Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lytton Strachey by Michael Holroyd

Lytton Strachey by Michael Holroyd (1994, 780 pages)

Michael Holroyd is the author of biographies of George Barnard Shaw, Hugh Kingsmill and Augustus Smith.   He lives in London and is married to the novelist Margaret Drabble.

Lytton Strachey is a central figure in the Bloomsbury Group.    He is credited with having introduced Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf to one another.    He was primarily a writer of biographical pieces on English literary and historical figures.    Some say he was the father of the modern biography in works like Queen Victoria and Eminent Victorians.     I did a book blog search of works of Strachey and there are very few posts on his works.     In his time, Strachey (1880 to 1932-UK) was a best selling author in both The U. K. and  America.    He was among the very first biographers to use psychological theories to help readers understand his characters and was not afraid to comment in a negative way about perceived Icons of English culture.      Some claim he was the father of modern biography but this seems to me an exaggeration of his influence.

I  have wanted to read this Holroyd's biography of Strachey for some time.    It has been praised as  an excellent  literary biographies,  a genre I enjoy a lot.      In my readings by and about Virginia Woolf I am coming to see her as a very social group oriented person.    If Katherine Mansfield looks forward to the  lone central figure that dominates much of post WWII literature, then Woolf looks back to a social era where a woman simply did not go anywhere alone.     I hope Holroyd would help me to understand the atmosphere of the literary times.     If one wanted to give a one line cynical subtitle to studies of Bloomsbury it would be "Gay male writers and the women who maybe loved them".  

One of the dominant themes of this biography is the love life of Strachey and others in his circle.   A lot of the romantic entanglements seem to of the stereotypical English boarding school type.     There is a great deal of detail about the family background of Strachey.    We learn a lot about English education along the way.      Just among the philosophers of the time (all Cambridge figures) we encounter G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell and even Ludwig Wittgenstein.     The famous economist John Maynard Keynes also frequently wanders in and out of the book.      All of the people in the book are very well read.    Most have a bit of a rebellious streak but nobody wants to really give up having servants for the sake of social justice.    

Lytton Strachey is a very information rich book.   It is a long book (the print in my edition is small).   Many of the central figures, including Strachey,  sometimes seem figures of their time only, not for the ages.   If you are interested in Lytton Strachey then you have probably already read this book and are grateful for the huge amount of work that Holroyd put into it.    If you are quite into the period of English life covered in detail by the book (say 1900 to 1932) then you will really enjoy and profit from this book.    If  you are into Bloomsbury it is a complete must read.    Some of he characters do, sorry for those this offends, seem like they are out of a Monty Python skit I saw long ago called "Twit of the Year".

It is not an oppressive book.   It is very well written and in fact quite funny at times.   I laughed out loud while reading the introduction.  

I  highly recommend this book for those interested in the era and its people.    I am very glad I read this book.  

Mel u

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