By Richard Holmes,

Book cover of Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer

Book description

Richard Holmes knew he had become a true biographer the day his bank bounced a check that he had inadvertently dated 1772. Because for the acclaimed chronicler of Shelley and Coleridge, biography is a physical pursuit, an ardent and arduous retracing of footsteps that may have vanished centuries before.

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Why read it?

4 authors picked Footsteps as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I first read this many years ago and it has stayed with me. Every so often, I return to it in order to immerse myself in its wonderful prose and insights. It combines travelogue with biography, detective work with a probing inner exploration and is both an account of a physical journey and a remap of the writer’s imagination. He begins with his homage to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey and describes his own trek over the Cevennes. He starts out with the idea that he will be a poet and finishes his walk having been led "far…

Richard Holmes is a wonderful biographer – at once romantic and erudite, stylish and empathetic – and this is my favourite of his books. In each of its four chapters, Holmes follows in the footsteps of a different nineteenth-century author: Robert Louis Stevenson, Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Gerard Nerval. The book contains elements of travel-writing, biography, autobiography, and meta-biographical reflection, and adds up to a masterclass in the art of life-writing.

From Edmund's list on writers’ lives.

A book about biography, with wonderful examples of not just his own but any serious searcher’s methodology. As Holmes writes, the biographer is “a sort of tramp permanently knocking at the kitchen window and secretly hoping he might be invited in for supper.” It’s true!  In my own books I have engaged in the kind of dialogue with my subject that Holmes describes as leading to “a relationship of trust” between biographer and subject. But as he points out, while trust is what one seeks implicitly to achieve, there is always a good chance that that trust has been misplaced:…

By the time Richard Holmes published Footsteps, in 1985, he’d already written critically acclaimed biographies of a number of Romantic ‘greats’: Percy Bysshe Shelley, Théophile Gautier, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Gérard de Nerval. Here he turns the same sympathetic attention to what it’s like to follow in the footsteps of other writers, even recreating Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1879 Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.

From Fiona's list on literary biographies.

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