From the great biographer of the Romantics, This Long Pursuit is a sweeping exploration of a career devoted to the art of life-writing.
Thirty years ago Richard Holmes published Footsteps - a revolutionary novel that would become a best seller and influence profoundly a whole generation of younger writers.
The Long Pursuit is a companion audiobook in that it ranges widely over the arts, science, poetry and inspiration to reflect upon the practice and importance of biographical writing.
Holmes wraps his arguments in an exquisite cloak of many colours, sewn from stories of myriad different lives. One section of the audiobook is devoted to the biography of women - particularly scientific women who have long suffered the condescension of history, Margaret Cavendish and the lost women of science, Madame de Stael, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Somerville amongst them. The audiobook includes a lighthearted look at how the popular reputations of some favourite Romantic figures - including the waterlogged poet Shelley, the chocolate-box painter Thomas Lawrence, the opium-soaked lecturer Coleridge and the lunatic bard William Blake - have altered spectacularly over time and the river of biography.
With an author lauded for his magnificent novel The Age of Wonder and for his earlier biographies of Shelley, Coleridge and Johnson, This Long Pursuit contains some of the finest biographical writing ever published.
©2016 Richard Holmes (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers
"Exuberant.... Holmes suffuses his book with the joy, hope and wonder of the revolutionary era. Reading it is like a holiday in a sunny landscape, full of fascinating bypaths that lead to unexpected vistas...it succeeds inspiringly." (John Carey, Sunday Times)
"I am a Richard Holmes addict. He is an incomparable biographer, but in The Age of Wonder, he rises to new heights and becomes the biographer not of a single figure, but of an entire unique period, when artist and scientist could share common aims and ambitions and a common language.... Only Holmes, who is so deeply versed in the people and culture of 18th-century science, could tell their story with such verve and resonance for our own time." (Oliver Sacks)
"The Age of Wonder gives us...a new model for scientific exploration and poetic expression in the Romantic period. Informative and invigorating, generous and beguiling, it is, indeed, wonderful." (Jenny Uglow, Guardian)
"This is a book to linger over, to savour the tantalising details of the minor figures.... The Age of Wonder allows readers to recapture the combined thrill of emerging scientific order and imaginative creativity." (Lisa Jardine, Financial Times)
"If ever there was an argument for a biographical analysis of complex scientific and technological history, this is it...well paced and rich in detail.... Heartbreaking accounts of hope and fears, ambitions and disappointments dance along the pages. Even the choice of pictures gives us new insights into old favourites....There is no dry page in this visceral, spirited and sexy account." (The Times)
"Richard Holmes's stellar collective biography...gives a gripping account of the scientific research that inspired a sense of wonder in poets and experimenters alike...fascinating...this beautifully crafted book deserves all the praise it will undoubtedly attract. Well-researched and vividly written The Age of Wonder will fascinate scientists and poets alike." (Literary Review)
Writer and audiobook reviewer.
Richard Holmes has an illustrious career as a biographer of mainly eighteenth and nineteenth century figures, and as an inspired researcher, throughout all those years (he is 71 now), he has kept meticulous notes and findings collected in 200 notebooks. It has indeed been a Long Pursuit which he reflects upon in this packed-full collection of essays, musings, lectures, or however you want to classify the 15 chapters everyone of which brims with interest.
The first 5 chapters focus on the art of biography since its beginnings and are reflective, wide-ranging, analytical and also very generous to biographers before him and especially to his contemporaries and those biographers who have come to the fore in the last few decades.
The next 5 chapters could be stand-alone essays on individual 18th and 19th century women who, apart from Mary Wollstonecraft, have not received as much attention as male figures of the time. Holmes's focus on science throughout is fascinating and Mary Somerville and Margaret Cavendish in particular, their lives as crammed with as much interest as their experiments, made astonishing contributions to scientific discovery - and to breaking out from social boundaries.
The final 5 chapters called 'Afterlives' cover the lives and posthumous legacies of Keats, Coleridge and Shelley, about whom Holmes has written massive biographies, and the artist Thomas Lawrence. The background to Alexander Gilchrist's 19th century biography of William Blake is a complete human biography on its own, completed by Anne Gilchrist after her husband died of scarlet fever caught from their little daughter who survived.
There is bound to be some repetition from Holmes's already published books, but this is after all subtitled 'Reflections of a Romantic Biographer', so that is inevitable and appropriate. What I loved was not just the sweeping over-views, but the details (a 17th century anti-hunting poem; the links between Humphrey Davy's experiments and Coleridge's metaphors; the discovery of comets by F.W.Herschel's sister Caroline...).
You can miss some listening to a book like this, even when well read (despite some odd cadences to the sentences) as this. I'm reading the book next!
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