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

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Lytton Strachey The New Biography by Michael Holroyd (856 pages, 1994 revision of 1968 original)

"‘What he released was a generation of brilliant experimenters in biographical narrative, who at last began to ask how lives can be genuinely reconstructed …’ Richard Holmes

Lytton Strachey-1880 to 1932

Eminent Victorians 1918

Queen Victoria 1930

When I saw Richard Holmes placed Lytton Strachey The New Biography by Michael Holroyd in his list of Canon status biographies (only six twentieth century Works made the list, including Strachey's Eminent Victorians) I decided I must read this book.  I have a great fondness for literary biographies and I found many saw this book as the best of the century.

I don't wish to give a brief synopsis of Strachey's life but just to make a few reading journal comments.  All who ever hope to write a literary biography should read this book.  Anyone at all interested in the Bloomsbury group will find it a great treasure.

Holyrod brought Cambridge vividly to reality. Strachey is a Gay icon and we learn a lot about his and his circles sex lives and romantic entanglements.  Famous and infamous writers and artists come and go, among them Virginia Woolf, Rosamund Lehmann and Katherine Mansfield.  We are there when Lytton begins to first publish and rejoice over his commercial success.  Lytton never had anything as prosaic as a job for very long.  In his younger days he had modest subsidies from his family but he did become quite affluent through book sales.  Lytton did have long term relationships with women, which might have had sexual elements.  (The movie Carrington was based on his life.). He lived, and thrived, in a high drama atmosphere.  He avoided service in WW One.  He was very influenced by G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica, knew Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell.  The great economist John Maynard Keynes and E. F. Forster were close to him.  Bunny Garnett, son of Constance Garnett who made the Russian literary pantheon available to highly influence Lytton and others, was part of Bloomsbury.

There is just a huge amount in this book I have not touched upon.  The prose is beautiful, highly learned without being tediously pedagogical.

Lytton was a good man, loyal to his friends and devoted to his family.  He inspired love in men and women.  He was a devotee to the Reading Life.  He loved Proust and was overwhelmed by Dostoevsky.

This book is not a casual read.  It is biography elevated to high art.  I am very glad I read this book and I think all serious literary autodidacts would be so also.

Mel u


Nan said...

I wonder what was revised from the earlier edition. Is there an author's note that explains? I am quite sure I read Eminent Victorians back in my college days. I'm so interested in all the Bloomsbury people.

Mudpuddle said...

i read this book about 25 years ago, or whenever it first came out, and it turned me into a raging Strachey afficionado... i subsequently read everything by him i could get my hands on, with unparalleled enjoyment... i still believe he's arguably the best stylist i've ever read... in particular i remember Holroyd's semi-analysis of S's balanced style, tracing it back to Gibbon, whom i read in high school... i'm still a big fan... tx a lot for this post: brings back good memories...

Buried In Print said...

I have the idea that I would love Michael Holroyd's writing because I have a friend who loved it dearly (for the reasons you've described) and also because of his connection to Margaret Drabble, whose works I have loved (and continue to enjoy - she is on my list of MustReadEverything authors) and I also have a book by Holmes which has languished for years on my TBR (Footprints, I believe?). But this is such a long one, it's hard to "make" time for one like it, even though it's obviously worthwhile. Too many reading projects, I guess!

Mel u said...


I sent you e mail in response to your question

Mel u said...

Mudpuddle.,,I hope to read Eminent Victorians soon. Gibbon is and has been in my life time list long time. Time Sylvia be running by me.
Thsnksas akways for your comments

Mel u said...

Buried in Print. It is long but worth it for anyone with any interest in Bloomsbury. I want to read this year Richard Holmes long biography of Shelley