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Shelley: The Pursuit

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  314 ratings  ·  35 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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Average rating 4.40  · 
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 ·  314 ratings  ·  35 reviews

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Sean Barrs the Bookdragon
As far as I’m concerned, this is the only decent biography of Shelley. Richard Holmes writes with stunning detail and clarity. The amount of research that has gone into this vast book is incredible. I learnt so much about him here.

All reading comes from a personal angle, and, for me, Holmes underplays one drastic element of Shelley’s life: his diet. Shelley’s vegetarianism truly influenced much of his beliefs, his politics, his protests and his poetry. It is such a large part of who he was. Whi
Apr 10, 2010 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.
Nov 23, 2015 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
Jan 29, 2012 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 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Finally I finished it.
Oct 21, 2016 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.
Brian Willis
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book on April 13, 2001 at the Keats-Shelley Museum in Rome. It was a no-brainer. I was there on a Keats pilgrimage but was also eager to read about Shelley.

This will always be the definitive biography of Percy Shelley. I often think that Shelley mirrors William Blake in a number of ways: radical in vision, scorned as mad by the general public, largely neglected, unknown, and unpublished in their lifetime, both were nonetheless the hidden "MVPs" of the Romantic movement. While Byron
Lona Manning
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people interested in Shelley and the Romantic period.
Shelves: writing-research
Just have to add, consider the situation of 24-year-old Mary Shelley in the summer of 1822. After four pregnancies, she had one surviving child. She was pregnant once again and feeling ill. Against her wishes, her husband took a summer house at the Bay of Lirici and blithely left all of the house management duties to her while he spent money they didn't have on a sailboat, where he spent all his time. Mary is sitting, feeling unwell and exhausted on the terrace, trying to cope with the blazing h ...more
Jack Bates
Oct 18, 2015 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
Jan 18, 2015 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
Three of my favorite literary biographies are Richard Holmes's two-volume Coleridge work and the single volume on Samuel Johnson. So I was pleased to find this out-of-print Shelley bio at a used book sale. I found it tough going, however. Mostly out of ignorance, I'm not a fan of Shelley's longer poems. I also found him, at least in this biography, to be an unsympathetic figure who ruined the lives of several women and, despite many financial difficulties, never seemed to consider WORKING. I bel ...more
May 05, 2008 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.
Jared Colley
May 14, 2007 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.
Apr 17, 2008 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.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Holmes, in this first biography showed all the skills that I enjoyed some years ago reading his work on Coleridge. He quotes extensively from the works and relates them brilliantly to the circumstances and the people's lives. I enjoyed Coleridge more, probably because I found more empathy with him while Shelley became more like the 'mad, bad and dangerous to know' Byron. In my more sympathetic times during this long reading, I found Shelley as a victim of his class, his tyrannical father and his ...more
Pauline  Butcher Bird
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not only was Shelley a stunning human being, a forward-looking thinker and poet of renown, he was also very brave. Sent down from Oxford university and banished by his family for publicly denouncing Christianity, criticising the monarchy, and expounding free love for men and women, he also put out leaflets to support working men and encouraged unrest and demands for better working conditions, pay, and leisure. When some men were executed for these demands, he set up schemes to support their fami ...more
Les Frances
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary, compellingly readable biography with beautifully clear sensitive forthright vigorous subtle language and conception worthy of Shelley himself. This biography is an amazing achievement. Holmes gives us the unique, complex, dazzling and exasperating subject in intimate connection with his fascinating intergenerational political, historical, social, psycho-familial, intellectual, literary and critical setting. The scholarship required to achieve this is slightly mind-boggling but the ...more
Lance Grabmiller
How does one die before their 30th birthday and still leave behind enough material for a 700 page biography? Here it is, warts and all. By the time it gets past his disastrous college attempt, this is nearly a weekly, and often daily, account of Shelley's life. Some of the longer bits of literary analysis, where they don't bear directly on S helley's biography or ideas, gets a bit tedious but this is really an extraordinary work.
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
You will never need to read another biography on Shelley ever again after finishing this book.

Not only is it very informative, it is also an exceedingly easy read.
Les Wilson
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
An excellent biography of a great poet.
bryon stone
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent review of Shelley's life and letters

A great biography. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I am sure I'll be coming back to it again when I want to immerse myself in Shelley another time.
Alex Obrigewitsch
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This expertly researched text attempts to express the life of Shelley by scouring through the minutiae of his biography and entwining what is found with a devloping and mobile thought. Holmes sets himself an impossible task: to bring forth the life and thought of another as emergent and unfolding life. And Holmes draws very near to this impossible achievement, not merely tracing that life but seeking to draw it forth once more from the realm of death. An orphic attempt at biography which seeks t ...more
Chase Insteadman Mountbatten
"I shall try to domesticate in some antique feudal castle [...] As to the ghosts I shall welcome them, altho Harriet protests against my invoking them, but they would tell tales of old, and it would add to the picturesqueness of the scenery to see their thin forms flitting thro the vaulted charnels."

"Hoggs comes. He describes an apparition of a lady, whom he had loved, appearing him after her death; she came in the twilight summer night, and was hardly visible; [...] visited him many successive
Linda Steiger
Oct 16, 2016 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
Dec 18, 2015 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
Aug 19, 2008 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!
Dec 08, 2009 marked it as to-read
Alan Clarke
May 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Well written and very enlightening , always great to find our more about Shelly
Matthu Stull
this is a looooong biography for a person who died at 29 !!! incredibly obsessively researched....
Simon Harrison
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Completely overturned my view of Shelley the poet, and enriched my view of Shelley the man. Incredible book!
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NYRB Classics: Shelley: The Pursuit, by Richard Holmes 1 8 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