Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge

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Overview

The story of the legendary friendship between Wordsworth and Coleridge

The friendship between William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge produced dazzling results. From it came Lyrical Ballads, the volume that kick-started the Romantic Movement in England. Rarely have two such gifted writers cooperated so closely. They met in 1795 when both were in their early twenties, and in the euphoria of mutual discovery these brilliant and idealistic young men planned a poem that would...

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Overview

The story of the legendary friendship between Wordsworth and Coleridge

The friendship between William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge produced dazzling results. From it came Lyrical Ballads, the volume that kick-started the Romantic Movement in England. Rarely have two such gifted writers cooperated so closely. They met in 1795 when both were in their early twenties, and in the euphoria of mutual discovery these brilliant and idealistic young men planned a poem that would succeed where the French Revolution failed—a poem that would, quite literally, change the world. In this wonderfully lively and readable account, acclaimed author Adam Sisman explores their passionate and tempestuous bond and the way in which rivalry bred tension between them. Though much has been written about this extraordinary duo, no previous biographer has considered them together. The result offers insights into the rich yet neglected topic of friendship and tantalizing glimpses of the creative process itself.

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Editorial Reviews

James Campbell
Adam Sisman has made the bond between Wordsworth and Coleridge the centerpiece of The Friendship, a colorful history that also functions as an enjoyable group biography.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The close (but ill-fated) friendship between William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously spawned England's Romantic revolution in poetry. Although the men barely meet until almost halfway into this narrative, Sisman (who won a National Book Critics Circle award for Boswell's Presumptuous Task) provides an extensive background to their relationship, delineating in particular the political landscape that so influenced both men's thinking. The book opens with Wordsworth's travels through revolutionary France and his growing intimacy with his sister, Dorothy. But as soon as the charismatic Coleridge enters the scene in 1797, Wordsworth recedes-perhaps because, as a reluctant letter writer, he left fewer resources for Sisman to draw on. Still, Sisman elegantly weaves the two men's stories together. Knowing how people tend to justify their own actions, Sisman is appropriately skeptical of their own accounts of their lives, using them to propose the most likely scenarios rather than as hard fact. Though lengthy, this book engages the reader's attention, freely mixing larger questions of politics with gossip, which helps bring to life figures long reified in the public imagination. At times there is too much detail, which doesn't enhance an already overloaded story explored extensively elsewhere. But Sisman does open up to the general reader the personal interactions that led to the birth of Romanticism. 16 pages of photos. (Feb. 19) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge-the two are forever linked as authors of Lyrical Ballads, whose publication marks the beginning of English Romanticism in literature. Most biographers have chosen to focus on one writer, often to the detriment of the other. Sisman (Boswell's Presumptuous Task) opts instead to explore in marvelous depth the relationship of these two significant writers. On the surface, they have vastly different personalities, and they share neither religious nor political beliefs. However, through meticulous examination of their diaries, letters, and poems, Sisman provides rich insights into their changing relationship through the years. Readers will feel as though they're walking along the English countryside as these two great minds discuss and compose their poetry. Sisman pinpoints with extraordinary exactness their first (1795) and last meeting. He has told the story of this friendship more honestly and accurately than either of the two principals would have likely been able to do. Recommended for academic libraries.-Anthony Pucci, Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A close and charitable look at the rise and fall of one of the most famous friendships in literary history. Sisman, who left the publishing business to write literary history (Boswell's Presumptuous Task, 2001), traverses a portion of a vast but well-explored terrain with his latest. Coleridge, Wordsworth-is there something to add to what already resides in the myriad volumes about these two men, their writings, their coevals, their times? Not a lot. Sisman does offer some new perspectives, but mostly this is a summary-a brisk, informed and generally disinterested one (he avoids partisanship)-of the relationship between two extraordinary men. Early in their friendship, Coleridge began to recognize his friend's superior abilities as a poet, and for years he urged Wordsworth to devote himself to a lengthy masterwork, The Recluse, which Wordsworth could never complete. Sisman does a fine job of rehearsing the stories of the birth of Lyrical Ballads (and the complications of its revisions and subsequent editions), of the closeness between Wordsworth and his devoted sister, Dorothy, of Coleridge's miserable marriage to Sara, of his passion for another Sara (Hutchinson), of his decline into self-doubt and drugs and ill health. Sisman also shows plainly the growing professional frustrations of Wordsworth, whose early volumes were savaged by critics and who responded with what even his friends characterized as arrogance. Great literary names walk these pages: Godwin, Lamb, Hazlitt, Southey, De Quincey. The final chapters-chronicling the misunderstandings, jealousies, resentments, silences-make for emotional reading. The maps and illustrations (unseen) should be helpful; one wishes, as well, for achronology. Though the menu is familiar, lovers of the early Romantics will enjoy the meal.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641885068
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 2/15/2007
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Sisman is the author of A.J.P. Taylor: A Biography and Boswell's Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations     ix
Maps
Wordsworth and Coleridge's West Country     xii
Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lakes     xiii
Introduction     xv
Prologue     xxi
Strangers
Revolution     3
Reaction     27
Idealism     61
Sedition     86
Friends
Contact     123
Retreat     151
Communion     176
Collaboration     213
Separation     252
Amalgamation     280
Acquaintances
Subordination     329
Estrangement     381
Coleridge's Plan for The Recluse     427
Acknowledgments     433
Notes     435
Index     457
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