Lytton Strachey

Lytton Strachey

Lytton Strachey

Lytton Strachey

Excerpt

' MANNING was now thirty-eight, and it was clear that he was the rising man in the Church of England.' Eminent Victorians, from which these words are quoted, appeared in 1918, when Lytton Strachey himself was thirty-eight and was recognized as a rising man -- perhaps the rising man -- in the world of letters. Frank Swinnerton has said that he and another publisher's reader, Geoffrey Whitworth, 'were as excited before publication as the world was after it'. Augustine Birrell responded as wit to wit; the Liberal leader, Asquith, in his Romanes Lecture spoke of 'Mr. Strachey's subtle and suggestive art'. In the fourth year of war this provocative book vied with the war itself as a topic of conversation. It delighted and it scandalized. By some it was admired for its subtle portraiture, its deft handling of the theme, its irony, its flexible prose. Others were thrilled by this cool attack, this scathing flanking movement, against old idols of the market-place already slightly discredited by the Edwardians and now sufficiently demoded to invite hue and cry. Later, Strachey was to write a more important and equally entertaining book, Queen Victoria, but it was Eminent Victorians which made his name and fixed his reputation; and by that more than anything else he has been judged and often misjudged.

He was acclaimed as a new writer, but he was not a new writer. He had been almost continuously contributing articles to weeklies, monthlies, or quarterlies for over fourteen years, and a piece of masterly critical writing, Landmarks in French Literature, had appeared in book form in 1912 -- but hardly anybody at that time read it. He is perhaps generally thought of as a man of letters belonging essentially to the decade that followed the Great War -- that period of disillusion and clever flippancy, ingenious experiment and delicate fantasy, unsentimental, anti-romantic, playfully frank, and gracefully . . .

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