Shelley: The Pursuit is the book with which Richard Holmes—the finest literary biographer of our day—made his name. Dispensing with the long-established Victorian picture of Shelley as a blandly ethereal character, Holmes projects a startling image of “a darker and more earthly, crueler and more capable figure.” Expelled from college, disowned by his aristocratic father, driven from England, Shelley led a life marked from its beginning to its early end by a violent rejection of society; he embraced rebellion and disgrace without thought of the cost to himself or to others. Here we have the real Shelley—radical agitator, atheist, apostle of free love, but above all a brilliant and uncompromising poetic innovator, whose life and work have proved an essential inspiration to poets as varied as W.B. Yeats and Allen Ginsberg.
Richard Holmes’s Shelley: The Pursuit achieves a superlative in biography: its subject’s presence—that of a disturbing, seductive, gifted, destructive man whose essence is mutiny…Holmes tells it all with uncommon facility; his style is precise, knowing, and sinewy….The measure of Holmes’s splendid work is his ability to re-create the magnetism that drew so many people into living Shelley’s fantasies. Holmes makes us feel the combination of originality, intensity, and dependency that made the poet so beguiling.
— Naomi Bliven, The New Yorker
The best biography of Shelley ever written. The great emphasis that Holmes lays on Shelley’s politics, philosophy, and social activities [takes] the Shelley story out of the realm of myth and makes it far more convincing and significant.
— Stephen Spender
Holmes is that rare biographer who, despite years of arduous intimacy, still manages to keep his subject in perspective…Now that we no longer recoil from the uses of biography in the understanding of poetry, now that we’re learning again to see the life and work where they belong, together, Richard Holmes’s lively and eloquent book offers one kind of access we can’t afford to ignore.
— Morris Dickstein, The New York Times
Mr. Holmes, a thorough scholar and a graceful writer, has made good use of new and old facts in this biography, emphasizing both the farsighted shrewdness of Shelley’s political theorizing and the presence, in his private character, of what the author calls “calculating duplicity.”
— Phoebe Adams, The Atlantic