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 diplomatic views coincided with his own Li s diplomatic language, however, was less unconventional In an interview with the Ministers, Gordon s expressions were such that the interpreter shook with terror, upset a cup of tea, and finally refused to translate the dreadful words upon which Gordon snatched up a dictionary, and, with his finger on the word idiocy, showed it to the startled mandarins.
Eminent Victorians Is A Groundbreaking Work Of Biography That Raised The Genre To The Level Of High Art It Replaced Reverence With Skepticism And Strachey S Wit, Iconoclasm, And Narrative Skill Liberated The Biographical Enterprise His Portraits Of Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold, And General Gordon Changed Perceptions Of The Victorians For A Generation Lytton Strachey S Biographical Essays On Four Eminent Victorians Dropped An Explosive Charge On Victorian England When The Book Was Published In This Edition Is Unique In Being Fully Annotated And In Drawing On The Full Range Of Strachey S Manuscript Materials And Literary Remains 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 Monsignor Talbot He could apply flattery with so unsparing a hand that even princes of the church found it sufficient On Dr Hall A rough terrier of a man who had worried his way to the top of his profession On Cardinal Newman With a sinking heart, he realized at last the painful truth it was not the nature of his views, it was his having views at all that was objectionable If it is sardonic wit you want, you will find it here, in these four essays Whether you will find these particular Victorians interesting is another matter General Gordon, Florence Nightingale, Dr Thomas Arnold, and Cardinal Manning are not as relevant today as they once were But these psychologically penetrating essays created quite a stir in their time, and even changed the course of the art of biography.
In one of the 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 published in 1918 the memory of that once imposing Jabberwock the Victorian era is well faded The fading itself, however, owes something to Strachey The section on Cardinal Manning makes an irreverent history of the Oxford Movement, illustrating the sandpit dangers of odium theologicum and the mutual jealousies of worldly wise politicians Manning and otherworldly mystics John Henry Newman In Strachey s Florence Nightingale we find a woman so dogged in her work, and yet so doggedly hampered by her sex, that she runs a man to death Thomas Arnold, the education reformer and headmaster of Rugby School, makes Strachey s briefest subject The best, however, is reserved for last in The End of General Gordon And here s why I say that Strachey mostly but not entirely succeeds in his take down, because for all his personal misalignments Strachey s Gordon Pasha like Nightingale to a degree is nonetheless an object of legitimate awe, even when his goals seem to us culpably eccentric Through the whole volume and in prose as crystalline as Edmund Gosse s Father and Son, a book with thematic similarities the message is clear A culture is no less likely than an individual to fail in suspicion of its own motives or to manufacture divine endorsement of its most selfish desires, though thousands perish in consequence.
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 and in some cases outright cruelty of some of the Victorian age s most treasured legends In so doing, he makes a powerful argument for the art of the biography against the questionable value of idealized moral hagiography in favor of uncovering and identifying the essential humanity of its subjects, however deeply flawed It is, among other things, thoroughly entertaining.
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 Arnold, and General Gordon in order to burlesque the nineteenth century s most dearly held virtues faith, hard work, learning, and courage In its day, the book s tone and specious arguments ruffled a few aged feathers But its derisive criticism of the past generation s pretense helped to usher in a new, Modern period of literature, and Strachey s probing of his subjects psyches and his experiments with the structure of his lives profoundly influenced the scope and style of twentieth century biography Readers nowadays sometimes miss Strachey s mocking irony his victims are too long dead, mostly forgotten, and the style he parodies has gone out of fashion In spite of its age, though, the book is full of deliciously tart and stinging lines that make this acerbic read a guilty pleasure.
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 Florence Nightingale, is amazing and interesting All in all, a great read, especially for anyone interested in the Victorian period.
One should rather read Lytton Strachey s 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 1880 1933 was a prominent member of The Bloomsbury Group with its writers, artists, philosophers and intellectuals challenged Victorian and Edwardian values and Strachey s witty and ironic reckoning with prominent characters such as Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold and General Gordon was certainly shocking for the reader of the early 20th century However, if one is interested in gaining a thorough knowledge of the life of these Victorians, I would rather not recommend Strachey s book This is first and foremost a literary work Lytton s historical approach is neither careful nor sound John Sutherland writes in his introductionEminent Victorians is not, we deduce, the work of a stickler for historical fact, documentary trustworthiness, or modern standards of scholarly citation Art yes Any amount of effort was lavished in that department But accuracy was something elsep.
xiii Thus, as so often with history books, Eminent Victorians reveals about the time it is actually written in it was published in 1918 than the period it deals with And it says something about Lytton himself too Therefore, within the scope of my purpose of learning about the Bloomsbury Group, this was a satisfying read, albeit a bit tedious at times This has to do rather with me than with Lytton, though I admit I was not that interested in Cardinal Manning s or General Gordon s fate as I was in the life of Florence Nightingale for that matter I highly recommend the Oxford World s Classics edition that comes with an introduction and notes by John Sutherland The explanatory notes are very helpful indeed.