Shelley : the pursuit

by Richard Holmes

Paper Book, 2003




New York : New York Review Books, [2003].


A fantastic reissue of Richard Holmes' epic biography of this most enigmatic and intriguing of the Romantic poets. This is simply one of the greatest biographical achievements of recent years.Shelley, the most neglected of all the great Romantic poets, was born in Sussex in 1792 and died in Tuscany in 1822, a brief life packed with love affairs, alarums and excursions. Holmes's book offers a serious and critical reappraisal of Shelley as a man and a writer; all his prose and poetry is carefully re-examined, his sense of spiritual and geographical isolation brilliantly described and a detailed portrait of his macabre imaginative life slowly assembled.Shelley's intense friendships with some of the most remarkable figures of his age fill Holmes's pages with a vivid parorama of revolutionary idealism and recklessness. To this is added the private story of Shelley's tortuous romantic liaisons, complications which affected both the peculiar tenor of his daily life and the remotest conceptions of his poetry.This is a stunning, entrancing biography of a fascinating subject, and a timely reissue of an absolutely seminal work.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member bleeaida
When first published in 1975, this book was a radical rethinking of the life of Shelley, whom the author saw, through the prism of the 60s, as a kind of 19th century flower child. A generation later, it is not dated.
LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
I see that this book's reviews are not unmitigated 5 stars. I cannot understand this. I fail to perceive how any book could possibly give a more full and rounded picture of the man, his philosophy and his poetry. The book is over 700 pages in length and did take a bit of 'getting in to' but, the
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rewards for a little perseverance were so great as to make the mere mentioning thereof seem churlish.

Richard Holmes writes a book that leaves me, a man with the slightest knowledge of Shelley feeling confident to tackle his poetry with a grounding of the hidden meanings. Having completed this tome, I have an understanding of what made Shelley tick and even, some idea as to the reason for his eccentric beliefs. There is a quote from William Hazlitt, in which he describes Shelley; "though a man in knowledge, he is a child in feeling." This seems to be a 'rem acu' moment, as far as I am concerned. After Shelley's demise in the infamous boating tragedy, Holmes rounds the book off with a brief note as to the fates of the remainder of the Italian group: it is surprising to realise how young they all were. Shelley, like Byron, appears to have been the son of a wealthy man who perhaps had too much freedom: he had a big heart as far as mankind in general was concerned, but seems genuinely to have been ignorant as to the hurt inflicted, particularly upon the women folk that he cast off as his initial desires lessened. It is easy to cast judgement but, who knows how I might have acted were I not protected by two pieces of good fortune - I was not blessed with money, or dashing good looks (Phew - or is that bother?)

Back to the book, I would thoroughly recommend it, whether you have as little knowledge as I had, or you are the World's leading authority upon Percy Bysshe. There is something for all, and much for those who need much, within these covers.
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