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Episode 4

The death of Shelley in July 1822 is one of the most powerful of all Romantic legends. How does the story of the end of a life alter our perception of all that has gone before?

A meditation on the art of biography from a master of the genre. Ranging widely over art, science and poetry, Richard Holmes confesses to a lifetime's obsession with his Romantic subjects - a pursuit and pilgrimage that takes him across three centuries, through much of Europe and into the lively company of many earlier biographers.

In episode 4, Richard looks at the way an account of somebody's death can be used to recast the whole of their preceding life. In particular, he considers the received narrative of Shelley's death by drowning which has "become one of the most powerful of all Romantic legends. And also perhaps the most misleading."

The diversity of Holmes's material is testimony to his empathy, his erudition and his enquiring spirit - and also sometimes to his mischief.

Written by Richard Holmes
Read by Patrick Malahide
Abridged and produced by Jill Waters
A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4.

15 minutes

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Role Contributor
Reader Patrick Malahide
Author Richard Holmes
Abridger Jill Waters
Producer Jill Waters

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