Bicentenary of Keats’s Endymion

Endymion title page
Title page for Keats’s Endymion (1818)

In the last week of April 1818, John Keats published a new, long poem on a classical theme. Although Keats had been working on it for a year, he wasn’t quite sure the work was ready for public consumption, and some critics agreed – vehemently! Nevertheless, the opening line of Endymion has become one of the most recognizable in English literature: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever…” The book itself had screen time as a “supporting character” in Jane Campion’s film Bright Star (2009), about the romantic relationship between Keats and his neighbor Fanny Brawne. In the movie, Fanny’s little sister and brother visit a bookshop to buy a copy, which they then read to Fanny, who wants to know if Keats is the real deal.

The William H. Hannon Library is fortunate to own a copy of this first edition of Endymion: a poetic romance. The print run was very small, well under 1000 copies. It is part of the Weadock collection of first editions. To commemorate this special 200th anniversary, I visited the reading room of the Department of Archives and Special Collections to compare the real thing to the “book double” in Campion’s movie.

Alexander Justice
Librarian Alexander Justice explores our copy of the first edition of Keats’s Endymion.

In our library catalog, the LMU copy is described as being bound in “original drab boards” and “uncut.” This is an important detail, because in Campion’s film, it has a somewhat nicer binding. When Fanny’s little sister and brother return with the book, they unwrap it and and begin to read it right away. The pages had nice, neat edges, in other words, cut, unlike the LMU copy, whose edges are rough and uneven. Also, in real life they most likely would have had to slice open some pages, because books are made from large, folded pieces of paper. Fanny Brawne’s purchase of Endymion was spontaneous and probably frugal, and her copy in real life would probably have looked more like our LMU copy – but this key scene, in which Fanny first hears John Keats’s poetry, would have suffered if the book looked really unfinished and unattractive.

You can also read the first ever review of Endymion in British Periodicals, one of the LMU library’s many primary source collections.

Works Consulted:

“ART. VII.-Endymion: A Poetic Romance.” The Quarterly Review 19.37 (1818): 204-8. ProQuest British Periodicals. Web. 12 Apr. 2018.