Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer

Overview

With this collection of short and fascinating biographical pieces, the award-winning biographer of Coleridge and Shelley offers a fascinating glimpse into the mysterious art of biography.

When researching, Richard Holmes has often become captivated by figures peripheral to his main subject, literary forays that he couldn’t resist. These tales–the forbidden love of John Stuart Mill, the bizarre novel of Oscar Wilde’s tragic grand-uncle, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s nightmarish ...

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Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer

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Overview

With this collection of short and fascinating biographical pieces, the award-winning biographer of Coleridge and Shelley offers a fascinating glimpse into the mysterious art of biography.

When researching, Richard Holmes has often become captivated by figures peripheral to his main subject, literary forays that he couldn’t resist. These tales–the forbidden love of John Stuart Mill, the bizarre novel of Oscar Wilde’s tragic grand-uncle, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s nightmarish yet cathartic final trip to Paris–are part of what comprises Sidetracks, a marvelously original that includes letters and travelogues, radio plays, essays, and minature biographies. This book is a rare literary feast and an exploration of the creative processes of one of our most preeminent biographers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Something like unanimous opinion now holds Richard Holmes to be our best living biographer.”–The Wall Street Journal

“No one explores biography’s metaphysical or for that matter technical aspects better than HolmesÉ. His books read like shouts of joy.”–New York Times Book Review

“These pieces undeniably confirm why Holmes has been setting new and challenging standards for how biographers approach their subjects, and they make for glorious reading indeed.”–Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Ben Downing
Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer gathers 20 pieces-mainly essays, but two BBC radio dramas as well written over the past 30 years. Followers of Mr. Holmes will be pleased to see him revisit, from new perspectives, such pet figures as Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft and Gerard de Nerval. What sets Mr. Holmes apart is his blend of rigorous scholarship, keen sympathy and infectious zeal for the form itself; he is at once a practitioner, historian and impassioned advocate of biography.
Wall Street Journal
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
These "b-sides and rarities" (stories that arrested Holmes's attention while he was investigating his principal subjects) of an eminent literary biographer, most recognized for his two-volume life of Coleridge, present an atypical mixture of autobiography, literary criticism and travel narrative recalling his 1985 Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer and spanning more than 30 years of a prolific career. Claiming "to find your subject, you must in some sense lose yourself along the way," Holmes looks back on how the fickle connection between a biographer and his subject comes into existence by examining his own writing. Just as Wallace Stevens incessantly struggled to "catch" his imagination in the very act of imagining, this collection shows that Holmes has always tried to "catch" himself in the very act of writing about someone or something else. Whether writing about the relatively obscure poet Chatterton (a "sidetrack" to Keats) or about figures as well-known as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (retracing the couple's last trip to Europe together), Holmes approaches biography as a kind of literary game, a puzzle whose pieces he puts together to tell readers why things happened as they did. The result is almost novelistic. A BBC radio play takes readers inside the minds of the poet Shelley and his wife, Mary. Though they lack an overall sense of unity, these pieces undeniably confirm why Holmes has been setting new and challenging standards for how biographers approach their subjects, and they make for glorious reading indeed. (Nov. 14) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Noted biographer Holmes (Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1804-1834) believes that no biography is ever definitive. That is to say, some of the material discovered by a biographer in the process of his research cannot be included in the book's final draft. Here, Holmes has found the form for his previously unused material in Sidetracks. The material may take the shape of an essay, a short story, a radio plays, a travel vignette, a letter, or fascinating bits and pieces of biographical significance. Holmes's subjects here include, among others, Gerard de Nerval; Thomas Chatterton; F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda; Mary Wollstonecraft; Percy Shelley; Robert Louis Stevenson; Voltaire; James Boswell; Samuel Johnson; and his cat. At one point in his writing on Chatterton, Holmes speaks of "verbal helium," a phrase that could be applied to the author's choices of form as he explores biography in a new way. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/00.]--Robert L. Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Holmes, a literary biographer and author of , presents 20 essays on his research into major and minor Romantic and Gothic writers and personalities, revealing the unexpected directions and tantalizing side trips that biographical research can uncover. Holmes received the Somerset Maugham Prize for his book . Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679757719
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/1/2001
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 1,439,357
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Holmes lives in England.
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Table of Contents

I. A Romantic Premontion
Introduction
Thomas Chatteron

II. Lost in France
Introduction
Monsieur Nadar
Gautier in London
Poor Pierrot
Inside the Tower

III. Five Gothic Shadows
Introduction
The Singular Affair of the Reverend Mr Barham
The Reverend Maturin and Mr Melmoth
M. R. James and Others
John Stuart Mill
Lord Lisle and the Tudor Nixon Tapes

IV. A Philosophical Love Story
Introduction
The Feminist and the Philosopher: A Love Story

V. Shelley’s Ghost
Introduction
Scrope’s Last Throw
To the Tempest Given

VI. Escapes to Paris
Introduction
Scott and Zelda: One Last Trip
A Summer with the Novelist
Letters from Paris
Voltaire’s Grin

VII. Homage to the Godfather
Introduction
Boswell’s Bicentenary
Boswell Among the Tulips
Dr. Johnson’s First Cat

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