Lytton Strachey Books

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Lytton Strachey was a popular English biographer who wrote a number of books during his lifetime.

As a writer, critic and member of the Bloomsbury Group, Strachey is best known for inventing a new form of biography with the publication of his book Eminent Victorians.

The following is a list of Lytton Strachey’s books:

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Landmarks in French Literature

Published in 1912, Landmarks in French Literature is a comprehensive survey of French literature.

The book provides samples, explanations and stories of notable French literary works spanning from the 15th century to the late 19th century. It also provides detailed explorations of each era and an alphabetized list of French authors.

Each chapter covers a different time period, such as the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Age of Transition, the Age of Louis xiv, the 18th century, the Romantic Movement and the Age of Criticism.

Strachey was commissioned to write the book by historian H.A.L. Fisher who was hoping to increase public appreciation for French literature and decided Strachey would be perfect for the job.

The book was well received when it was first published and sold thousands of copies and received positive reviews.

A 2018 article about Lytton Strachey in the Washington Post described the book as “spirited and still useful.”

Eminent Victorians: Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Dr Arnold, General Gordon

Published in 1918, Eminent Victorians is a biography of four leading figures of the Victorian era: Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold and General Charles Gordon.

The book takes a critical look at these four historical figures and, in doing so, it dispels the old myths of high Victorianism and exposes Victorian beliefs as chauvinist and hypocritical.

Strachey portrays these four individuals as complex, flawed people rather than perfect idols, which was an approach that never been taken before in a biography and, as a result, released his generation from the burden of living up to their so-called high Victorian standards.

The book received rave reviews when it was published and is considered to have forever revolutionized the way biographies are written.

In 2017, the book was listed at number 50 on the Guardian’s list of the 100 best nonfiction books and in 2018, the Washington Post dubbed it the “biography that changed biography forever.”

The book was so successful during Lytton’s lifetime that it actually made his close friend Virginia Woolf a little jealous, which she later admitted in her diary:

“Am I jealous? Do I compare the 6 editions of Eminent Victorians with the one of The Voyage Out? Perhaps there’s a hint of jealousy…”

Queen Victoria

Published in 1921, Queen Victoria is a biography of the famous British monarch.

The book covers the span of Queen Victoria’s entire life, describes her personal relationships and discusses her influence on British history.

The book was well received when it was published and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize that year.

Books and Characters: French and English

Published in 1922, Books and Characters is a study of French and English literature.

The book covers writers such as Shakespeare, Sir Thomas Browne, Voltaire, William Blake and more.

Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic History

Published in 1928, Elizabeth and Essex is a nonfiction book about the romance between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

The book explores the couple’s attraction to each other, their disagreements, their power struggles as well as the final confrontation between them.

The book was well received when it was published, even by historians. The Journal of Modern History reviewed the book in 1929 and described it not so much as a retelling of this scandalous story but as a biography of the people involved:

“But the interest of the book is not in its recital of the facts, but in the interpretation of the facts. What Mr. Strachey has really done is to mold from the facts a rather elaborate character study of the chief figures in the domestic tragedy at Elizabeth’s court during the last decade of her reign, in which the queen herself is figured forth as the rather time-worn heroine, Essex as the hero, and Robert Cecil and Francis Bacon as the other conspicuous dramatis personae.”

Portraits in Miniature and Other Essays

Published in 1931, Portraits in Miniature and Other Essays is a collection of essays about literary and historical figures in England, France and Scotland.

This collection of 18 essays are about Sir John Harington, Lodowick Muggleton, John Aubrey, Dr. John North, William Congreve, Jeremy Collier, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Montague Summers, Dr. John Colbatch, President de Brosses, James Boswell, Abbe Morellet, Mary Barry, Madame de Lievan, David Hume, Edward Gibbon, Thomas Carlyle, James Anthony Froude and Mandell Creighton.

The book wasn’t as well received as Strachey’s previous books and is currently out of print so it doesn’t seem to have sold as well either.

The Atlantic Monthly magazine published a mixed review of the book in its 1931 issue, stating that it was entertaining but still lacking in a lot of ways:

“He [Strachey] cultivates eighteenth-century graces of expression and wit, but he lacks the essence of that masculine time, he lacks gusto and what Coleridge called ‘manly reflection and robustness of mental constitution. Underneath the graces there is a twentieth-century complacency (produced by a sense of progress), a weakness of emotional fibre, the tea-table æstheticism and mockery of a comfortable browsing scholar. But to hang a criticism of Mr. Strachey on so slight a peg as Portraits in Miniature is not quite sporting. The book is entertaining in the Henry Jamesian sense of the word, and let the matter rest there.”

Characters and Commentaries

Published posthumously in 1933, Characters and Commentaries is a collection of Strachey’s essays about English and French authors from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Spectatorial Essays

Published in 1964, Spectatorial Essays in a collection of Strachey’s essays that were previously published in the British magazine The Spectator.

Strachey wrote more than eighty articles for the magazine between 1904 and 1914. These essays are divided into five categories: History and Biography, Shakespeare and the Elizabethans, the Seventeenth Century, Later Literature, and the Theatre.

Ermyntrude and Esmeralda: A Naughty Novella

Written while Strachey was still alive but never published until 1969, Ermyntrude and Esmeralda is an erotic novella about two young teenage girls as they come of age and discover sex.

The book is written as a series of letters between two Edwardians girls and is considered a funny, witty and racy satire about society’s repressive attitudes towards sex and homosexuality.

The book was originally written to amuse Strachey’s fellow Bloomsbury Group members and is full of private jokes and autobiographical details.

Lytton Strachey by Himself: A Self-Portrait

Published in 1971, Lytton Strachey by Himself is a collection of Stachey’s diaries and memoirs.

Strachey’s biographer, Michael Holroyd, came across Strachey’s archives of personal materials while researching him and decided to collect the materials and publish them in this semi-autobiography.

The sources used for the book include Strachey’s childhood diaries, two autobiographical essays and a journal written months before his death in 1932.

The Really Interesting Question, and Other Papers

Published in 1972, The Really Interesting Question, and Other Papers is a collection of Strachey’s unpublished shorter works.

The essays discuss such controversial topics as homosexuality, women’s rights, pacifism, the military draft and other political issues and are considered much bolder and more progressive than anything Strachey had published during his lifetime.

The Shorter Strachey

Published in 1980, The Shorter Strachey is a collection of Strachey’s shorter essays as well as two previously unpublished essays.

The essays cover topics such as biographies of historical figures like Edward Gibbon, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Sarah Bernhardt, the Pope, Dostoievsky, James Boswell, Lady Hester Stanhope as well as essays about war, an analysis of Shakespeare’s final period, a childhood memoir and a description of a day spent with Vanessa Bell, Ottoline Morrell, Duncan Grant and other members of the Bloomsbury Group.

Unpublished Works of Lytton Strachey: Early Papers

Published in 2011, Unpublished Works of Lytton Strachey is a collection of Strachey’s previously unpublished essays, dialogues and stories.

If you want to learn more about the Bloomsbury Group, check out this article on books about the Bloomsbury Group.

Sources:
Unpublished Works of Lytton Strachey by Todd Avery.” Waterstones, waterstones.com/book/unpublished-works-of-lytton-strachey/todd-avery/9781848931411
Portraits in Miniature and Other Essays.” The Atlantic, September 1931, theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1931/09/portraits-in-miniature-and-other-essays/650148/
Read, Conyers. The Journal of Modern History, vol. 1, no. 2, 1929, pp. 293–96. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1872016.
Sanders, Charles Richard. “Lytton Strachey’s Revisions in Books and Characters.” Modern Language Notes, vol. 60, no. 4, 1945, pp. 226–34. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2910698.
Muzzey, David S. Political Science Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 1, 1922, pp. 122–25. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2142324.
Kriegel, Lara. “Eminent Victorians at One Hundred: Introduction.” Victorian Studies, vol. 61, no. 1, 2018, pp. 83–85. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2979/victorianstudies.61.1.04. Accessed 18 Oct. 2022.
Hughes, Katherine. “Sizzle, spice and not very nice: 100 years of the tell-all biography.” The Guardian, 6 Aug. 2018, theguardian.com/books/2018/aug/06/rage-takedowns-and-scandals-lytton-stracheys-eminent-victorians-at-100
McCrum, Robert. “The 100 best nonfiction books: No 50 – Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918).” The Guardian, 16 Jan. 2017, theguardian.com/books/2017/jan/16/100-best-nonfiction-books-no-50-eminent-victorians-lytton-strachey-manning-nightingale-arnold-gordon
Dirda, Michael. “The Biography That Changed Biography Forever.” Washington Post, 31 Jan. 2018, washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/the-biography-that-changed-biography-forever/2018/01/30/9a7e042c-0509-11e8-94e8-e8b8600ade23_story.html

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