hate that all the editions of his letters are not complete but selections. You basically have to go to an academic or research library or buy an expensive old edition to get them all.
I think Motion's biography suggests that it partly had to do with his mother and abandonment issues.
Another reason, and this is the one that I find most convincing, is that women made up a large part of the reading, and buying, public. As much as Keats claimed not to care about what the public thought of his work, he would have to some extent felt at the mercy of female readers for his own success, and therefore felt a little threatened. I'm sure that's not the whole story, but I think it's definitely part of it.
An extract from Susan J. Wolfson's work 'Keats and Gender Criticism' http://books.google.com/books?id=S1o7yW