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Eminent Victorians Hardcover – 4 Jul 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 4 Jul 2002
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.; New edition edition (4 July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826459641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826459640
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16.4 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 159,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

About the Author

Frances Partridge, Paul Levy, David Newsome, Mark Bostridge, John Pollock, Terence Copley are all authorities in the area.

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Format: Paperback
In the preface of "Eminent Victorians" Lytton Stracheys affirms his contemporaries could not write the history of victorianism because they know it too much. And indeed Strachey appears to know "too much" about an era which is finished but still lingers on in Edwardian and Georgian squeamishness. Writing in 1921, Strachey is intent of getting rid of this cumbersome Victorian heritage, hence his fierce, ironical blows at a few select personalities. This methods enables him to throw light into hidden places, to expose the world of vice and corruption, the inner rotten core which is hidden by the high-flung discourses of High Victorianism. Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale and General Gordon are the four emblematic, nearly iconic characters of an ambiguous hypocritical society. Strachey portrays Cardinal Manning as a cunning self-seeking man, using the Churches - the Church of England and later the Catholic Church - as a ladder for his own career. The mythic Florence Nightingale appears in a crude light, as a psychotic authoritarian leader. Through Dr Arnold, the Master and reformer of Rugby, Strachey exposes all the violence and hidden cruelty of the public school system. "The last days of General Gordon" show the reverse side of the imperial myth - in its most appalling aspects. There's something terrifing in these insights into the secret lives of such celebrated personalities. "Eminent Victorians" is a challenging, compelling essay, all the more so as the life of each character is dealt with briefly, concision being for Strachey an essential quality for a biographer. This very conciseness, added to an inimitable style, witty and full of understatement, gives the essay even more satirical brilliancy - thus it is delightful food for thought.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Strachey states explicitly in his preface that this is history masquerading as biography. In practice, this means we don't get fully-rounded biographies of the subjects, but sketches focused on particular aspects of their lives: the Oxford movement, Scutari, Rugby and Khartoum. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We don't have to read through endless correspondence, for example.

Cardinal Manning is first up. Religion is a constant theme in the book and Manning emerges as the least pious of its subjects. As described, he was ambitious, mean spirited and concerned with all the wrong aspects of religion: dogmatic, theological abstraction rather than charity, etc.. There may be a selection bias at work here: Manning's social work is mentioned briefly, but Strachey is more interested in Manning's faults than his strengths. And let's be honest, who isn't?

Florence nightingale is next. Strachey starts by warning us that she was less agreeable than her legend suggests. However, compared to modern biographies this is mild stuff. She was head-strong and possibly neurotic; when weighed against her achievements these are very minor faults, and after reading this biography she went up in my estimation greatly. The villains of this piece are the purblind members of the establishment, against whom she battled. They are subject to the full force of Strachey's gentle sarcasm.

Thomas Arnold is portrayed as the father of the modern public school system. Like Nightingale, he combined piety with practicality, though with results of less certain value. To modern eyes his methods appear unorthodox, his deprecation of scientific knowledge looks bizarre, but his focus on moral education is refreshing.
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Format: Paperback
How every society needs its iconoclasts. It was Harold Macmillan's Oxford tutor who declared that the main benefit of a university education was the ability to know when another chap was talking utter twaddle. Call it the scientific method. Call it what you like, but being able to spot a charlatan is a useful though not always popular gift, and Lytton Strachey was certainly blessed with it. Many of the supposedly great and good are, in reality, quite desperate people, and how they hate the cynics amongst us who see them for what they truly are. I challenge you not to enjoy Strachey's essay on that Catholic convert on the make, Cardinal Manning. If only Strachey were alive today. He would have written equally well on another eminent Catholic convert, politician......
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By Peasant TOP 500 REVIEWER on 27 April 2012
Format: Paperback
I have read "Eminent Victorians" several times now, each time with greater enjoyment. In it's time a bestseller, it is forgotten by all but literary types today. Reading it, even now, you can see why it was so popular. Four people, iconic in their time, pivotal in the thinking of the 19th century and key turning points in the development of the modern world, are laid bare.

Strachey was famous for his dry, incisive wit and here, in 1918, in a world disillusioned by war, he turns his jaundiced eye on four of the "boys own paper" heroes of Victorian public life. Cardinal Manning, the talented and ambitious cleric who made a new career for himself after converting to catholicism; Dr Arnold, the headmaster immortalised (in fictional form) in 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' - the man who civilised the barbaric "Lord of the Flies" world of the late Georgian public school and intorduced the 'play up play up and play the game' philosphy which is still satirised today; General Gordon, the charismatic hero of Britain's wars in China and the sacrificial victim at Khartoum; and last but most well-known, Florence Nightingale, the reformer of nursing and heroine of the Crimean War.

All four were in their day idolised; all four share a self-consciousness of their destiny which, to a modern eye, looks arrogant and egocentric. Strachey, separated by a generation and illuminated by the early twentieth century's dawning understanding of psychology, invents in these monographs a new type of biography; one which unpicks the forces shaping a personality, examines their motives and looks coolly at the roots of their "greatness".
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