Richard Holmes published Shelley: The Pursuit in 1974. More than a decade later, in Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (1985), he recalled how obsessive his engagement gradually became, not just with Shelley, but with that whole group of English expatriates associated with him, as it moved from Geneva through Italy - Bagni di Lucca, Este, Venice, Rome, Naples, Ravenna, Pisa - shedding some members and adding others, before finally disintegrating when Shelley and Edward Williams were drowned off Leghorn in July 1822. Shortly thereafter, Byron and Trelawny embarked for Greece, Mary Shelley's troubled and troubling step-sister Claire Clairmont departed to become a governess in Russia, and in 1823 Mary and her last surviving child returned to the England she had not seen since 1818. 'The pursuit,' Holmes confessed,
became so intense, so demanding of my own emotions that it continuously threatened to get out of hand. When I travelled alone I craved after intimacy with my subject, knowing all the time that I must maintain an objective and judicial stance. I came often to feel excluded, left behind, shut out from the magic circle of his family. I wanted to get in among them, to partake in their daily life, to understand what Shelley called 'the deep truth' of their situation . . . Indeed I came to suspect that there is something frequently comic about the trailing figure of the biographer: a sort of tramp permanently knocking at the kitchen window and secretly hoping he might be invited in for supper.
LRB 8 February 2001 | PDF Download