Biographer Richard Holmes wrote a book about writing books – specifically, biographies.
“This exhilarating book, part biography, part autobiography…shows the biographer as sleuth and huntsman, tracking his subjects through space and time.” – Observer
On the face of it Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer describes how Holmes retraced, on foot, a journey made through France by his subject Robert Louis Stevenson. What Footsteps really describes, though, is how the biographer’s journey both captured and failed to capture the subject.
Footsteps is a book worth reading and having myself just followed in the footsteps of Elizabeth Macarthur (I went to Bridgerule, the English village where she grew up) I find myself wondering what, if anything, the visit has added to my research.
The answer is: detail.
I learned what a person born in North Devon sounds like.
I learned that Lodgeworthy Farm was spelt Loudgeworthy on Elizabeth’s father’s grave. Loudgeworthy is what Lodgeworthy sounds like when a person from North Devon says it to a stonemason in Plymouth.
I learned the name of Elizabeth’s little sister, who died aged two years and 9 months, at Lodgeworthy.
I saw that Lodgeworthy is physically central to the village and, because Lodgeworthy’s field by the river (delightfully named The Ham) is used each year for the village summer carnival, I learned that Lodgeworthy is emotionally central to the village too.
I learned about the Veale family tree.
I learned about the topography of Bridgerule, and the distance that sound of the bells of St Bridget can carry on a clear day.
I learned about ghosts, and gardens, and the open friendliness of Bridgerule villagers.
I probably even learned something about myself.
More blog posts about Bridgerule: