Nineteenth-Century Literature
Decapitating Romance: Class, Fetish, and Ideology in Keats's Isabella
Diane Long Hoeveler


Critics of Keats's Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil (1818) traditionally focus on the poem's "transitional" status between the early Endymion and the later and much greater odes. This article reads the poem as a shocking and angry poem by interrogating the meanings of the decapitated head that lies at the core of the text. By interrogating the head I read the work as an expression of Keats's attempt to bury his grief for his parents' deaths, to repudiate his middle-class origins, and to deny his attraction to "Romance," the popular Gothic ballad tradition of his day. The text explores Keats's very personal need to elide pain with words, the linguistic conventions of Romance. The fact that he could not bury the body of his pain, the fact that the body comes back to haunt and consume the living-these are the central issues Keats could not resolve in Isabella. The hungry heart one always senses while reading Keats becomes in this poem the mouth that devours, the voice in his own head that would not die, that would not stop repeating the tale of his pain, anger, doubt, and grief.

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