There are things we think we know about Keats: his horribly early death from tuberculosis, at twenty-five; his unconsummated passion for Fanny Brawne; how he was "destroyed" by conservative critics who couldn't appreciate his work.

His early life is less well-known: the sudden death of his father when he was a boy; his mother's indolence and hasty remarriage, prompting rumours of an affair; the family's social and financial decline.

It's strange this latter information should be so rarely mentioned. Given how fascinating we find Dicken's early life, with a father imprisoned for debt and time spent in a blacking factory, we're attuned to tales of child trauma. We're used, too, to the image of Keats as a fey young man, dandyish and weak; crucial contradictory facts about his early life show a school bully, and a determination to succeed beyond the vocation of apothecary chosen for him by his guardians. This weak man easily walked for miles.

Roe's biography is anchored in the critical school of "new historicism", viewing the poetry through its historical context, and he applies this approach to Keats's life. Thus we see Keats with his friends, his family, making important political connections with writers like Leigh Hunt, meeting literary heroes like Wordsworth, travelling to Burns's birthplace. This brilliantly gives us a very full sense of the growth of his identity as a poet.

There is less enthusiasm on Roe's part to expose how Keats caught the gonorrhoea that considerably weakened him. (Katherine Mansfield, another early victim of TB, was also weakened by the sexually transmitted disease, argues her biographer Claire Tomalin.) He speculates casual encounters rather than prostitutes, but given the catastrophic effect on his health, and how it influenced his attitude to women, it might have been worth more consideration.

But what matters most is the poetry, and Roe demonstrates well how the young genius developed his own style and structure, challenging established forms (he was also unafraid to upset with the more sexually explicit Eve of St Agnes).

Keats was in many ways more suited to the iconography of later times, living fast and dying young. The horror of his agonising death precluded leaving a beautiful corpse, but in many other ways he was the rock star of Romantic poetry.