This Long Pur­suit: Re­flec­tions of a Ro­man­tic Bi­og­ra­pher

The Guardian - Review - - Non-fiction - PD Smith

by Richard Holmes (Wil­liam Collins, £9.99)

The third in Richard Holmes’s se­ries of au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal vol­umes, this is a won­der­fully re­flec­tive and in­sight­ful col­lec­tion of med­i­ta­tions on the bi­og­ra­pher’s art, “a vocation that I have in­tensely loved over more than 40 years and which I still do not en­tirely un­der­stand”. There are es­says on Sa­muel Co­leridge, Mary Somerville, John Keats and oth­ers, but Holmes starts by ex­plor­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of re­search­ing a bi­og­ra­phy, which for him is about more than texts and ar­chives and in­volves lit­er­ally walk­ing in his sub­ject’s footsteps. His note­books have two col­umns: one for his­tor­i­cal facts, the other for sub­jec­tive im­pres­sions drawn from land­scapes and build­ings. For Holmes, em­pa­thy is cen­tral to his craft, “to en­ter imag­i­na­tively into an­other place, an­other time, an­other life”. The es­say on for­get­ting, in which the 72-year-old bi­og­ra­pher con­sid­ers the fad­ing of mem­ory, weaves sci­ence, po­etry and the ter­rain of the south of France into one of the most evoca­tive and hu­mane pieces of writ­ing I’ve read.

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