It’s not every graduate student who sees work begun in a course flourish into a professionally consequential publication in the first year of study. And it’s a rare, extremely rare, undergraduate who sees this accomplishment. Annabel Barry is this exception. It all began in English 341, when Annabel’s pre-semester post was sharply alert to a very interesting feature of Keats’s letters in 1818, frequently framed with reports of his brother’s deteriorating health (from tuberculosis, which would claim Keats himself in 1821). We decided that she might write her first essay on this, which struck me as so smart that I asked her, if instead of the second essay required for this course, she would like to expand this one. She was eager to do this, and the result was terrific—I thought worthy of publication. So did the editor of Keats-Shelley Review, to whose attention I brought it the following summer (without mentioning that Annabel was a rising senior). He took it right away, and it was published October 2020 (this was also a remarkable chapter in her award-winning senior thesis).
‘—My Brother Tom is Much Improved—’: The Suffering Body at the Ends of Keats’s Letters and Poems - Annabel Barry, Independent Scholar, The Keats-Shelley Review, 34:2 (October 2020), 118-137
ABSTRACT This article re-examines the impact on Keats’s poetics of his brother Tom’s illness and death by paying attention to the disregarded references to Tom’s feverish body in the framing sections at the beginning and ends of Keats’s letters. While many critics have sought to abstract from these letters Keats’s literary and philosophical ideas, I resituate his memorable metaphysical passages within an epistolary structure that continually returns to an acute awareness of physical mortality. I show that this structural pattern also imprints the endings of the poems Keats wrote while nursing and mourning Tom, especially The Eve of St. Agnes (1819), ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ (1819), and the revised fragment of the Hyperion project (1818–19). I argue that Tom’s body emerges at the end of Keats’s literary productions because physical suffering is what causes metaphysical and romantic fantasy – and even communication itself – to falter. However, Tom’s suffering is also, paradoxically, what motivates Keats’s to write in the first place – it is the origin of his poetic imagination and the conclusion of his poetic project.
Just in time, for Annabel’s applications for graduate study. This was a writing sample from the stratosphere, and resulted (along with Annabel’s other numerous accolades—the Pyne Prize and the Mitchell Fellowship--accomplishments, and resonant appeal) in multiple offers of admission. She has accepted the offer from the University of California at Berkeley, sweetened by two major, campus-wide-competitive fellowships: Mellon-Berkeley Fellowship for Graduate Study, for outstanding students in the humanities, and the R. Kirk Underhill Graduate Fellowship, for a graduate student whose research focuses on topics related to the British Isles.
- Susan Wolfson