A few weeks ago I rented the film Bright Star. Must admit to knowing very little about the life of John Keats – and even less about his poetry. I was, however, interested in young Fanny Brawne. And what grabbed me from the beginning of the film was its “setting”: 1818, Hampstead! Which is the area (and era) in which Belinda and Harriet Colebrooke lived. Could the three ladies have met?? What intriguing ideas come out of such a thought!
I will agree with my friend Hope, in admiring the costumes — though are we really to believe that three years go by and Keats as well as his friend Brown are still wearing the same clothes? That got rather tedious, I must admit.
So, in wanting to find out more than this film offered about Fanny, I went to the library to pick up the old biography (the only biography), which I’m about half-way through: Joanna Richardson’s Fanny Brawne: A Biography (1952). It’s a slim volume, but has some source material no one will ever duplicate: the author spoke with Brawne’s grand-daughter.
Gale Flament, in a master’s degree thesis (2007), examines the MATERIAL goods Fanny has left behind: her fashion plates and (more importantly) samples of her needlework. The biographical material might have benefited from a good editing, but as evidence of some wonderful investigation among such thankfully-preserved materials from this time period, I recommend Flament’s writing, which is available online via pdf.
One thing that struck me: Fanny paying for the letter the mail carrier delivers to her door! People forget that before the advent of stamps it was the recipient who paid for letters – dependent upon weight (number of pages) and distance. The film did a pretty good job at making a letter look like a letter of that era – though I am wondering about that single postmark…. Postal History enthusiasts can fill us in on that, if they’ve a desire to help out!
In coming months I’ll be paying a bit more attention to post marks, as I prepare an upcoming article. So any books on the subject, or reliable websites — do let me know.
Anyone with some other interesting bits on Fanny Brawne — or anything that ties her to my Colebrooke sisters, do drop me a line. Kind of fun to envision them all at the same little dances and dinners! Sometimes, indeed, truth is stranger than fiction.