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Shelley: The Pursuit

4.41  ·  Rating Details ·  228 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
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, d ...more
Paperback, 880 pages
Published May 31st 2003 by NYRB Classics (first published 1974)
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New York Review Books - Classics
378th out of 424 books — 531 voters
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Literary biographies
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Abimelech Abimelech
Jan 18, 2014 Abimelech Abimelech rated it it was amazing
Shelves: winter

I know that you're reading this. You have spent your life wondering why nobody except the NYRB has acknowledged your first study, Shelley: The Pursuit. Perhaps you've outdone Ellmann, and you've found the decadeslong hardway: Western society worships Joyce. He was homeless, drunk, blind, purseistant, insane: No one else could get away with spending seventeen years on a book like that. That madness is what we set at the English 203 Altar: There is no room for you, for your precious Shelley.
Aug 31, 2011 Geoff rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, biophilia
I'll be writing something on this the next few days. It's no small task. Easily the best biography I've ever read. Sorry Ellmann and Boyd, Joyce and Nabokov are towering subjects, but this takes the prize.
Feb 23, 2015 Alexander rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite
Shelley: The Pursuit is a rigorously researched delineation of "Mad Shelley", the fervid Romantic whose tragically curtailed literary corpus conjures clearer than any images of the sublime and intellectually pure, ofttimes resembling a narrative explosion more than typical day-by-day exegesis. Holmes is unflinching: Shelley appears, at once, a wide-eyed scamp, a relentless pursuer of the preternatural, a monomaniac for the Gothic, an aristocratic puritan, a liberal apostle; a cauldron of intensi ...more
Jan 29, 2012 Bob rated it it was amazing
Nearing the end of these 800 pages, I began to think it's a good thing Shelley didn't live past 29. One of the pleasures of this kind of lengthy literary biography is it assumes you know (or are willing to learn, on the fly) a great deal about the history of the time (early 19th century England, in this case), all of the other significant literary, artistic and intellectual figures of the day, masses of detail about the architecture and topography of multiple Italian and Swiss locations (not to ...more
Dec 04, 2015 Chris rated it really liked it
If I am being honest, I will admit that at times I found this book to be a little dry. But if there was ever a class of presenting a difficult subject warts and all, and yet transmitting the love that the writer has for the subject - this book is it.

Holmes' book was the book that re-launched Shelley or whatever you want to say instead of that.

Honestly, I think Holmes deserves a prize for untangling the whole Mary/Shelley/Claire mess and being fair to all the parties.

You like the Romantics, read
Jul 08, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: in-class
A detailed, fascinating portrait of Shelley. It certainly doesn't do Shelley any big favors, but it gives an interesting context for his works.
Jared Colley
May 14, 2007 Jared Colley rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in late British Romanticism
Shelves: biography
This has got to be the best biography on any British Romantic figure. Richard Holmes is a master biographer; he makes it an art... Well worth the time spent to conquer such a massive book.
Sep 19, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it
A marvel.
Linda Howe Steiger
Oct 16, 2016 Linda Howe Steiger rated it it was amazing
Very long, and I worked at this over several months, stopping to read long pieces of Shelley's work, as well as various novels as they attracted me away from this full length biography of a poet who lived a fairly short life. A haunting story in lots of ways. Well worth the time and effort. It's a long work, but not encyclopedic with regard to detail. Holmes knows how to tell as story as well as do the research. Reading biographies of poets is an enlightening process if they are sufficiently dee ...more
Oct 21, 2016 Martin rated it it was amazing
What a ridiculous, beautiful, genius asshole he was. Holmes tells the tale well, not playing particular favourites with any of the cast of characters (all of which are, in their own ways, flawed to some extent), and his literary analysis of Shelley's work, while necessarily limited, is clear and interesting. One of the best biographies I've read.
Jack Bates
Jan 02, 2016 Jack Bates rated it really liked it
This is an exhaustive account of Shelley's life and it's pretty exhausting as well. Very well researched and fascinating, if only to prove, once again, that while poets are interesting, and important (Shelley for his political views as well as his verse) my God they're so annoying. I have yet to read a biography of a poet that didn't just make me tired at the thought of trying to live with them. Actually to be fair Shelley gets a lot less annoying as he gets older, so it's a shame on a number of ...more
Jun 19, 2016 Caroline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although I'm not a big fan of romantic poets, I've been interested in Mary Shelley off and on, and when I ran across a mention of this book someplace, I put it on my to-read list. The Pratt library has tons of older books and so I was able to read it.

Refreshing to read an old-fashioned literary biography after some of the postmodern snotty biographies I've read in the past year - I much prefer it when the author is objective about their subject but predisposed to be fond of them, and likes their
Jan 31, 2015 Martha rated it it was amazing
This is a long book - I was a bit intimidated by its heft - but it never slowed down. As Shelley and his family moved and moved from one continent to the next, from one city to the next from one house to the next, I never wanted not to follow them. Holmes admires Shelley but doesn't flinch at the bad behavior. Also, he doesn't come to ready conclusions but gives you the facts as he has found them and lets you consider them and have your own thoughts about what they might mean.

I had to keep remi
Aug 19, 2008 Catherine is currently reading it
I am reading this book in preparation for a production of a play about the Romantic poets. I am finding it a good source of background information about the Shelleys and their set. After beginning it, I discovered it was used as a source by Howard Brenton, the playwright of the play in which I am acting!
May 05, 2008 John rated it it was amazing
I should re-read this biography, now that I am reading Ann Wroe's new biography of Shelly. My recollection of this book is that it contains a very exciting and fast-paced story of Shelly's life, focusing on the events and circumstances of his life. Among the best of Holmes' uniformly wonderful biographies.
Sheikh Tajamul
Sheikh Tajamul rated it really liked it
Jan 07, 2016
Rose rated it it was amazing
Mar 20, 2014
Steven McCracken
Steven McCracken rated it it was amazing
Jul 05, 2015
Fredrika Engblom
Fredrika Engblom rated it really liked it
Jan 21, 2012
Sara rated it it was amazing
Dec 24, 2015
Dean rated it it was amazing
Nov 03, 2012
Our Daisy
Our Daisy rated it it was amazing
May 15, 2013
Jane rated it it was amazing
Jul 07, 2012
Brett Dupré
Brett Dupré rated it it was amazing
Jul 24, 2014
Laura Dimmett
Laura Dimmett rated it really liked it
Apr 29, 2012
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Yuri Hospodar rated it really liked it
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Teddy Kristiansen
Teddy Kristiansen rated it it was amazing
Jul 31, 2014
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Jane Ireland rated it it was amazing
Jan 26, 2014
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Aug 25, 2015
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NYRB Classics: Shelley: The Pursuit, by Richard Holmes 1 6 Oct 30, 2013 05:51PM  
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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
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