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Shelley: The Pursuit (New York Review Books) Paperback – May 31, 2003
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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.Read more ›
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!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
"Shelley: The Pursuit" by Richard Holmes is one of the best biographies I have ever come across. While often overly critical of Shelly--and often for good reason--Holmes recaptures... Read morePublished on June 11, 2013 by Kevin M. Derby
"Shelley: The Pursuit" is, along with Richard Ellmann's "James Joyce" probably the greatest literary biography of the 20th century. Read morePublished on May 3, 2013 by jacques montaigne