To JH Reynolds

Johannes Göransson
University of Notre Dame

Re: Keats’s 14 March 1818 letter to J. H. Reynolds

To JH Reynolds

Today I’m going to go to a sci-fi movie in the middle of the day. It’s about a zone where toxins speak in flowers. In that it’s like poetry.

Yesterday I watched a sci-fi movie about a robot who gives birth to a daughter. They find the mother’s bones buried in a box underground. They find the daughter in a bubble. One man is a robot, the other is human. Or the other way around. Or they’re both robots, both bounty hunters, both killers/lovers, both caught up in memories that may not be their own. They’re both foreigners, of course, immigrants. They don’t have soul, they don’t have children, their children are dead. Ditto 4 ditto 5. My point is: they walk up the stairs to the temple in which the daughter lives in a bubble and one of them dies on the stairs while the snow confetties down on him like poetry. While the other man enters the temple like in poetry.

One of them carries a little wooden horse in his memory.
The other carves a little wooden horse for his daughter.

Being a lover of antiquities, I imagined myself as both the man expiring in the snow and the man who gets to see his daughter – not speak to her mind you but to raise his hand and see her inside the bubble – and I imagined that they might be the same person, that the film couldn’t decide whether he would die or see his daughter. But then being a lover of antiquities, it seemed to me that they were indeed the same person and the daughter was dead and only by dying in the snow – which as I mentioned is like poetry – could the man see his daughter.

This science fiction and its sympathetic moisture: You have the sensation of betrayal.

You have the sensation of bleeding from the fingernails.

You have the sensation of ashes.

You have a small wooden horse of your own in science fiction.

Being a lover of antiquities, I imagine myself inside a science fiction as a kid of Betrayer. Inside the science fiction the green is beautiful as they say and pity it is that it is amphibious. I am amphibious inside the science fiction of flowers.

The science fiction of flowers: The Betrayer copies his fourth book and writes a preface. It’s all done. His mind is free for something new. For a little innocent bit of Metaphysic. He copies the fifth book from the Metaphysic of Innocence. He can’t find his money. His coins, his bills. He can’t find his daughter inside a temple that is like poetry: pretty cliffs, pretty Brooks, pretty Meadows, pretty trees. The green is amphibious in this science fiction film about poetry. The toxins killed his daughter. Or poetry killed his daughter. His daughter killed science fiction in my innocent head.

In a little innocent bit of Metaphysics in my head, in my temple of art, in my poem, in my science fiction film about memory, about snow (how it confetties, how it covers up my torso, which is bleeding from the fight, how it lands in my beard and on my lips), about a dead daughter inside a bubble, I’ll cut all sick people.

I’ll cut you.

I’ll go to the Theater and put a pebble in Your Mouth.

I’ll cut you.

I’ll cream you, I’ll clot you, I’ll sick-people you, I’ll tumble you, I’ll amphibian you, I’ll entertain you with cavalries sick people, I’ll dash you in your Country, I‘ll subject you to a sympathetic moisture, I’ll mouth you, I’ll harbor you in several houses, I’ll insult you at poor Jem Rice’s, I’ll look at you with a longing eye, I’ll forget to tell you that I’m a sweetheart, I’ll sweetheart you in the future, I’ll future you in Town, I’ll redress you with seasonable weather, I’ll direct you to Oxford, I’ll forget you in Oxford, I’ll summer you at the Bonnet Shop, I’ll weather you full of invention in the Bonnet Shop, I’ll write you a virgin and repent you, I’ll wing you and fly you to Nova Scotia, I’ll wish you to a favorite tune, I’ll know you have long taken it for granted, I’ll never you with speculations, I’ll nature you in places that I haunt the most, I’ll nature you in cavalries and clotted theaters, I’ll nature you with immense-other-nights, I’ll immense-other-night you with long letters, I’ll see you written in the air above you, I’ll remember you like an affectionate friend, I’ll john-keats you in Christ’s Hospital, London, March 14, 1818.

Keats Goes Gothic

Laura R. Kremmel
South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

Re: Keats’s 14 March 1818 letter to Reynolds

In this letter, Keats playfully dodges the forces of nature (being “blown over and blown under”) but also harnesses those forces by evoking a name associated with one of the most controversial literatures of the time.

He writes, “for I am going among scenery whence I intend to tip you the Damosel Radcliffe—I’ll cavern you, and grotto you, and water-fall you, and wood you, and water you, and immense-rock you, and tremendous-sound you, and solitude you” (100).

The Romantic poets were of two minds about the Gothic: their opinions were inconsistent, and that inconsistency showed up in their poetry as much as in their criticism. The older Romantics, such as Coleridge and Wordsworth, were not shy in offering their disapproval of the trash lit of the day, which they claimed could be a dangerous influence on readers and a corrupting one on poetry. At the same time, they envied the popularity of the Gothic, all trying their hands at Gothic elements within their own work (though they would never admit it). The younger poets—Keats and Shelley, for example—were less cautious and mixed admiration with their frequent ridicule of what was—by its own admittance—an often-ridiculous literature. One Gothic writer who seemed to escape the mockery the rest of them faced was Ann Radcliffe, who championed rationality at the same time that her characters swooned over ghostly shadows and mysterious noises. Her work may have produced the same effects of supernatural tales, but they essentially warned of the dangers of superstition.

In “Superstition: An Ode,” a poem embedded in A Sicilian Romance (1809), Radcliffe writes:

Enthron’d amid the wild impending rocks,
Involv’d in clouds, and brooding future woe,
The demon Superstition Nature shocks,
And waves her Sceptre o’er the world below. (71)

Ann Radcliffe

Keats, then, gives Radcliffe an appropriate introduction, with a reference to being unable to “cosset your superstition.” This, after mentioning an accident dealing with parapets and falling objects (a “chimney-pot”). Both of these are classic, dangerous elements of the Gothic, particularly the first Gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, in which a giant helmet falls from the sky and crushes a young man within the first chapter. When the Gothic wind is blowing, balconies and falling objects are no joke. Keats’s lively tone might seem antithetical to discussing the literature of the dead, but he keenly replicates the spirit of the Gothic tradition and its sinister flippancy, at once dire and disturbing, but also humorous and kitsch.

As the Gothic writers have a reputation—rightfully-earned, in some cases—for prioritizing content over quality, it makes perfect sense that Keats would select one of the writers most respected for her writing. While other Gothic writers might have been more innovative, they were far more erratic, to be admired with caution by one such as Keats. Radcliffe was one he could satirize and admire all at once, credited with both rationality and craft. In fact, he would later refer to her in a letter to George Keats on February 14, 1819: “In my packet I shall send you the Pot of Basil, St. Agnes eve, and if I should have finished it a little thing called ‘Eve of St. Mark’–you see what fine Mother Radcliffe names I have–it is not my fault–I did not search for them” (286). She was clearly an influence on his work.

The first thing to notice in Keats’s list of Radcliffean noun-verbs is the performative act of nature upon the reader by the writer. It’s a playful inundation of pastoral and passive objects that Radcliffe uses to such excess that they become active, sometimes taking over the narrative for both characters and readers. The natural, untouched by human corruption, influences the minds of Radcliffe’s heroines the most, calming them or oppressing them, often bolstering their grief and sensibilities. So, to do any of these natural forms to someone is to do quite a lot to them. And, in Radcliffe, part of the active force of these scenes is in the pain-staking (sometimes pain-ful) detail. Here’s a snippet from The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794):

The aspect of the country now began to change, and the travelers soon found themselves among mountains covered from their base nearly to their summits with forests of gloomy pine, except where a rock of granite shot up from the vale, and lost its snowy top in the clouds. The rivulet, which had hitherto accompanied them, now expanded into a river; and, flowing deeply and silently along, reflected as in a mirror, the blackness of the impending shades. Sometimes a cliff was seen lifting its bold head above the woods and the vapours, that floated mid-way down the mountains; and sometimes a face of perpendicular marble rose from the water’s edge, over which the larch threw his gigantic arms, here scathed with lightning, and there floating in luxuriant foliage. (38-39)

And so it goes on. Keats’s line in his letter refers to the many passages like this: dramatic but indistinct. Many of Keats’s words are appropriately generalized terms, particularly the hyphenated ones, and are easily seen in passages like the one above (wood, water, immense-rock, and, if I had continued, the next Radcliffe lines are of solitude). Yet, curiously, Jane Stabler claims that many of these words (grotto and waterfall, in particular) were never included in any of Radcliffe’s texts (she also cites “immense rock” and “tremendous sound,” but I don’t think Keats meant these in a specific sense) (187). How could Keats make such a mistake?

And yet, his attribution of these words to an origin in which they never existed (a Radcliffe text) is pure Gothic. The Gothic is full of ghosts, but rather than ghosts with a strong sense of their own pasts, these are ghosts whose pasts never existed: they are hollow, insubstantial, copies of copies without origin. Jerrold Hogle famously called such an idea the “ghost of the counterfeit,” locating it first in The Castle of Otranto but tracing it in many other texts, as well. The idea is, simply, that those ideas that seem most firmly set are, in the end, proven to be fakes. And this makes them performative and unstable. For example, the Castle of Otranto is tyrannized by Manfred, a man who believes himself to be the lord of the castle but who turns out to be the descendent of a man of no nobility who murdered the real lord of Otranto. Thus, Manfred’s claim to power stems from a noble origin that never existed. The phrase, “ghost of the counterfeit” comes from the ghost of a painting of Manfred’s grandfather: the ghost of the copy (painting) of the false copy (feigned lord) without origin (no nobility). We see the same idea in every text claiming to be a “found manuscript.” In these hollow copies, Hogle claims, are buried anxieties about illegitimacy and nothingness. Yet, as I think the Gothic demonstrates, this fakery puts on a good show, one that proves itself to be meaningful, if not solid. Keats may not use Radcliffe’s exact words, but he builds a scene that conjures her (or perhaps her ghost) from out of the pages and into the world around him.

Other elements in the letter are appropriate juxtapositions to the Gothic: the oppression and confinement of the rain, a picnic that mixes both distress and recreation, a passing mention of the theater, and a literary character (Lydia Languish), who is “subject to sympathetic moisture,” a characteristic for which Radcliffe’s heroines are also known (fainting and weeping). This is absolutely a letter that Radcliffes us!

Laura R. Kremmel is an assistant professor in the Humanities Department at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. She writes about the Gothic, British Romanticism, History of Medicine, Disability Studies, and horror movies. She is currently co-editing The Handbook to Horror Literature, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan.



Hogle, Jerrold E. “The Ghost of the Counterfeit in the Genesis of the Gothic.” Gothick Origins and Innovations, edited by Allan Lloyd Smith and Victor Sage, Rodopi, 1994, 23-33.

Keats, John. The Letters of John Keats. Edited by Hyder Edward Rollins, Harvard University Press, 1958.

Radcliffe, Ann. A Sicilian Romance. Oxford University Press, 2008.

—. The Mysteries of Udolpho. Penguin Books, 2001.

Stabler, Jane. “Ann Radcliffe’s Poetry: The Poetics of Refrain and Inventory.” Ann Radcliffe,       Romanticism, and the Gothic, edited by Dale Townshend and Angela Wright, Cambridge         University Press, 2014, 185-202.

Letter #59: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 14 March 1818

Reading today’s letter to Reynolds, one can’t help but wish that Keats had written a long prose work in the comic tradition of Sterne and Smollett. We daresay Keats had the chops to rival Tristram Shandy, a work which he seems to have in mind as he playfully (à la Toby) trots out a variety of military terms (glacis, small-shot, cannondale, cavalry, etc.). This letter deserves the kind of treatment Keats says we ought to devote to a “Page of full Poesy or distilled Prose.” So spend some time with, wander with it, muse upon it, bring home to it, prophesy upon it–whatever it takes! Read this letter and glory in Keats’s humor.

He addresses some of the same issues from yesterday’s letter to Bailey, in particular the weather that has kept him indoors and apparently led to a bit of stir-craziness. Here’s a sample: “The green is beautiful, as they say, and pity it is that it is amphibious–mais! but alas! the flowers here wait as naturally for the rain twice a day as the Muscles do for the Tide.” We also hear about Keats’s plan to “cut sickness–a fellow to whom I have a complete aversion.” On a grim note, the list of friends acquainted with this fellow includes Tom, who would only worsen from this point forward (“he [sickness] is sitting now quite impudent between me and Tom”). But the melancholy turn doesn’t last for long, as Keats proceeds to tell Reynolds of a recent visit to the theatre at which Keats “got insulted.” He explains that he “forgot to tell George,” and that he “ought to remember to forget to tell any Body,” given that he “did not fight, and as yet have had no redress.”

We have TWO responses to today’s letter, since it is so filled to the brim with goodness. First up is Laura Kremmel’s “Keats Goes Gothic,” which focuses on the list of scenery descriptions Keats connects with “Damosel Radcliffe.” And tomorrow we will have Johannes Göransson’s phantasmagoric rewriting of the letter, taking Keats’s language and concerns and filtering them through a sort of dream-vision of 2018.

You can read the letter in Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 edition, and via the images below of Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of the letter (courtesy of Harvard).

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 14 March 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 14 March 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 14 March 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.