Sidetracks : explorations of a romantic biographer

by Richard Holmes

Hardcover, 2000




London : HarperCollins, 2000.


Sidetracks is not a sequel but a sister book to Footsteps, conjured up from decades of 'wanderings from the straight and narrow' of his major biographies like Shelley and Coleridge. It is a renewed examination of the strange and sometimes shadowy pathways of biography that have always fascinated him. Sidetracks pursues this quest through an extraordinary and eclectic assortment of Romantic and Gothic writers and personalities: some French, some English, some Dutch, some American, some major, some minor, but all made hypnotically alive and memorable through Holmes's transforming touch. We meet Chatterton and Gautier, Pierrot and Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft and Godwin, Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, James Boswell and Zelide, MR James and some very unpleasant gothic apparitions. With each of these twenty pieces Holmes shows how fluid, playful and unconstrained the many voices of biography can be. The book includes two documentary radio-plays, many different kinds of character sketch and travelogue, true love stories and true ghost stories, and one piece, 'Dr Johnson's First Cat' which may or may not be a piece of true biographical fiction.The collection is held together by a subtle autobiographical thread, in which Holmes the Romantic biographer writes: 'to be sidetracked is, after all, to be led astray by a path or an idea, a scent or a tune, and maybe lost forever.'… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Capybara_99
A collection of biographical pieces by a preeminent biography of English Romanticism -- the pieces range widely in style, depth and subject matter, from radio plays and letters, to longer studies of Thomas Chatterton and the marriage of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. It is a bit of a
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unusual book, in my experience at least, short unrelated biographies, with brief introductions from the author about the circumstances in which and reasons for which they were written, but I ended up liking it quite a bit.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Like Footsteps, an interesting insight into the craft of biography, this time focusing on the little bits that never quite turn into full-scale biographies. A good range of material and a nice read; I was very pleased to find excellent sections on Chatterton and M.R. James.
LibraryThing member themulhern
The things that make this worth reading: Holmes is an exceptional writer, many of his subjects were exceptional writers and he quotes them extensively, most of his subjects had interesting lives. Each biographical entry can be read alone, some are discussions of biography and biographers as well as
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their subjects, like the one about William Godwin's memoir of Mary Wollstonecraft.
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