Cancelled Past event

English Research Seminar -- Professor Simon Bainbridge

‘I will assay to reach to as high a summit in Poetry as the nerve bestowed upon me will suffer.' (John Keats, Letter to Richard Woodhouse, 27 October 1818)

John Keats was the only major writer of the Romantic period to climb Ben Nevis, an achievement that he saw as crucial preparation for the poetic vocation to which he aspired. This talk will examine Keats's 1818 ascent, placing it in the contexts of his walking tour through Northern England and Scotland – ‘a sort of Prologue to the Life I intend to pursue' – and the evolution of mountaineering in Britain more generally. Through readings of Keats's sonnet written on Britain's highest summit and his epistolary description of his climb, the talk will argue that the ascent played a major role in his poetic development, contributing to his rejection of the ‘wordsworthian or egotistical sublime' in favour of what I have termed the ‘negative sublime'. The talk will conclude with a discussion of Keats's surprising role in the development of mountaineering and its literature in the century after his death, including his part in George Mallory's attempts to climb Mount Everest in the 1920s.