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Eminent Victorians

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  1,253 ratings  ·  78 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 April 1st 2009 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1918)
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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
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
'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
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
P.J. Sullivan
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
Lynne King
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.
Douglas Dalrymple
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
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
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
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
[chris] Dale
The idea of painting a portrait of Victorian Times by describing some of its, if not most important, most representative figures is a compelling one. It touches on all the major themes of the day: imperialism and colonialism; religion; the Industrial Revolution; and progressive social change. Strachey's prose is likewise representative of the best Victorian writing: complex but readable sentences; words only and always as large and obscure as they need to be; and full of dry wit and subtle sarca ...more
Joe Moody
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
Mardin Aminpour
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
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.
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.
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!
Richard Epstein
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.
Either this book is a little lopsided and focuses mainly on the religious aspects of the Victorian period, or else the Victorians were just really religious. I guess what I mean is that if this book is so great and all and revived the genre of biography, I would have expected a more well-rounded portrait of the age, through its major figures.

From Cardinal Manning I get the controversies within the Anglican church and the tensions with Rome. And power and privilege and backroom deals and all. Fro
Rupert Matthews
I've actually got the 1928 edition, but I guess it is the same text. Interesting stuff. I already knew something of Florence Nightingale, but Thomas Arnold, Cardinal Manning etc were all knew to me. Packed with fascinating information, and with some witty turns of phrase, but it does suffer slightly from an old fashioned writing style (it was written in 1918) and from spending a huge amount of time speculating on the internal thoughts and motivations of the people being studied rather than getti ...more
Jul 08, 2010 Wealhtheow marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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.
John Ross
As a biography buff, I enjoyed this book published 1922. It consisted of biographical sketch of four notable figures in Victorian England -- Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Dr. Thomas Arnold, and General Gordon. They are all flawed (Florence Nightingale the least) yet interesting people which collectively give a composite of the thinking of the time, and presumably of Victorian England.

The most disconcerting aspect of my reading was that the book (a paperback) was published by a company
This was one of those impulse reads that snuck in ahead of the queue. One hears it referred to a lot as a monument of snark, and, I must say, Giles Lytton Strachey, with his extra name and jejune undergraduate sarcasm, was a sneering Foster-Wallace/Safran-Foer hipster ahead of his time. I read Eminent Victorians for the Charles Gordon narrative. I'm a little obsessed with the Scramble for Africa, and the fall of Khartoum and subsequent "martyrdom" of Gordon is like the Crucifixion story at the h ...more
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
Years ago I read the A.N. Wilson Victorians and vowed that one day I'd read the "original", and now I have.

Of the four people profiled, I'd only really heard of Florence Nightingale; Cardinal Manning, Dr. Arnold and General Gordon were complete unknowns to me. Strachey has written profiles, often biased ones (and those biases show), rather than biographies, so there is some background and context missing. As for bias, when writing about Cardinal Manning he talks about John Henry Cardinal Newman
Carolyn Mccargish
The genre of "Eminent Victorians" is an art of high quality.
The book "Eminent Victorian" by Lytton Stachey and John Sutherland is about reverence with a touch of wit and iconoclasm and a skill for narration. The author portrays Victorian life with a level of perception. The book was first published in 1918 with a dramatic feeling for Victorian life. Stachey's literary style is full of emotion and unique style of his own. The book "Eminent Victorians" is an amazing short biographies.
I gave the b
James Violand
Jul 09, 2014 James Violand rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone.
Shelves: own
Four British personages, Florence Nightingale, George Gordon, Thomas Arnold and Cardinal Manning are skewered by the wit of Strachey. He holds them - among others - responsible for a legacy that had embroiled England (slightly before and through WWI) in controversial positions. The Victorian era government is held up to ridicule. Nightingale is portrayed as an obsessive, demanding and intolerant woman. Gordon is an egotistical general who was hardly as competent as his public image, Cardinal Man ...more
Christopher Saunders
In this classic book, Strachey deconstructs four heroes of Victorian England with acid wit and brutal directness. Cardinal Manning, a man of Catholic integrity, becomes a scheming power player; Florence Nightingale, a heroine driven by ruthless demons; Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby school, a moralist pedant; and General Charles Gordon, a messianic mercenary. It's hard to measure the book's contemporary impact, given that critical biographies are now dime a dozen. Strachey's elegant writing still ma ...more
Jim Johnson
This is a fine book recommended to me years ago. All four chapters were excellent, but the two that stood out for me were the ones on Florence Nightingale and The End of General Gordon. Strachey was exploring new paths in biographical writing in 1918, including the psychological depths of his subjects. What stood out for me in all four was the individuality combined with ambition that each displayed.
Four witty and sly biographical essays. All of them are readable; the first (on Cardinal Manning) and the fourth (on "Chinese" Gordon) are masterpieces.
Whenever I can find time for this unique biography, I will read his, "Florence Nightingale", and "Dr Arnold" since I have read/found somewhere how great they were in their fields of contribution/expertise till their names are immortal for ever. As for the other two, I rarely know them from my past reading, therefore, they need to stay put there,. I'm sorry I won't read them in the meantime because I'm too busy teaching/working @NPRU and thus I have no time for any aimless reading even now. I can ...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.
More about Lytton Strachey...
Queen Victoria Elizabeth and Essex The Letters of Lytton Strachey The Biography of Florence Nightingale Lytton Strachey by Himself: A Self-Portrait

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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.” 3 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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