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Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey
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's review
Jun 25, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: victorian, lives, bloomsbury, 1910s
Read in July, 2008

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.
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