John Keats and Fanny Brawne
Not every great love affair is consummated. John Keats met Fanny Brawne in Hampstead, north London, in 1818 when Fanny's widowed mother and sisters took lodgings with Keats's friend Charles Brown. Keats regarded her as an incorrigible flirt. "She is not 17," he wrote to his brother George, "but she is ignorant - monstrous in her behaviour, flying out in all directions, calling people such names that I was forced lately to make use of the term Minx - this I think not from any innate vice but from a penchant she has for acting stylishly." But he visited her more and more, and increasingly liked her company, although he found her odd. "Beautiful, elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable and strange. We have a little tiff now and then - and she behaves a little better," he wrote. They became neighbours, the romance blossomed and he wrote his most accomplished works - the "Eves", the Odes and "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" - while courting her.
They became engaged, but the onset of his tuberculosis kept them apart. Keats knew that he was finished. His letters to her are full of clear-eyed realism and desperate yearning. When he died in Italy in 1821 (aged 25), Fanny's final letters to him were buried with him unopened. He had been too upset by the thought of losing her to read them.