1st Edition

Keats and Scepticism

By Li Ou Copyright 2023
    230 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Keats and Scepticism explores Keats’s affinity with the philosophical tradition of scepticism and reads Keats’s poetry anew in the light of this affinity. It suggests Keats’s links with the origin of scepticism in ancient Greece as recorded in Sextus Empiricus’s Outlines of Scepticism. It also discusses Keats’s connections with Montaigne, the most important Renaissance inheritor of Pyrrhonian scepticism; Voltaire, the Enlightenment philosophe whose sceptical ideas made an indelible impact on Keats; and Hume, the most thoroughgoing sceptic after antiquity. Other than Keats’s affinitive ideas with these sceptical thinkers, this book is particularly interested in Keats’s experiments with the peculiar language, forms, modes, and genres of poetry to convey the non-dogmatic philosophy. In this light, it re-reads Isabella, ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’, the 1819 odes, the two Hyperions, King Stephen, and Lamia, all of which reveal Keats’s self-reflexive and radical sceptical poetics in challenging poetic dogmas and conventions.

    This book is for Keats lovers, students, teachers, scholars, or non-academic readers who are interested in Romanticism, nineteenth-century studies, or poetry and philosophy in general. This original, accessible interdisciplinary study aims to offer the reader a fresh perspective to read Keats and appreciate the quintessential Keatsian poetics.


    Keats’s sceptical poetics

    The term ‘scepticism’

    Romantic scepticism

    Structure of this book

    Chapter One Keats and Pyrrhonian Scepticism: Sextus Empiricus

    Sceptic: non-dogmatic and investigative

    Scepticism: definition and key elements

    Sextus, Keats, and Medicine

    Sceptical language and sceptical poetics

    Keats’s self-reflexive sceptical poetics in Lamia

    Chapter Two Keats and Renaissance Scepticism: Montaigne

    Montaigne’s inheritance of Pyrrhonian scepticism

    Montaigne’s development of Pyrrhonian scepticism

    Keats and Montaigne: affinitive ideas

    Keats’s sceptical ‘essays’: the 1819 spring odes

    Montaigne in the Keats circle

    Montaigne, Shakespeare, and Hamlet

    Keats and Hamlet

    Intersection of Keats, Hamlet, and Montaigne

    Chapter Three Keats and Enlightenment scepticism: Voltaire

    Voltaire, Keats, and Keats’s circle

    Voltaire’s scepticism in Philosophical Dictionary

    Voltaire’s historiography and Hyperion

    Voltaire’s conte philosophique and Isabella

    Chapter Four Keats and Enlightenment scepticism: Hume

    Hume, Keats, and Hazlitt

    Hume’s scepticism about our understanding of the external world and ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’

    Hume’s scepticism about our notion of the self and King Stephen

    Excessive scepticism and The Fall of Hyperion

    Temperate scepticism in ‘To Autumn’



    Li Ou, PhD in English (Literary Studies), the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is Associate Professor in the Department of English, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She is the author of Keats and Negative Capability (2009), ‘Keats, Sextus Empiricus, and Medicine’ (Romanticism 22:2 (2016), 167-76), ‘Keats’s Afterlife in Twentieth-Century China’ (English Romanticism in East Asia: A Romantic Circles PRAXIS Volume, 2016), ‘Romantic, Rebel, and Reactionary: The Metamorphosis of Byron in Twentieth-Century China’ (British Romanticism in Asia, 2019), ‘Two Chinese Wordsworths: The Reception of Wordsworth in Twentieth-Century China’ (Romantic Legacies: Transnational and Transdisciplinary Contexts, Routledge, 2019), and ‘Keats, Montaigne, and Hamlet’ (East-West Dialogues: The Transferability of Concepts in the Humanities, 2021). Her research interests include Romantic poetry, especially that of Keats, and cultural/literary relations between Greater China and Britain.

    In this original and important monograph, Li Ou presents compelling evidence that Keats in his letters and poems builds upon the ancient and Enlightenment tradition of scepticism. This chimes with his own habitual, ‘equipollent’ modes of thought, tempering his ‘ardent’ idealism and sensuousness with intellectual doubts and ‘vexing speculations’.

    Robert S. White, Emeritus Professor, The University of Western Australia

    A deeply researched and enjoyably accessible new study of Keats, strikingly original in its perspectives on the poet’s intellectual affinity with the sceptical tradition in philosophy. The argument is complemented by fresh and insightful readings of the poetry, and underpinned by persuasive reflection on the presence of philosophical scepticism in Keats’s Romantic milieu. This book changes the terms of reference for our understanding of Keats as a thinker.

    Kelvin Everest, Emeritus A. C. Bradley Professor of Modern Literature, University of Liverpool