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Eminent Victorians

Lytton Strachey

Book Overview: 

"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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Book Excerpt: 
. . .ry of the controversy, then appeared as the avowed opponent of the Provost and the Cardinal. With his own hand he drew up a document justifying the appeal of the Chapter to Rome by Canon Law and the decrees of the Council of Trent. Wiseman was deeply pained: 'My own coadjutor,' he exclaimed, 'is acting as solicitor against me in a lawsuit.' There was a rush to Rome, where, for several ensuing years, the hostile English parties were to wage a furious battle in the antechambers of the Vatican. But the dispute over the Oblates now sank into insignificance beside the rage of contention which centred round a new and far more deadly question; for the position of Dr. Errington himself was at stake. The Cardinal, in spite of illness, indolence, and the ties of friendship, had been brought at last to an extraordinary step— he was petitioning the Pope for nothing less than the deprivation and removal of the Archbishop of Trebizond.

The precise details of what followed . . . Read More

Community Reviews

'The End of General Gordon' is Gibbonesque historical writing at its best. Lucid, swift, hilarious, with a keen eye for the absurdity of public life, and for the delusion of religion. Faultless dramatic styling:

'He was welcomed by many old friends of former days, among them Li Hung Chang, whose...more

This book was a rocking good read. It is very well written, and hilarious in parts. People have told me (either with glee or with a wag of the finger) that Strachey "takes the piss" out of Victorians in this book, but these people have never read the book. Waspish as his writing is, it is never (...more

I read this book years ago and am considering rereading it again. I loved so many books about the Bloomsbury Group and Lytton Strachey was a very unusual but highly gifted individual.

This is a marvelous collection of short biographies for four great figures of the Victorian age: Dr. Arnold, Florence Nightingale, Cardinal Manning and General Gordon. Strachey's wit is no less cutting than his pen, exposing with relentless precision the hypocrisy, the ambition, the immorality an...more

A wonderfully witty book that, a century ago, forever burst the bubble of glory that had up till then so reverently encased the shimmering Victorian Empire.

I read it as a young guy and laughed uproariously at its irreverence, delighting all the while in Stracheys finely pointed prose.

To the bohem...more

Why let scruples over facts and fairness get in the way of a wickedly good read? Lytton Strachey's quartet of pithy biographies, Eminent Victorians (1918), wittily, Wilde-ishly distorts the character and accomplishments of four noble worthies -- Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arno...more

The choice of people that get a biography in this book is excellent although I have no idea whether the sample is representative. I found all of the stories very interesting, well written, witty and humorous. The preoccupation with religion that all subjects share, with the possible exception of...more

Although it sometimes comes at the expense of clarity, there is some artful writing here. Some examples:

On public school education:
"A system of anarchy tempered by despotism. A life in which licensed barbarism was mingled with the daily and hourly study of the niceties of Ovidian verse."

On Mon...more

One should rather read Lytton Stracheys Eminent Victorians if one is interested to gain an insight into how Strachey dismounts with relish Victorian heroes and values. My motivation to read this book has been generated from my interest in the Bloomsbury Group, which the eccentric Lytton Strachey...more

In one of the more famous take-downs in the history of biography, Lytton Strachey sets out to slay the sainted beast of a golden age in the persons of four representative figures, and he mostly succeeds. It may be hard for us to appreciate the feat at this distance (Eminent Victorians was publish...more

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