The condition, caused by mothers drinking alcohol while pregnant, causes low birth weight and physical defects

  • The condition may have      also left him vulnerable to disease, including the TB which killed him in      Rome in 1821

By Chris Hastings

PUBLISHED:21:41 GMT, 6 October 2012| UPDATED:21:46 GMT, 6 October 2012



The tragic death of poet John Keats at the age of just 25 may have been due to his mother’s heavy drinking, according to a new biography.

Professor Nicholas Roe has drawn upon new medical evidence to suggest that Keats – one of the main Romantic poets along with Shelley and Lord Byron – may have suffered from foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) caused by his mother’s drinking while she was pregnant.

FAS is a series of mental and physical defects which can occur in a foetus which has had exposure to alcohol.

Gifted: A painting of John Keats

Roe, chair of the Keats Foundation, has highlighted research by the eminent professor Brian Livesley which suggests the poet’s small head and projecting upper lip are clear symptoms of a foetal alcohol effect.

The research also suggests the poet’s small stature, stocky upper torso and small lower limbs are evidence of a congenital cardio-vascular condition.

In the book, John Keats, he argues that FAS may have also left him vulnerable to disease, including the TB which killed him in Rome in 1821.

He writes: ‘Keats was born prematurely because his mother drank.

Aspects of Keats’s physiognomy – the small head and faded hands with swollen veins – suggest symptoms of what we would now call foetal alcohol syndrome which may have rendered him susceptible to disease.’

New research: Professor Roe has drawn on new evidence to suggest Keats may have had the syndrome

Although Keats did have some of the physical attributes associated with FAS, the claim is likely to prove controversial.

Dr Simon Newell, a consultant and senior clinical lecturer in neonatal medicine at Leeds Teaching Hospital, last night remained unconvinced.

He said: ‘It is true that being a small baby and short of stature is something that goes with FAS.

‘But being small is much more common than the syndrome.

‘Around 60 per cent of people who suffer from the condition have poor IQ and language skills and clearly that was not a problem for Keats.’

Roe’s biography charts Keats’ fraught relationship with his mother Frances, a known drinker, and examines the way this affected his work and his relationships with women.

Roe also sheds light on the poet’s celebrated, but unconsummated, relationship with Fanny Brawne, cited as an inspiration for one of his most well known sonnets, Bright Star.

He is convinced the couple’s mutual attraction would have faded if it had not been for Keats’ premature death.

He says: ‘I think temperamentally and pathologically the relationship with Fanny Brawne would have floundered sooner or later if he had lived.

It’s a very different view from Bright Star… because I think the evidence points in a much darker direction.

I think it was a relationship of dazzling intensity but at the same time full of suspicion, jealousy, resentment and bitterness.’

Roe also claims that Keats believed the failure to consummate the relationship was one of the reasons for his illness.

He writes: ‘As he becomes severely ill he attributes the illness to the fact he could not express himself sexually.

‘It was bound up with neurotic ideas that sexual frustration was causing his TB.’

Keats enjoyed little success during his lifetime but his poems today are among the most celebrated in the English language.

John Keats, by Nicholas Roe, is published by Yale University Press.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2213930/Keats-doomed-mother-s-drinking-New-biography-claims-great-Romantic-poet-s-early-death-TB-foetal-alcohol-syndrome.html#ixzz28YwxKvRv
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