This Long Pursuit

Reflections of a Romantic Biographer


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  • 9780307379689
  • 9781101871768
From the award-winning author of The Age of Wonder and Falling Upwards, here is a luminous meditation on the art of biography that fuses the author’s own experiences with a history of the genre and explores the fascinating and surprising relationship between fact and fiction. 

  In a book that ranges widely over art, science, and poetry, Richard Holmes confesses to a lifetime’s obsession with his Romantic subjects. It has become for him a pursuit, or pilgrimage of the heart, that has taken him across three centuries, through much of Europe, and into the lively company of many earlier biographers. Central to this quest is a powerful and tender evocation of the lives of women both scientific and literary, some well-known and some almost lost to history: Margaret Cavendish, Mary Somerville, Germaine de Staël, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the Dutch intellectual Zélide. Holmes also investigates the myths that have overshadowed the lives of some favorite Romantic figures: the love-stunned John Keats, the waterlogged Percy Bysshe Shelley, the chocolate-box painter Thomas Lawrence, the opium-soaked genius Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the mad visionary bard William Blake. 

  The diversity of Holmes’s material is a testimony to his empathy, erudition, and inquiring spirit—and, sometimes, to his mischievous streak. The Long Pursuit gives us a unique insider’s account of a biographer at work: traveling, teaching, researching, fantasizing, forgetting, and even ballooning. From this great chronicler of the Romantics now comes a chronicle of himself and his intellectual passions; it contains his most personal and most seductive writing.
  • Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; March 2017
  • ISBN 9781101871768
  • Read online, or download in secure EPUB format
  • Title: This Long Pursuit
  • Author: Richard Holmes
  • Imprint: Vintage
Subject categories
  • 9780307379689
  • 9781101871768

In The Press

“[Holmes] is temperamentally well suited to the Romantic age. He does not so much write lives as haunt them; he seems to invade his subject’s dreams. Moonlight glints off his pages. Certainly no one has made the practice of biography sound so appealing….He does for biography what Cheryl Strayed did for the Pacific Crest Trail.”
Stacy Schiff, The New York Times Book Review

“Elegant….Nobody has thought longer or harder about the nature of biography as a literary form than Richard Holmes….This Long Pursuit can stand either as an introduction to his full-length works or as a reminder of what makes them so compelling.”
Michael Gorra, Wall Street Journal

“Subtly personal….The “Footsteps principle” allows the narrative to build on clearly visualized scenes, even as the overall tone is that of intimate, civilized conversation. Above all, Holmes never comes across as stiff or stuffy, but rather, at 71, almost boyishly eager to share his delight in the surprising vagaries of a human life or the odd factoids of history….This Long Pursuit offers an abundance of literary entertainment and instruction.”
Michael Dirda, Washington Post

“Riveting…. The author’s focus remains sharp throughout, as he sketches his individuals’ lives, discusses the published biographies of them (from the earliest to the latest), and reveals his theories and beliefs about the writing of biography, beliefs that he has used to develop graduate courses in biography….Throughout, he manifests the patience and the persistence to do right by his subjects. Unparalleled research, transparent prose, and wide eyes can serve as a model for other biographers—indeed, for all other writers.”
Kirkus Reviews *starred review*

“An accessible account of the biographer’s craft as well as a delightful portrait gallery of fascinating figures.”
—Library Journal

“Among modern biographers, I can think of few rivals to Richard Holmes, especially among those who write about the Romantic era….Few biographers have dwelled as explicitly on their writing experiences as Holmes, and I’m grateful to him….This Long Pursuit may be seen as a continuation of this writer’s ‘search for truth,’ and it shimmers with odd revelations that…often seem indispensable.”
Jay Parini, The American Scholar

“In the tradition of most successful historians and biographers, Holmes seems to achieve this intimacy with the past by immersing himself, trance-like, within a given terrain, with every brick or rock or tree a talisman tugging him deeper and deeper into the immense well of human experience…. Holmes’s style pleasingly resembles that of his fellow Englishman, the late neurologist Oliver Sacks. Like that celebrated man of letters, Holmes comes across as contagiously curious, casually erudite, and just a bit daft…. In spending so much of his life chronicling the lives of poets, he has, to the delight of his readers, become one.”
—The Christian Science Monitor

“For Holmes, empathy involves more than sympathy or intellectual grasp, but something akin to union. He decided early on that biography demanded that he “physically pursue his subject through the past,” putting himself in every place the subjects lived, visited, passed through, and even dreamed of, to recapture what they experienced…. In Holmes’s view, biography is a “an act of imaginative faith,” and I would say that it is not given to everyone to pull it off — the faculty is a rare one.”
—Barnes and Noble Review

“A must read . . . Intriguing and satisfying . . . All the sketches make illuminating reading, in many cases deliberately setting out to provoke a rethink of earlier biographies . . . I thoroughly enjoyed the book; indeed I devoured it.”
The Guardian

“A glorious series of essays on the art of life writing and a worthy successor to Holmes’s earlier volumes on the craft, Footsteps and Sidetracks . . . Heaven for his fans [and] the best account imaginable for the richness of his form.”
The Observer

“In This Long Pursuit, the 71-year-old Mr. Holmes is revisiting old heroes, bringing them and their milieu vividly to life. In the process he does a lot to illuminate the very nature of biography itself….This Long Pursuit also explores the lives of some of the inevitably less familiar women writers and scientists who shaped this era in surprising ways….Mr. Holmes writes with insight about how women navigated the societies in which they lived and wrote.”
—The Economist

“I am a Richard Holmes addict . . . Only Holmes, who is so deeply versed in the people and culture of eighteenth-century science, could tell these stories with such verve and resonance from our own time.”
—Oliver Sacks

About The Author

RICHARD HOLMES is the author of The Age of Wonder, which won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books and the National Book Critics Circle Award, was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, and was one of The New York Times Book Review’s Best Books of the Year in 2009. His other books include Falling Upwards, Footsteps, Sidetracks, Shelley: The Pursuit (winner of the Somerset Maugham Prize), Coleridge: Early Visions (winner of the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year Award), Coleridge: Darker Reflections (an NBCC finalist), and Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage (winner of the James Tait Blake Prize). Holmes is an Honorary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and was awarded the OBE in 1992. He lives in Great Britain.

Subject categories
  • 9780307379689
  • 9781101871768