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Richard Holmes
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4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  176 ratings  ·  21 reviews
In this gripping book, Holmes takes us from France's Massif Central, where he followed the route taken by Robert Louis Stevenson and a sweet-natured donkey, to Mary Wollstonecraft's Revolutionary Paris, to the Italian villages where Percy Shelley tried to cast off the strictures of English morality and marriage. Footsteps is a wonderful exploration of the ties between biog ...more
Published by Viking Books (first published January 1st 1985)
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Jun 29, 2008 Tim rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes either travel or literature
Subtitled "Adventures of a Romantic Biographer," this book gives the backstory of Holmes' youthful pursuit of the places inhabited by his literary heroes, a practice that led him to become a masterful biographer (primarily of the Romantic poets.) He traces the path of Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey, Wordsworth and Mary Wollstonecraft's experiences in Paris during the French Revolution, Shelley's wanderings around Italy, and Nerval in Paris.

This is an exciting edge of biography, not the facts
“il buon tempo arriva”

This informative, but rather dull, biography, how-to-write a biography, autobiography of Richard holmes, who wrote about Shelley, Coleridge, and “dr Johnson and mr savage” (winner of the james tait black award) does have some interesting bits, about how holmes went about researching his topics and what angle he was coming from to write a good biography.
So, from above you see shelley’s Italian motto (he inscribed it on a ring, kind of maybe our first hipster? Shelley?) , whi
This is one of the best books I've ever read. It was assigned for a Stanford class in Biography. Following the footsteps of biographical subjects of the past, he relates their lives to contemporary
France (contemporary to the time of his writing, which spanned his ages 18 - 30).
From Library Journal
Follow the footsteps of this absorbing and delightful author as he attempts to trace the paths of four sometimes intractable, but always fascinating, Romantic writers. Robert Louis Stevenson's travels
Diane Challenor
I really enjoyed this book. It was made up of four biographical feature stories related to the authors research. One about Robert Louis Stevenson, one about Mary Wollstonecraft and one about Percy Shelly. I enjoyed the first three stories very much. The fourth story was about Gerard de Nerval, a person I'm not familiar with, nor with the literary life of France in the 1800s, so I skimmed through the fourth story because I couldn't connect with it. that said, I love the way Richard Holmes writes ...more
Gavin Scott

Fascinating short biographical sketches by a master of the art. His stories of Bohemian Paris inspired me to create the TV series "The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne"
Footsteps is an intriguing work tracing the captivating bohemian lives of Robert Louis Stevenson, Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Gerard de Nerval. Both author and reader are drawn dangerously/excitingly into solipsistic identification with these famous historical figures. But these moments of identification are recovered by factual accounts/details and also by the ongoing and intriguing commentary on the role and history of biographical writing itself. Implicit in the text is an argumen ...more
This was a very entertaining travelogue/biography. Holmes does discuss the intrinsic relationship between biographer and subject and manages to bring the biography of his subjects in to his separate sections of text. He does a nice job of bookending the Romantic movement in Europe. However, my one argument is his treatment of Wollstonecraft during her pregnancy with Fanny Imlay. He seems to think that Wollstonecraft abandons the concepts of French liberty that brought her to the Revolution. I fe ...more
Fantastic book written by a biographer who wanted to be a poet and achieves same in prose. He follows in the footsteps of Stevenson (robert louis), mary wollstonecraft, shelley (having written THE PURSUIT which started me on my current film project) and gerar de nerval. He uses nature and photographs in addition to manuscripts and handwriting to explore his subjects and has lines as: "... leaning back, saw the Milky Way astonishly bright through the pine tops, and felt something indescribabel—li ...more
Sarah Harkness
So the first three quarters of this book I would give at least four stars to, I absolutely loved the Robert Louis Stevenson journey, and was intrigued by Mary Wolstonecraft and the French Revolution - beautifully and amusingly written, warmer than any formal literary biography can be, It made me want to write as well. But I got a little bogged down in Shelley - I don't know his poetry well enough, which didn't help. And then I can't even remember the name of the fourth character, he was French a ...more
Miranda Mouillot
This beautiful book succeeds in being both a biographical work and a thought-provoking meditation on what it means to write biography. Thought-provoking, lively, and haunting.
For those of us who enjoy a well written [auto]biography, this one stands out. Richard Holmes writes in the 80's with a mature and informed style about his travels in France and Italy 20 years earlier following the Romantics - Stephenson with his donkey, Mary Wollstonecroft inside the French Revolution, Mary and Percy Shelley in their last years in Italy, and the unknown (to me) French Gerard de Nerval. Holmes is in the middle of the narrative as he explores the writer's worlds and comes to some ...more
Peter Pinkney
A modern take on a leisurely journey
When our reading group discussed this book, it provoked a lively discussion. We were all reminded of various things we liked (or didn’t like) about the four writers whose footsteps Holmes traced from France where he followed the steps of Robert Louis Stevenson to Italy where Percy and Mary Shelly lived a bohemian life style. We also learned about Mary Wollstonecraft and Gerard Nerval. Holmes offers a unique approach to biography combining insight into his subjects as well as the challenge of his ...more
Gerard Hogan
Am afraid I didn't enjoy this one. The author lost himself and me in the pursuit of the art of biography.
This may be a book for academics or professional biographers but the common man (me) was lost.
Richard Boakes
This beautiful book is part biography, part study of what biography is and part investigation into the links between travel, history and biography. If all that sounds too heavy, it's not: Holmes' prose is accessible and lyrical (hey, he's a 'romantic' biographer after all) and there is a lot to learn without feeling like you're learning. A book to treasure and lose yourself in.
I adored this book! Richard Holmes literally follows in the footsteps of writers he is writing biographies of to try to feel, see, experience what may have inspired them. We get to share in the vicarious travels not just of the author but the writers themselves: Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, and several others. If you like travel narratives, this is a terrific read!
Liz De Coster
A blend of biography and reflection on writing and understanding biographies. Each part was interesting in and of itself, and the four parts tied together well. If you're already familiar with the people Holmes writes about, though, I would considering holding back - I don't think the biographies are sufficiently extensive to provide much 'new' information.
Entertaining, anecdotal account of following in the footsteps of several authors (Stevenson, Shelley, Nerval, etc.) and figuring out what it means to explore another life and become a biographer.
Paul Hughes

Fascinating amalgam of a memoir and a meditation on the nature of biography.
Allison Levy
Highly recommended for anyone interested in biography and process.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.
See this thread for more information.

Biographer Richard Holmes was born in London, England on 5 November 1945 and educated at Downside School and Churchill College, Cambridge. His first book, Shelley:The Pursuit, was published in 1974 and won a Somerset Maugham Award. The first volume of his biography of the po
More about Richard Holmes...
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air Coleridge: Early Visions, 1772-1804 Shelley: The Pursuit Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1804-1834

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