The Friendship: Wordsworth & Coleridge

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9780143112969: The Friendship: Wordsworth & Coleridge

In Adam Sisman's previous book, the award-winning Boswell's Presumptuous Task, he inventively recounted the making of the most distinguished biography in the English language, James Boswell's Life of Johnson. Now, with The Friendship, Sisman details the relationship of two of the most important Romantic poets, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The first modern biography to consider them together, The Friendship is a wonderfully readable account that evokes these two extraordinary personalities and situates them in their time, exploring the influence each writer had on the other, as well as providing glimpses of the creative process itself.

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Review:

Many books have been written about William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge that cover their biographies and make critical assessments of their work. In Adam Sisman's The Friendship, for the first time the bond between these two poets is given center stage. The friendship flourished in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The poets met in 1795 when both were in their early twenties, two young idealists disappointed by the lack of expected change in their world following the revolution. They wanted to write a poem that would change the world, that would be accessible to all and would fire the imagination of the most humble. This desire led to the publication of Lyrical Ballads, the beginning of the English Romantic movement, which included Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey."

How did their friendship affect their work? Sisman shows the ways that their bond created competitive tension and fueled their creativity to even greater poetic achievement than might have been achieved alone. The political and social situation of the time was very influential on them, as well as their individual families and romances. They were passionate in all regards, reaching great heights and great depths of feeling. Ultimately, the two men became estranged, and then effected a tenuous reconciliation--one much talked about among their friends and acquaintances, because they had both become famous. Although Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy despaired of Coleridge, believing that he would never stop drinking and taking opium, and though their professional differences came to separate them, while they collaborated they created poems of great beauty, encouraging one another to reach lofty heights in the realms of literary expression. For these two, for a glorious time, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. --Valerie Ryan

About the Author:

Adam Sisman is the author of A. J. P. Taylor: A Biography. He lives with his wife, the novelist Robyn Sisman, and their two children.

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