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: