Shelley: The Pursuit is the book with which Richard Holmes—the finest literary biographer of our day—made his name. Dispensing with the long-established Victorian picture of Shelley as a blandly ethereal character, Holmes projects a startling image of "a darker and more earthly, crueler and more capable figure." Expelled from college, disowned by his aristocratic father, driven from England, Shelley led a life marked from its beginning to its early end by a violent rejection of society; he embraced rebellion and disgrace without thought of the cost to himself or to others. Here we have the real Shelley—radical agitator, atheist, apostle of free love, but above all a brilliant and uncompromising poetic innovator, whose life and work have proved an essential inspiration to poets as varied as W.B. Yeats and Allen Ginsberg.
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'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 SpenderFrom the Back Cover:
'Shelley: the Pursuit', which won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1974 when it was originally published, was Richard Holmes's extraordinary first book. Now, after twenty years, it has established itself as a classic account of one of the great rebels in Romantic literature. 'It was an attempt,' reflects Holmes in his new Preface, 'to write biography as a form of modern epic.'
Shelley was born in Sussex in 1792 and was drowned in the Gulf of Spezia in Tuscany in 1822, a brief life packed with love affairs, alarms and excursions. Holmes's book offers a serious critical reappraisal of Shelley as a man, a thinker and a writer; all his prose and poetry is carefully re-examined and a detailed portrait of his macabre imaginative life slowly assembled. In his literary, sexual and political philosophy he was striving for standards of freedom abhorrent to most of the society of his day, and felt as a result a sense of being exiled, both spiritually and geographically.
Whatever his spiritual isolation, Shelley was a child of his era, and the book builds up a sharp picture of the political and social conditions in Regency England and post-Napoleonic Europe. His intense friendships with the anarchist philosopher William Godwin, the satirist Thomas Love Peacock, the brooding aristocratic poet Byron, the brilliant young novelist Mary Godwin (who became Shelley's second wife and – not coincidentally – the author of 'Frankenstein'), and many other remarkable figures of that explosive age fill Holmes's pages with a vivid panorama of revolutionary idealism and recklessness. To this is added the tortuous private story of Shelley's romantic liaisons, most problematically with Mary's half-sister Claire Clairmont, complications which affected both the peculiar tenor of his daily life and the remotest conceptions of his poetry.
"The best biography of Shelley ever written… Mr Holmes makes Shelley's character entirely convincing by showing us the poet at every stage of his development acting upon, and reacting to, people and events… The great emphasis that Mr Holmes lays on Shelley's politics, philosophy and social activities corrects the usual view of an extraordinarily idealised, ethereal, spiritualised 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
"Richard Holmes's towering biography… was the first book I read about Shelley, and it led me to perhaps fifty others, none of which came within a million mile of Richard Holmes's."
PAUL FOOT, in his book 'Red Shelley'
"If the art of biography was ever damned, 'Shelley: The Pursuit' redeems it."
NEW YORK TIMES
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Book Description Penguin Books, 1987. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0140158804
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