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Eminent Victorians (1918)

by Lytton Strachey

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,505268,609 (3.74)60
Eminent Victorians marked an epoch in the art of biography; it also helped to crack the old myths of high Victorianism and to usher in a new spirit by which chauvinism, hypocrisy and the stiff upper lip were debunked. In it Strachey cleverly exposes the self-seeking ambitions of Cardinal Manning and the manipulative, neurotic Florence Nightingale; and in his essays on Dr Arnold and General Gordon his quarries are not only his subjects but also the public-school system and the whole structure of nineteenth-century liberal values.… (more)
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English (25)  Spanish (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
The initial chapter (on Cardinal Manning) was exceedingly tedious, especially if one had no knowledge of who Cardinals Manning and Newman and some of the other major players were. The remaining chapters, if you managed to persevere through the first, picked up a bit, especially the final chapter on General Gordon. ( )
  OperaMan_22 | Sep 9, 2020 |
I read Lytton Strachey years ago and felt this book had been overhyped, but rereading it in my late sixties, I found myself admiring his use of telling facts to open up the iconic facades of his four subjects and reveal something true about each as a human being rather than as an archetype or Victorian exemplar. ( )
  nmele | Jan 16, 2018 |
Strachey was beloved by Virginia Woolf, plus it's about Victorians--two great tastes! I expect this book to be like eating peanut butter swirled into chocolate. om nom nom.
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
This was my ebook-on-my-phone reading, which is why it took me so long to finish it. I enjoyed the section on Florence Nightingale the most and I happened to be reading the section on Cardinal Manning at a time when some of the themes covered in it came up in another context, which was nice and illuminating.

I'm not sure if this was the best book to be read one or three screens' worth at a time, but it was OK. ( )
  queen_ypolita | Feb 14, 2016 |
I read this book many years ago, maybe in college, and enjoyed it. It was a quick, easy read. I was familiar with the subjects, admittedly, least so with Cardinal Manning. It felt brisk and light-hearted. Years later, I read a review which stated that Strachey began the modern tendency to tear down and mock public figures, and gave this book as the start of the decline of public morals. I was a bit surprised at how much animosity the author had towards this slim little volume. So, when I saw it on the "Recommended" shelf at my local library, I picked it up to see if I had missed anything.

I had. After years of reading serious, scholarly biographies, the agenda in this work jumped off the pages. Strachey was a very angry man, and he channelled his anger into a passive aggressive tour de force. I ended up going back to the library for more detailed biographies of all four figures, just to get some context. (Since Strachey was writing sketches, about 50 pages or so, there was very little context.) Each of the serious biographies I read explicitly addressed Strachey's portrait, usually arguing very strongly that he misinterpreted things, ignored extenuating circumstances, etc. All of these works were published much more recently than Eminent Victorians, and it says something about the power of Strachey's writing that his versions of people has survived, even as his work is read less and less frequently.

Strachey published this in 1918, just after the end of WWI. He was part of the generation that saw their world ripped apart by the war, and they were all bitter and traumatized. He attacked these public heroes of the Victorian age as a way of drawing attention to the disaster that followed from their examples, their policies, their worldview. He had a definite agenda - to put an end to the entire corrupt, incompetent, murderous system. His light tone, and sly, snarky authorial voice were intended to make the whole thing so ludicrous that it would collapse of its own weight.

I don't know that he succeeded in that. Contra the earlier review I read, I don't think he personally started the fabled "decline in public morals." This is a fun book, and interesting book in the history of ideas, and is more interesting, the more you know about the subjects, the author, and the circumstances of its writing and publication. ( )
5 vote teckelvik | Dec 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Strachey, Lyttonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Holroyd, MichaelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To H.T.J.N.
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The history of the Victorian Age will never be written: we know too much about it.
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Human beings are too important to be treated as mere symptoms of the past.
The art of biography seems to have fallen on evil times in England…..Those two fat volumes, with which it is our custom to commemorate the dead — who does not know them, with their ill-digested masses of material, their slipshod style, their tone of tedious panegyric, their lamentable lack of selection, of detachment, of design? They are as familiar as the cortege of the undertaker, and wear the same air of slow, funereal barbarism.
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Eminent Victorians marked an epoch in the art of biography; it also helped to crack the old myths of high Victorianism and to usher in a new spirit by which chauvinism, hypocrisy and the stiff upper lip were debunked. In it Strachey cleverly exposes the self-seeking ambitions of Cardinal Manning and the manipulative, neurotic Florence Nightingale; and in his essays on Dr Arnold and General Gordon his quarries are not only his subjects but also the public-school system and the whole structure of nineteenth-century liberal values.

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