When Lytton Strachey published Emininent Victorians, he took the general perception of the Victorian age among English-speaking readers and turned it upside-down. Four of the most eminent and idealized heroic figures of the Victorian age came under his witty and unsparing gaze and emerged, astonishingly enough, as human beings.
His study of one of the most revered prelates in England, Cardinal Manning, reveals a profound and courageous religious mind combined with the conniving and ruthless soul of a born politician. His dissection of the life of Florence Nightingale shows her both as the Lady of the Lamp and as a woman of steely backbone and adamantine determination, who not only cared for wounded and sick soldiers with complete dedication and solicitude, but who wreaked holy hell on any bureaucrat or governmental office that tried to get in her way.
When Strachey is finished with Dr. Arnold, we understand him as a revolutionary reformer of English education and as a first-rate prig. And when Strachey finishes leading us through the life of General George Gordon, we come away having known him both as a man of extraordinary courage and as a near-lunatic.
Fascinating, witty, insightful and provoking, these four biographical studies single-handedly revived the art of biography in the English language.
"Mr. Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians has had, I suppose, the most instant success that any book of account has won in this generation. Some of Mr. Strachey's incidental portraits are of astonishing brilliancy, notably that of Mr. Gladstone, and the book is sure of long life. This it will owe to its felicity of style and its finish and delicacy of moulding, no less than to its cynical wit and its perfectly serious and critical intention." (The Nation, upon the original publication of the book)
"A brilliant and extraordinarily witty book. Mr. Strachey's method of presenting his characters is both masterly and subtle. His purpose is to penetrate into the most hidden depths of his sitters' characters. There is something almost uncanny in the author's detachment." (The Times, London, upon the original publication of the book)
"A brilliant book has recently appeared which illustrates in very vigorous and striking fashion the interval which seems to divide the 20th century from the 19th. Mr. Lytton Strachey's book has attained a celebrity quite remarkable for literary work produced in times of war. There is no doubt as to its literary merits." (Daily Telegraph, upon the original publication of the book)
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