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Being Shelley: The Poet's Search for Himself Hardcover – Aug 28 2007

3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (Aug. 28 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375424938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424939
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.6 x 24.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 748 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,552,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Booklist

*Starred Review* A vexing annoyance to his friends, Shelley's "mystifying metaphysics" has counted for little with recent biographers obsessed with his radical politics. But Wroe recognizes in those metaphysics the wellspring of great poetry. Consequently, her daringly experimental biography treats the external events of the poet's life only incidentally as it plunges the reader into an imagination that strained toward transcendent ideals. Complete immersion in Shelley's writings—especially his unpublished notebooks—recovers the surging convictions that once moved a Promethean spirit and a prolific pen. Readers thus sound the depths of a self-proclaimed infidel who devoutly adored the "World Spirit" and of a nature lover addicted to an otherworldly Platonic beauty. Contemptuous of the hell of Christian orthodoxy, Shelley nonetheless wrestled with his own demons, struggling against despair when tawdry realities crushed his dreams of justice and cursing sexual appetites that consumed him without satisfying his yearning for love. Tracing a particularly compelling strain in Shelley's work, Wroe limns a fascination with water—heaven reflected on its surface, truth hidden in its depths—that eerily anticipates the poet's death at sea. Yet it is finally not Shelley's death but his life—his imaginative and creative life—that Wroe delivers in all its perplexing brilliance. Christensen, Bryce
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


Praise for Ann Wroe's Pontius Pilate

"Sublime... For a long time this book will remain the definitive study of Pilate."
--The Washington Post Book World

"Compelling, eloquent, and vivid... In a superb blend of scholarship and creativity, Wroe brings this elusive yet pivotal figure to life."
--The Boston Globe

"A veritable treasure trove of history, legend, fascinating information, and thought-provoking speculation."
--The Christian Science Monitor

"By turns enchanting, learned, urbane, nimble, touching, caustic, and playful... As a portrait of a flawed man caught up in the adventure of being good, it is both sobering and inspiring. As an indirect portrait of Jesus, it is unique."
--The Providence Journal

"Triumphant... It is Wroe's achievement that her Pilate, cloaked in infamy, connects at almost every turn, in his humdrum humanity, to her readers."
--Cleveland Plain-Dealer

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is a very interesting attempt at a literary biography which tries to center on the personality of the poet rather than the events of his everyday life. Shelly's life has been very well documented by a number of very capable authors, though the best biography (By White) is long out of print. Ms. Wroe makes a noble attempt at getting to the heart of Shelley as a man and poet but I am not entirely impressed by the results. I must say that I had my doubts about an editor at the Economist Magazine writing a book about a poet. After all, a magazine like the Economist represents everything that Shelley stood against both politically and poetically. It would be something like the president of General Motors writing a biography of Che Guevara. I also think that Wroe depends far too heavily on Holmes' biography of Shelley. Though Holmes is an excellent writer, his biography of Shelley fails at an emotional level because he doesn't have enough sympathy for Shelley's politics nor for his emotional personality. Similarly Ms. Wroe seems to lack a genuine sympathy for her subject and if one is a real sympathizer with Shelley, this book is somehow unsatisfying. On the other hand the book is very readable and has excellent prose. As long as one does not depend entirely on Ms. Wroe for your view of Shelley, it is an interesting read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa0ae0eb8) out of 5 stars 6 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa09020e4) out of 5 stars Excellent and Creative Look at Shelley March 6 2009
By Kevin M. Derby - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ann Wroe is certainly hard to pin down. I honestly can not think of a biographer who can tackle the wide range of different subjects that Wroe has and yet do it well. Percy Shelley is as far from Pontius Pilate as any human could be and yet she captured both men very well. "Being Shelley" is not a conventional biography and Wroe seeks to capture the poet's creative side as much as possible. She does this by tracing his life and works through various elements (air, earth, water etc). It's a gamble and it pays off for Wroe beautifully. Unlike a number of his more recent biographers who want to focus on Shelley's radical politics or his rather scandalous personal life, Wroe explores his creative vision and she uses primary sources-from poems to journals-to present her argument. If she does not present a coherent life, Wroe is able to open up a little window on the heart and soul of one of the great poets of the English language in this vivid and readable book.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa26508f4) out of 5 stars Experimentum Crucis June 15 2010
By Daniel Myers - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Shelley has always been known - quite rightly to my mind - as a "poet's poet" meaning that only those gifted to some degree with the poet's transcendent vision will latch on to him as a fellow spirit and his poetry as evocative of the stirrings of their own souls. Likewise, then, Ann Wroe is a poet's biographer, limning the soul of the poet through his poetry to which only the "initiate" will respond. "Sheer astonishment at Shelley's poems made me write this book; astonishment, and regret that his spiritual force seems to have been largely forgotten." All who, like Wroe, have experienced moments when:

"I arose & for a space
The scene of woods and waters seemed to keep,
Though it was now broad day, a gentle trace
Of light diviner than the common sun
Sheds on the common Earth..."

cannot but share in her astonishment and so treasure this book which Wroe, in the first sentence of the Introduction calls an "experiment," "an attempt to write the life of the poet from the inside out." Who would ever wish, one asks oneself upon finishing this book, to write of a poet, especially as visionary a poet as Shelley, in any other way?

Wroe takes a non-chronological, thematic approach to Shelley's life, using the Four Elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire as her poetic cicerones through Shelley's life and work, treating the two, rightly, as inseparable. I could go onto a lengthy disquisition here, but that is for Ann Wroe's coruscating and enrapturing narrative to do for the reader. Let me simply cite Wroe's own splendid evaluation of Shelley's pilgrimage through this world:

"One fact, however, lay at the core of all these histories: a fact so intrinsic to Shelley, and so precious, that he was unable ever to describe it. Each Shelley-character held a memory - disturbed, but not eclipsed, even by stark grief - of a blissful, momentary, controlling presence both within and beyond himself. This was what made him mad, if he was truly so: that he had glimpsed this presence while on Earth, and could not bear the rift between that reality and his existence."

After finishing this erudite yet bracing labour of love, one feels tremendously indebted to Ann Wroe. This book, to crib a bit from "Adonais," is a portion of that loveliness which Shelley made more lovely, and now Wroe has made lovelier still.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa09d7dc8) out of 5 stars Beneath the gaze of Eternity Dec 3 2013
By William Timothy Lukeman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There have been countless versions of Shelley over the past 2 centuries, from the fey aesthete too beautiful for this world to the political & cultural radical, as well as everything in-between. And while all of these versions have some truth to them, they often seem to concentrate on Shelley the Man so much that they lose sight of Shelley the Poet -- at least, his poetry is used as an argument for whatever version is being proposed.

Ann Wroe has done something different with this brilliant book -- she has concentrated on the inner Shelley, the Poet & his work, utilizing a format more like an extended lyrical meditation on the man & the expression of his soul through his poetry. This isn't too say that the book lacks biographical or critical material -- Wroe's research & sourcing is impeccable & thorough, using Shelley's own words from letters, notebooks, journals, etc, as well as the poetry itself, as much as possible -- but her primary goal is the revelation of the man's spiritual & creative yearnings, his struggle for personal meaning, his efforts to make the immaterial & eternal somehow tangible in words.

The author succeeds magnificently, giving us a multi-faceted portrait of the man not only as creative source but as fully human, with fascinations & foibles that make him three-dimensional rather than a simplistic caricature. His explorations into the science of the times, his notebook & journal sketches & drawings, his fascination with fireworks & speed -- so many aspects of Shelley are shown to the reader.

The book is divided into 4 sections, named after the classical 4 elements: Earth, Water, Air, Fire. These 4 sections are further divided into shorter chapters, each of which examines one particular facet of the man. For example, one delves into the meaning & uses of Flowers in Shelley's life & work, both as poetic imagery & personal metaphor; another, his continued devotion to Astronomy, Stars, the Heavens; yet another, his studies of Alchemy & the occult, in many ways prefiguring Carl Jung's later studies of the same subjects. Along the way, we learn a great deal about the science & society of his day, much of it surprising to anyone with a fixed & unexamined picture of the Romantic era.

While Wroe is enthralled by Shelley's genius, she doesn't gloss over his personal failings & faults. This humanizes him, even as the book overall examines him as someone (or something) almost otherworldly, bound to this Earth by the thinnest of threads ... but never quite separated from the rest of humanity. For anyone who thinks that there's nothing new to learn about Shelley & his poetry, this splendid book will open your eyes -- most highly recommended!
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0d8a03c) out of 5 stars Psychological Shelley Sept. 11 2009
By Richard C. Sha - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wroe's book offers a compelling portrait of Shelley. Its strength and innovation comes from the use of manuscript evidence to think through the poet's psychology. The limitation of this study is that those who want more of a thinking Shelley are better served by Hugh Roberts, Stuart Curran, and Earl Wasserman.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0b81f60) out of 5 stars Good buy! Nov. 19 2014
By Fred C - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was a gift and they loved it. Good buy...I recommend!