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Footsteps: adventures of a romantic…

Footsteps: adventures of a romantic biographer (1985)

by Richard Holmes

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316454,237 (3.93)11



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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 vote 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 vote JBD1 | Oct 15, 2007 |
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All that night I heard footsteps.
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This is Holmes' account of his journey across Europe, retracing the steps of famous subjects. Robert Louis Stevenson, Shelley, Wordsworth and Mary Wollstonecraft are featured as Holmes stalks his subjects through space and time. Originally published: London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1985.

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