Inspired by Stefanie, many bloggers are posting lists of books they’d like to read right now if they weren’t in the middle of other books and had the time for it (one lucky person has posted about books she’d like to read on her upcoming vacation — I’m so jealous); I’m not going to give you a similar list here, but I just finished an article (unfortunately not available online) from the New York Review of Books that’s got me adding books to my list of things I’m longing to read. It’s Richard Holmes’s “The Passionate Partnership,” a review of Adam Sisman’s book The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Now first of all, Richard Holmes himself is someone I’m longing to read more of; he’s the author of Footsteps, a book I enjoyed immensely not too long ago, and he’s written biographies of Coleridge and Percy Shelley and a book on the friendship between Samuel Johnson and Richard Savage. This last one I’m certainly going to need to read.
And Adam Sisman’s book on Wordsworth and Coleridge sounds quite good; Holmes gives it a slightly mixed, but overall fairly positive review. It traces their friendship from the time they met in 1797 through their estrangement in 1810, telling the story of their collaboration on poetic projects; at times they worked so closely together that scholars aren’t sure who wrote what. There’s one poem, “The Mad Monk,” that appears in the Collected Works of both poets.
Here are some good passages from Holmes review:
All this leads to wider reflections which Adam Sisman’s book prompts but does not have time to pursue. There have been many famous “literary friendship” or double-acts. Each has its own dynamic, usually of love and loyalty, followed by trouble and strife, and finally some sort of reconciliation (if only from beyond the grave). Johnson and Savage, Goethe and Schiller, Victor Hugo and Sainte-Beuve, Gautier and Nerval, Fitzgerald and Hemingway come to mind …
But for emotional intensity, one almost needs the parallel of a literary love affair (as Sisman hints). The great Coleridge scholar John Beer has written provokingly in a recent essay: “It may be suggested that [Ted Hughes's] admiration for [Sylvia] Plath bore strong resemblances to Wordsworth’s for the equally mercurial Coleridge.”
It may be, paradoxically, that the “sacred” nature of Romantic friendship is most truly revealed in the pains of its rupture. Coleridge’s nine-page letter of grand remonstrance to Robert Southey in November 1795 expresses a lover’s outrage: “you have left a large Void in my Heart — I know no man big enough to fill it.” Similarly Wordsworth, as restrained in his declarations of friendship as Coleridge was “gushing” (a new liquid word for sentiment), was nonetheless quite capable of expressing his feelings of rejection with vivid simplicity …
Also mentioned in the article is Adam Sisman’s earlier book Boswell’s Presumptuous Task, about the writing of The Life of Johnson, which sounds fascinating.
And then there’s this intriguing passage from Holmes’s article:
Coleridge’s Notebooks, still insufficiently known, may be considered as an inspiration to all confessional writers, and may even become — in their wild informality — the secret bible of Internet bloggers. (Apparently there are over fifty million of these.)
Since I’m not a “confessional” blogger, Notebooks is unlikely to become my secret Bible, but I’m intrigued, nonetheless.
Oh, there are so many good books to read …