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Shelley: The Pursuit (New York Review Books) Paperback – May 31, 2003

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Editorial Reviews


'If the art of biography was ever damned, Shelley: The Pursuit redeemed it.' New York Times 'The best biography of Shelley ever written ... The great emphasis that Mr. Holmes lays on Shelley's politics, philosophy and social activities corrects the usual view of an extraordinarily idealized, etheral, spiritualized kind of poetry combined with an extraordinarily incoherent life... He has taken the Shelley story out of the realm of myth and made it far more convincing and significant.' Sir Stephen Spender --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

RICHARD HOLMES was born in London in 1945 and educated at Churchill College, Cambridge. Shelley: The Pursuit, his first book, appeared in 1974. It won the Somerset Maugham Award and was described by Stephen Spender as "surely the best biography of Shelley ever extraordinary achievement." Among Holmes’s other works are a two-volume biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Coleridge: Early Visions (1989) and Coleridge: Darker Reflections (1998); Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage (1993); and Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (1985), which Michael Holroyd has called "a modern masterpiece which will be seen as revolutionary a work as Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians." Richard Holmes is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 1992 was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire. He lives in London and Norwich with the novelist Rose Tremain.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 830 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; New edition (March 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590170377
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170373
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #746,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Holmes is Professor of Biographical Studies at the University of East Anglia. His is a Fellow of the British Academy, has honorary doctorates from UEA and the Tavistock Institute, and was awarded an OBE in 1992. His first book, 'Shelley: The Pursuit', won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1974. 'Coleridge: Early Visions' won the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year, and 'Dr Johnson & Mr Savage' won the James Tait Black Prize. 'Coleridge: Darker Reflections' won the Duff Cooper Prize and the Heinemann Award. He has published two studies of European biography, 'Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer' in 1985, and 'Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer' in 2000.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

84 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Laon on May 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It's probably time for a new Shelley biography, despite Holmes' excellent work. I couldn't recommend this book without a number of caveats.
It was valuable in its time, for countering that Victorian view of the angelic depoliticised and emasculated Shelley. But it's still a document of its time.
There are two things that were wrong with the book even at the time it was written. One is the constant failure to mention instances of Shelley's extraordinary generosity and kindness to others. Maybe it was boring, to a 1970s writer, to mention the old women carried in out of the cold, the children fed, the money given away to strangers in hard times: but to leave most of it out badly distorts the reality of Shelley. He was no saint, but he was a remarkably kind person, and practical with it, and that central and salient characteristic is glossed over, though "gloss" is not quite the word. White's earlier biography is actually more comprehensive on this sort of thing.
The second issue is a grotesque mis-reading of the "Adelaide Shelley" affair, in which Shelley put his name down as the father of an Italian baby. Holmes invents from whole cloth an incident in which Shelley seduced the maid, turning her out of the house when she became pregnant. This is simply bizarre, as Holmes himself later acknowledged. In his next book, "Footsteps", Holmes concedes that not only was there no evidence in favour of this claim, but that it would have been completely out of character for all three of the key figures (Shelley, Claire Clairemont and the maid whose name, from memory, is something like Paola Foggi) who would have had to have been involved in Holmes' scenario.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
How is it possible that the world's largest online bookstore doesn't stock any biography of Shelley? He was, after all, not just a poet, but a fascinating character even without taking his literary accomplishments into account. I found Mr. Holmes's great biography in an Oxford, UK bookstore. And I must say it's amazing. I can't believe it was written by a 28-year-old. The research done here is nothing short of astounding. I must say, however, that the long pages devoted to Shelley's political creed and activities can get a bit wearisome - at least for me, who was more interested in the personal and literary aspects of his life, than in the political ones - but then, I understand that this reflects my personal preferences, and admit it doesn't much deter from the book's qualities. In fact, you could say it makes it more solid and thorough, in including a part of Shelley's life that has been traditionally neglected by his biographers.
A nice feature of Mr. Holmes's work is the description of the physical places in Shelley's life - for instance, the house where he was born and the ones which he inhabited during his years in Italy. All of these had some endearing and fascinating trait, from the rolling lawns of Field Place to the sun-soaked terrace of the Casa Magni. I only wish these descriptions had been more in-depth, since it is obvious that Shelley often built strong emotional connections with the places where he lived. I look forward to reading "Footsteps", which is the account of Holmes's literary travels and research, and which is already awaiting me in my bookshelf!
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 13, 1998
Format: Paperback
As a Shelley lover I've read numerous biographies, but this will be the last one as no amount of research or writing talent can improve on this book. Richard Holmes clearly did an enormous amount of research and his attention to detail is extraordinary. His love for his subject comes through strongly yet he remains objective throughout and is not blind to Shelley's flaws. His descriptive writing also paints a fascinating picture of the interesting and tough times during which Shelley lived and his wonderful vocabulary had me reaching for my dictionary many times!. He pays as much attention to the other colourful characters in Shelley's life as he does to the poet himself. His analysis of Shelley's complex psyche is intense and I believe his perceptions are very accurate. This book impressed and excited me more than any biography I have ever read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on August 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
After reading Miranda Seymour's biography of Mary Shelley I looked around for an account of P. B. Shelley and found this excellent biography of the poet. The whole generation and family from Mary Wollstonecraft onwards makes a dynastic epic, and a good history of the social politics of a radical generation living through the Restoration. There the ethereal Shelley myth is corrected by a portrait of a radical who had the courage and will to attempt to extract himself form his aristocratic family and class to pursue a radical dream in the unforgiving world of the reactionary wake of the French Revolution. Literary portraits of Shelley still suffer the fate of the poet's work after his death when his reputation was crippled by the conservative age against he revolted. It reminds one of the fate of the Sixties in the minds of the (current) powers that be. It is significant, and mostly forgotten, that the early Queen Mab that so shocked the establishments of the times passed into the bloodstream of the left via the radical underground press, thence to influence the early labor movements and Chartists. Meanwhile the image of Shelley was sanctified by several packs of lies as the quality of genius forced its way into anthological immortality.
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