Bath Literature Festival: An obsession with death and dark literature

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The Independent Culture

Two heavyweight speakers gave passionate talks on two titans of 19th-century poetry at The Independent Bath Literature Festival – focusing on their preoccupation with death.

James Runcie, the festival's director, explored John Keats' attitude to love and death. He showed how the tubercular Cockney bard, who died at 25, was obsessed with death: his verse was full of hesitant leave-takings. His morbid obsession, said Runcie, came from his medical studies at Guy's Hospital.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Queen Victoria's favourite poet laureate, was also obsessed by death, according to his new biographer, John Batchelor – he called him "a Romantic in an unromantic age". Much of his most celebrated verse was written when he was scarcely in his 20s.

All his life, said Batchelor, he embraced the prospect of money, fame and honours to make up for the shameful fact that his rich grandfather had disinherited his sottish father. These talks brought history and poetry ringingly to life.