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Footsteps: adventures of a romantic biographer (1985)

de Richard Holmes

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372556,713 (3.96)16
Richard Holmes's great work of biographical exploration, rejacketed and republished alongside its sister volume 'Sidetracks'. In 1985, Richard Holmes published a small book of essays called 'Footsteps' and the writing of biography was changed forever. A daring mix of travel, biographical sleuthing and personal memoir, it broke all the conventions of the genre and remains ons of the most intoxicating, magical works of modern literary exploration ever published. Sleeping rough, he retraces Robert Louis Stevenson's famous journey through the Cevennes. Caught up in the Parisian riots of the 1960s, he dives back in time to the terrors of Wordsworth and of Mary Wollstonecraft marooned in Revolutionary Paris and then into the strange tortured worlds of G#65533;rard de Nerval. Wandering through Italy, he stalks Shelley and his band of Romantic idealists to Casa Magni on the Gulf of Spezia.… (més)
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Es mostren totes 5
This is a kind of "behind-the-scenes" of literary biography, four extended essays in which Richard Holmes describes the process of getting to know the subject of a biography and the way that process is influenced by the subjective circumstances in which it takes place — the external events of the times and the particular situation of the biographer's life. He follows Robert Louis Stevenson and Modestine through the Cevennes, Mary Wollstonecraft and her fellow English radical exiles through the revolutionary Paris of May 1968, and Shelley and his elective family through the Italy of the hippie generation, and pursues Gérard de Nerval through a cloud of seventies esoterica and tries to locate him in the new thinking on mental illness due to R D Laing and Michel Foucault. And, repeatedly, shows us that contrary to what the plots of dozens of historical novels pretend, human lives are not detective stories where clues fall into place to create a single, definitive solution. Even if you're called Holmes and the book is set in Baskerville.

There are plenty of modest little jokes of this kind against himself: we see him hiding behind a silly hat on the Stevenson trail, falling into a river or dropping through a Paris skylight whilst reflecting on the starry night, and constantly being put back on the right track by farmers, monks and little old ladies. But in between times he manages to sneak in brief but very convincing biographical sketches of his four main subjects and a considerable number of bystanders, and he gives us some superbly beautiful descriptive travel writing. A very lovely, human book, a real joy to read. ( )
  thorold | Feb 25, 2022 |
Excellent, like all his books. Both intimate, about him and his subjects, and sweeping, about the whole romantic phenomenon. Introduced me to a new character (the pioneering photographer Nadar) and filled out a familiar one ( Nerval, of whom i only new El Desdichado). Nerval turns out to be an acute observer of himself and others, an accomplished travel writer and a fine stylist, at least in Holmes' translations. ( )
  vguy | Feb 27, 2019 |
I read the first quarter of this four-part book during my MA degree. I attempted to continue with the second instalment but soon gave up.

The author’s style fails to engage me. That said, the opening 20-30 pages are enjoyable, especially the story about a trio of man-eating wolves.

My interest dissolved when the author’s account of his travels in France shift from interesting comparisons to Robert Louis Stevenson undertaking the same journey to stuffy essay-like biography.

My biggest criticism is the amount of untranslated French. The use of foreign words in English texts is my ultimate pet hate in English literature. How am I, the reader, supposed to respond when the language confronting me is indecipherable?

This is plain author arrogance. It’s like saying, “Look at me, I know a second tongue. If you don’t understand, then you’re not as clever as me.”

This leaves the reader two choices: skip the foreign passages or break off from the book to find out the translations – which in this volume’s case would be many times.

One thing an author should never do is lose contact with the reader. It’s good to be challenged, but never to be left in the dark, especially if the untranslated phrases are of significance to the narrative. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Mar 22, 2017 |
This is very quickly becoming one of my favorite books of all danged time.
1 vota Lacy.Simons | Apr 9, 2013 |
Literary biographer Richard Holmes provides an inside look at the biographer's craft in Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (1985). Combining sketch-biographies of Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Wollstonecraft, the Shelleys, and Gerard Nerval with autobiographical accounts of his travels (some physical, some mental) in pursuit of those subjects, Holmes has written an engaging and perceptive account of the process by which he went about his research and work.

Holmes follows RLS and his donkey (Modestine) through the small towns of rural France, experiences Paris during the riots of 1968 to try and relate to Mary Wollstonecraft's residency there during the post-Revolutionary Terror, and tracks the Shelleys and their various comrades during their peregrinations around Italy. I think in some senses it's difficult for anyone not so fully immersed in these lives to understand some of the revelations Holmes experienced, but that is certainly no reason for him not to share them or for us not to read them.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2007/10/book-review-footsteps.html ( )
2 vota JBD1 | Oct 15, 2007 |
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All that night I heard footsteps.
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Richard Holmes's great work of biographical exploration, rejacketed and republished alongside its sister volume 'Sidetracks'. In 1985, Richard Holmes published a small book of essays called 'Footsteps' and the writing of biography was changed forever. A daring mix of travel, biographical sleuthing and personal memoir, it broke all the conventions of the genre and remains ons of the most intoxicating, magical works of modern literary exploration ever published. Sleeping rough, he retraces Robert Louis Stevenson's famous journey through the Cevennes. Caught up in the Parisian riots of the 1960s, he dives back in time to the terrors of Wordsworth and of Mary Wollstonecraft marooned in Revolutionary Paris and then into the strange tortured worlds of G#65533;rard de Nerval. Wandering through Italy, he stalks Shelley and his band of Romantic idealists to Casa Magni on the Gulf of Spezia.

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