Radical Wordsworth is Bate’s attempt to return the poet to his more palatable incarnation as the bold spirit who 'made a difference' by changing both the literary culture and our relationship with the natural world. Bate says he is aiming here for the kind of biography that follows the growth of its 'subject’s imaginative power' rather than one that trudges dutifully from cradle to grave. The result is a book that is recognizably Wordsworthian in the way it abjures the calendar in favor of the 'spots of time' identified in The Prelude as those moments of piercing self-awareness that direct and define the growing self. Yet while this makes Radical Wordsworth episodic, it is never superficial. Bate, who until recently taught literature at Oxford, issues a stern instruction to his readers not to skip the long, indented blocks of poetry around which he builds his narrative. Instead, we are urged to slow down, savor, and even read the verse aloud. Radical Wordsworth succeeds where longer literary biographies often fail, by keeping the subject’s work, rather than the minutiae of his pocket diary or his tailor’s bills, lodged at its heart ... Bate is excellent on how Wordsworth forged a blank verse that shed its grand Miltonic subject matter while taking advantage of the form’s capacity for suppleness and intimacy ... it would be hard to think of a better poet to read just now, when our abuse of natural systems has brought us to this moment of terrible reckoning. And Bate is the right guide for the occasion, blowing the dust off familiar poems to reveal their startling resonance.
This is the biography that [Bate] feels has been missing—‘a not overlong and not over-specialised book that would make students excited about Wordsworth’. And he has succeeded in writing it ... Whilst Bate’s stirring biography is selective, it is neither rushed nor reductive. It is full of sharp anecdotes that evoke the lives of the Wordsworths—including the time that William found himself threatened with a carving knife by an inebriated priest. Equally, Bate is able to set the poetry amid the personal, and writes revealingly about the changing relationship between Coleridge and Wordsworth after William’s marriage to Mary Hutchinson in 1802 ... [Bate] displays his deep knowledge of the sources ... Reams have been written on the Wordsworths’ familial relations and there is no doubt that the bond between Dorothy and William was a complicated one. Bate’s nimble biography explores this without being sensationalist, and constructs a vivid picture of a complex man whose poetry helps us ‘see into the life of things’.
... thrillingly good ... Bate is a renowned scholar and a first-rate biographer, and Radical Wordsworth breathes with exactly the kind of relaxed authority that’s always made his books a joy to read ... Bate writes about the younger Wordsworth with an immediate sympathy that fills the narrative with urgent letters, urgent book-reading, and urgent friendships of all kinds. It’s an account remarkably unhaunted by that older, more placid Wordsworth, a faded figure Bate describes in appealingly personal terms ... the exhilarating ascent now has a biographical account that matches its passion.
Curiously, Radical Wordsworth is markedly unlike the book Bate describes in his preface. It is not particularly short and packs in a lot of erudition ... richly repays reading, and bears comparison with his pioneering life of Ted Hughes (2005). He is illuminating on the sources of Wordsworth’s nature worship ... He carefully and persuasively re-examines the effects of the revolution on Wordsworth ... This midlife collapse could have made the final phase of Bate’s book boring to write and read, since it documents what he calls 'the longest, dullest decline in literary history'. In fact, it is far from dull.
... excellent and enjoyable ... For too long Wordsworth has been cast as a poet who is significant but worthy, a writer whose work cannot be ignored but is not often enjoyed. If we accept that he wrote a large amount of ordinary poetry we should also acknowledge that his best work repay close and frequent reading ... not a complete biography but takes its cue from Wordsworth’s own understanding of himself to concentrate on the 'spots of time' that produced his great work.
... appealing ... Mr. Bate’s radical focus is less political than literary. He illuminates Wordsworth’s poetic originality ... Mr. Bate clarifies some of the ways—multifarious, incongruous—in which Wordsworth marshals various voices to forge the complex tone of The Prelude ... Mr. Bate sees the 1805 version of The Prelude, as I do, as the zenith of Wordsworth’s art. But with a charming forthrightness rare in academic biographers (he’s an Oxford don), he goes a step further ... Given this conviction, Mr. Bate was probably wise to offer readers a mere 'lightning sketch' of Wordsworth’s final decades. But it’s as though Wordsworth’s creative enervation saps Mr. Bate’s own analytical powers; the book’s final 150 pages, encompassing more than half of Wordsworth’s life, feel piecemeal and perfunctory. And the book’s subtitle—'The Poet Who Changed the World'—feels unearned; there’s no adequate discussion of Wordsworth’s ramifying influence down the ages.
I’m not sure that Jonathan Bate’s biography, Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World, offers much that’s new ... after the first few chapters Bate’s commentary is a pretty tepid affair ... reading Bate’s book alongside Stephen Gill’s newly revised William Wordsworth: A Life, I felt much more excited by the latter.
In his marvellous new biography of Wordsworth, it’s as if Jonathan Bate has inhaled the very air these two young men [Wordsworth and Coleridge] breathed; there is a giddiness here—a passionate enthusiasm—that’s all too rare in books about poets, particularly those who, having failed to die young, grew stodgy in later life ... This is a narrative that celebrates the fact that our lives are marked by turning points ... There are a few inconsequential (if delightful) details ... After I finished his inspiriting, fleet-footed book, in which he embroiders together life, poetry and landscape with such dexterity, I pulled down my old university copy from the shelf. It might have been a bag of pasta, so greedily did I fall on it.
As when a conservator carefully swabs away from an oil painting the crusty accretions and gunk of ages to reveal shining colours and unexpected detail—so Jonathan Bate sets about the youthful Wordsworth, and shows us, page by page, just how world-changing he really was ... Bate is rigorous in restoring women to their full role in the times, as poets, novelists, artists and influencers, as well as lovers and helpmeets ... With wonderful elan, close reading and detective work, Bate blows the chalk-dust away from ['Tintern Abbey'] and presents it anew. It shines with edginess ... Bate’s book is thrilling on Wordsworth’s times and contemporaries.
Bate is a supremely capable guide, steeped in the poet’s work and milieu ... Radical Wordsworth...deserves to take its place as the finest modern introduction to his work, life and impact ... Bate delivers not a long-distance trudge of the kind the poet loved (Thomas De Quincey, his disciple, worked out that Wordsworth’s rambles covered 175,000 miles) but a collage of crisply written, intensively researched scenes, 'fragmentary, momentary, selective.'
... a colourfully written celebration...of Wordsworth’s ‘radical alternative religion of nature’. It does not pretend to offer any discoveries ... The...writing has a consciously old-fashioned quality, I think, not at all unattractive but rather like the sort of thing members of the Wordsworth Society used to say to one another in the later part of the 19th century ... Wordsworth’s contribution to environmental thinking was no doubt profound, and Bate’s reverence is heartfelt, but you do get glimpses of different aspects to his genius ... Bate observes on several occasions that Wordsworth’s poetry is often filled with elegiac feeling, and in his depiction of childhood experience he is moved no less by emotions of abandonment, isolation and loss.
This excellent, intellectually rousing book is about the young poet. This is Wordsworth the dreamy, serious radical glimpsed flying across frozen lakes on his skates, or marvelling at revolutionary Paris, or falling in love ... Coleridge brightens every page he bounces on to ... We catch charming glimpses of the friendship. Wordsworth striding into Coleridge’s cottage and...laughing at Coleridge’s jokes and showing him off to new admirers ... The radicalism most interesting to modern readers is Wordsworth’s pioneering exploration of the self—Bate makes repeated comparisons to Freud.
Bracingly candid about the superiority of Wordsworth’s early output to his later work ... Appealingly conveying his own love of and frustrations with Wordsworth, Bate demonstrates in his delightful volume how, flaws and all, the poet 'made a difference' in the way future generations would think and feel.