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Customer Review

7 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of Holmes' Book by a Fellow Coleridge Biographer, 21 April 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Coleridge: Darker Reflections (Hardcover)
As a spectacularly brilliant but moody young man in his twenties, Coleridge already was a first-rate writer, an erudite thinker, a dedicated diarist, an impressive scholar, a spellbinding conversationalist, a charismatic public speaker, an inspiring religious preacher, a promising dramatist, an accomplished journalist and the author of at least two masterpieces which have stood the test of time (KUBLA KHAN and THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER). But unfortunately for Coleridge (and for posterity), he also was in the process of becoming an opium-addicted, alcohol dependent manic depressive with a "fatal attraction" to William Wordsworth. Richard Holmes accurately describes that fatal attraction and peculiar attachment to Wordsworth with narrative skill in his well-written, two volume biography. But he bends over backwards not to analyze the conscious and unconscious basis of Coleridge's self-destructiveness. While such conjectural restraint may be commendable as a general principle of biography, it comes at too high a price if the subject is someone like Coleridge (or other "confessional poets" like Sylvia Plath or Ann Sexton)--who actually happens to be actively suffering from one or more major mental illnesses. Although modern psychiatric diagnostic terminology did not exist in Coleridge's day, the conditions existed. From Holmes' account, there is no doubt that many of the physicians who treated Coleridge in his later years recognized the fact that he was suffering from substance abuse and a mood disorder. As a result of his decision to avoid pathologizing his subject by playing amateur psychiatrist, Holmes also avoids engaging in any in-depth discussion of the mercurial moods and mysterious motives which could help shed light on Coleridge's otherwise baffling attachment to Wordsworth. Not only does Holmes ignore Coleridge's manic depression and its downwardly spiralling reciprocal interaction with drugs and alcohol, he also avoids examining Coleridge's latent homosexuality: the compulsive brother hunger and neurotic guilt that drove him into his downwardly spiralling friendship with Wordsworth. Richard Holmes' two volume biography is an excellent study of Coleridge's mind as reflected through the prisms of his poetry, letters and diaries. But it fails to explore Coleridge's unconscious mind and leaves us still searching for answers. Stephen M. Weissman,M.D. Author of HIS BROTHER'S KEEPER: A PSYCHOBIOGRAPHY OF SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (1985)
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