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Eminent Victorians

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  1,702 Ratings  ·  107 Reviews
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 genera ...more
Paperback, 300 pages
Published October 30th 2003 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1918)
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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 reckon ...more
Jul 25, 2009 Peter rated it really liked it
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 (at least to a modern reader) disrespectful. The awesome (and I don't use that word often) power and presence of the four personalities treated shines through the writing despite (or because of) the econo ...more
Nov 14, 2007 Eric rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
'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 ter
P.J. Sullivan
May 07, 2011 P.J. Sullivan rated it liked it
Shelves: history, biography
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 prof
Jan 05, 2009 Eleanore rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
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 ...more
Douglas Dalrymple
Sep 03, 2014 Douglas Dalrymple rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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 h ...more
Jun 25, 2008 Scott rated it really liked it
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 fe ...more
Lynne King
Apr 27, 2013 Lynne King rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bloomsbury-group
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.
Feb 28, 2014 Leonie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I enjoyed this immensely. Not entirely what I thought it was going to be -- I'd imagined it was angrily anti-Victorian, or at least completely uninterested in giving the Victorians their dues. People over-emphasise the meanness. It's facetious, but I think Strachey is genuinely interested in all his subjects and is interested in what makes them go. What binds the book together is the sense that what makes these people go is, at bottom, the same thing, something perhaps distinctly Victorian. They ...more
Jul 04, 2010 Denise rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Lytton Strachey wrote about four of the 18th Century's "heroes". But he took off the blinders when he wrote. Bad tempers, arrogance, narcissism, and grandiose ideals are all included. The portrayed parties are not white-washed as they're done when fact turns into myth. This book was a best-seller AND a scandal when it was published in the early 1900's. Would be interesting to see what Strachey could have done with some of our major political characters! When done reading the book, go get the mov ...more
Mar 09, 2015 Tim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, england
I read this in my freshman year of college, and it was a pleasure to go back to it again. Here are four portraits of leading figures of Victorian England: Cardinal Henry Manning, Florence Nightingale, Dr. Thomas Arnold, and General Charles Gordon. Manning was the leader of England's Catholics, Nightingale pretty much created the nursing profession, Arnold was the headmaster of Rugby and helped create the British public schools, and Gordon was ultimately a tragic figure, the victim of anti-coloni ...more
Oct 21, 2010 Matt rated it liked it
I'd have a really hard time explaining why I read this, a series of four biographies of significant Victorians.... It's the kind of book that hovers on the edges of my reading of the Victorian period, and it's probably one of those great lost books, like Flann O'Brien's _At Swim_, books that just came out at the wrong time. But unlike O'Brien's book, which deserved and eventually found it's audience, I think the changed world really rendered Strachey's book superfluous.

There's some really good w
According to the introduction, Eminent Victorians was a rather ground-breaking work, replacing the thick, dusty tomes of yesteryear that were full of dull dates and a feeling of reverence for their subjects with acerbic wit and no small amount of irony.

While I didn't actually know who three of the subjects were prior to picking this up, it didn't mar my enjoyment at all (good old Flo Nightingale I know. Cardinal Manning, Thomas Arnold and 'Chinese' Gordon were complete strangers to me). And whil
Jun 25, 2012 Feliks rated it liked it
Shelves: classic-brit
I will read this book through to the end but so far (having only finished Strachey's appraisal of the great 'Chinese' Gordon) I see no vindication of any claims that Strachey 'overturned the field of biography' with this publication. The book's preface suggests that Strachey 'exposed hypocrisy' in all the leading British institutions of the Victorian age. Well, so far, I have yet to see that. So far, I find Strachey a bit of a 'carper' and a 'poseur'. Its the easiest thing in the world, to be a ...more
Dec 31, 2012 Tocotin rated it really liked it
This was fun. The author wanted to treat his subjects as critically and irreverently (which does not mean without compassion/understanding) as possible, and sometimes it shows that he was out to shock his readers; particularly with Florence Nightingale, with whom he failed to find any real fault. He was also clearly super prejudiced against Catholics, but that's exactly what makes his biography of Manning so entertaining.
So, I liked Manning's portrait the best, thought that Dr Arnold was a mise
Aug 20, 2008 Kendra rated it liked it
I loved this book. A view of the Victorians from a Modernist perspective. Who could ask for more? I especially liked the biography of Florence Nightingale, presented in this book not as the soft-spoken "Lady with the Lamp" and saver of soldiers, but as a driven, often obsessive, overachiever. The four short biographies in this book portray their subjects ultimately as humans, their flaws and strengths equally on display.
Mar 04, 2012 Sarah rated it liked it
From this book I learned that there is a Catholic saint called Pantaloon.

I like Strachey's writing. I've seen it described as "bitchy," but I don't think that's right at all. I would call it unstinting. I also liked how Arthur Clough randomly wandered through all four narratives (and Gladstone, too, but that seems a bit less random to me).

The stories about Khartoum were horrible in so many ways. Augh!
Apr 15, 2010 Fionnuala rated it liked it
This is one of those books I really ought to have read and never quite did until a recent cold put me in bed for a day. It is hard now to imagine the shock of its original publication. The first and largest section, on Cardinal Manning, is still seething on the page, but by the time we get to Arnold and General Gordon it all feels a bit tired and obvious. Perhaps that's a tribute to the book - like the best business ideas or architectural styles it feels as if it has always been here.
Richard Epstein
Dec 23, 2013 Richard Epstein rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You think snark is something new? A freshly contemporary attitude? Read this, and refresh your recollection. In truth, Strachey's great book would be even better if it were a little less snarky: there's something of the class show-off in him; but it is an excellent book, nonetheless, and Stracey a great stylist. After this, read his Queen Victoria, then Michael Holyroyd's biography.
Paul Taylor
May 03, 2015 Paul Taylor rated it really liked it
Beautiful prose with a whimsical and waspish sense of humour. The links between the eminent Victorians are made elegantly by Strachey.
Trish Graboske
Aug 16, 2012 Trish Graboske rated it it was ok
A friend recommended this, but it does drag on with religious minutae--not the narrative speed we expect today. Buried in there, some interesting debunking of myth about those eminent Victorians.
Jul 08, 2010 Wealhtheow marked it as to-read
Recommended to Wealhtheow by: virginia woolf
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.
James Elliott
Mar 08, 2017 James Elliott rated it really liked it
This was as much fun as I had been led to expect by the Victorian England lecture series from the Great Courses, and from The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell 1: 1872-1914. If you are imagining something dry and flattering, think again: this is witty, perceptive, and biting analysis which I now recognize as the seed crystal of an entire genre of British humor.
Tom DeMarco
Mar 16, 2017 Tom DeMarco rated it really liked it
An indictment of the entire British role in the 19th century. Acidic and hilarious. Strachey reborn today would be Christopher Buckley.
Apr 23, 2016 John rated it liked it
I'm glad that I finally read this one, but can't say I really liked it all that much. Perhaps, Strachey's humor was largely lost on me, or maybe it that the "plots" seemed to get lost in a volley of Victorian names thrown out batting-cage style? As my faithful followers are aware, I loathe re-hashing plots, but here I'm going to rely on summaries of the bios for an idea of what to expect ...

Manning: I hadn't been aware of him before picking up the book, but can see why Strachey chose him for inc
Jul 16, 2015 Patricia rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, re-read
Strachey's Eminent Victorians are driven and of heroic proportions. I loved this book when I was young. I must have enjoyed seeing Victorian pomposity pricked and ridiculed but I have slightly different feelings now. I do love Strachey. I spent a long time on his biography by Michael Holroyd because I didn't want it to end. This time round I have been dipping into Eminent Victorians and I would have to say I am surprised by what I have found. I loved the portrait of General Gordon. It was respec ...more
Robert Cohen
Aug 15, 2016 Robert Cohen rated it really liked it
I have had a passion for Victorian literature for some time. This seemed to point directly to Eminent Victorians as a way to dip my feet into a non-fiction account of Victorian times. Strachey originally intended brief biographies of 12 Victorians, but realized that the project was too vast, and settled on four prominent Victorian figures. I felt I would have a more developed feeling for Victorian times, and thus a deeper understanding of the Victorian fiction I so enjoy, after reading Eminent V ...more
Dec 06, 2012 Libby rated it liked it
Shelves: victoriana
I am now SOOOOO finished with Eminent Victorians. This was the twelfth in my self-challenge to read a great classic I had missed hitherto for every month in the year. I am not sorry that I took up my challenge. I have now read some great stuff from a literary bucket list that grows longer each year. I also have now read Eminent Victorians. What can I say about this unique and seminal work that has not already been said by some desperate doctoral candidate?

Well---first that it has inevitably been
Mardin Aminpour
Apr 06, 2014 Mardin Aminpour rated it really liked it
In Eminent Victorians, Lytton Strachey examines the lives of four prominent figures of 19th century Britain in order to capture the spirit of the Victorian era. He treats his subjects, as Strachey himself admits, with ‘brevity’ and ‘freedom of spirit.’ Dividing the book into four chapters, he opens his volume with the life of Cardinal Manning, focusing on his role in the Oxford Movement and his machinations to solidify his position as the figurehead of this religious reform. In the second chapte ...more
Joe Moody
Sep 06, 2014 Joe Moody rated it really liked it
Modern biography writing in the west tends to look for faults in one’s character, just as much as it glorifies one’s existence. We enjoy the humanization of the archetype. In this way, the modern biography is indebted to Lytton Strachey’s sketches of four infamous characters from Victorian England. Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Dr. Arnold, and General Gordon are praised for their accomplishments as well as criticized for faults in character, challenging the complimentary style of the t ...more
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Giles Lytton Strachey was a British writer and critic. He is best known for establishing a new form of biography in which psychological insight and sympathy are combined with irreverence and wit. His 1921 biography Queen Victoria was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
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“For ignorance is the first requisite of the historian──ignorance, which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid perfection that unattainable by the highest art.” 4 likes
“Human beings are too important to be treated as mere symptoms of the past. They have a value which is independent of any temporal process──which is eternal, and must be felt for its own sake.” 3 likes
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