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Giles Lytton Strachey (1 March 1880 – 21 January 1932) was a British writer and critic.

A founder member of the Bloomsbury Group and author of Eminent Victorians, he is best known for establishing a new form of biography in which psychological insight and sympathy are combined with irreverence and wit. His 1921 biography Queen Victoria was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Strachey was born on 1 March 1880, at Stowey House, Clapham Common, London, the fifth son and the eleventh child of Lieutenant General Sir Richard Strachey, an officer in the colonial British armed forces, and his second wife, the former Jane Grant, who became a leading supporter of the women's suffrage movement. He was named "Giles Lytton" after an early sixteenth-century Gyles Strachey and the first Earl of Lytton, who had been a friend of Richard Strachey's when he was Viceroy of India in the late 1870s. The Earl of Lytton was also Lytton Strachey's godfather. The Stracheys had thirteen children in total, ten of whom survived to adulthood, including Lytton's sister Dorothy Strachey.

When Lytton was four years old, the family moved from Stowey House to 69 Lancaster Gate, north of Kensington Gardens. This would be their home until Sir Richard Strachey retired twenty years later. Lady Strachey was an enthusiast for languages and literature, making her children perform their own plays and write verse from early ages. She thought that Lytton had potential to become a great artist so she decided that he would receive the best education possible in order to be "enlightened". By 1887 he had begun the study of French, a culture he would admire during his entire life.


Rosamond Lehmann with her brother John and Lytton Strachey



The Mill House at Tidmarsh by Dora Carrington


Lytton Strachey by Dora Carrington



The Mill at Tidmarsh (on the market for £1.995m)

Strachey was educated at a series of schools, beginning at Parkstone, Dorset. This was a small school with a wide range of after class activities, where Strachey would exceed the other students' acting skills, being particularly convincing when portraying female parts. He would even tell his mother how much he liked dressing as a woman in real life so as to confuse and entertain others. Lady Strachey decided on 1893 that her son should start a more serious education, sending him to the Abbotsholme School in Rocester, Derbyshire where students were required to do manual work on a daily basis. Strachey's fragile physique couldn't take it and after few months he was transferred to Leamington College, where he would be victim of savage bullying. Sir Richard was tired of his son's delicate personality, so he told him to "grin and bear the petty bullying". Strachey did eventually adapt to the school's life, becoming one of its best students. His health also seemed to improve during the three years he spent at Leamington, although various illnesses continued to plague him.

When in 1897 Strachey turned seventeen, Lady Strachey decided that her son was ready to leave school and go to university, but because she thought he was yet too young for Oxford she decided that he should first attend a smaller institution - the University of Liverpool. There Strachey befriended his Professor of Modern Literature, Walter Raleigh, who, besides being his favourite lecturer, also became the most influential figure in his life before he went up to Cambridge. In 1899 Strachey took the Christ Church scholarship examination, wanting to get into Balliol Oxford. The examiners determined that Strachey's academic achievements were not remarkable, plus they were struck by his "shyness and nervousness". They recommended Lincoln College as a more suitable institution for Strachey, advice that Lady Strachey took as an insult, deciding then that her son would attend Trinity College Cambridge instead.

Strachey was admitted as Pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge, on 30 September 1899. He became an Exhibitioner in 1900 and a Scholar in 1902. He won the Chancellor's Medal for English Verse in 1902 and was given a B.A. degree after he had won a second-class in the History Tripos in June 1903. He did not, however, leave of Trinity but remained until October 1905 to work on a thesis which he hoped would gain him a Fellowship. Strachey was often ill and had to leave Cambridge repeatedly in order to recover from the palpitations that would subdue him.

The Cambridge period was a happy and productive one in Strachey's life. Among the freshmen at Trinity there were three with whom Strachey soon became closely associated: Clive Bell, Leonard Woolf and Saxon Sydney-Turner. With another undergraduate, A. J. Robertson, the students formed a group called "The Midnight Society" which, in the opinion of Clive Bell, was the source of the Bloomsbury Group. Strachey also belonged to the "Conversazione Society," the famous "Cambridge Apostles" to which Tennyson, Hallam, Maurice, and Sterling had once belonged. The Cambridge period was also one in which Strachey was highly prolific in writing verse, much of which has been preserved and some of which was published at the time. At Cambridge Strachey also became acquainted with other men who would greatly influence him like G. Lowes Dickinson, John Maynard Keynes, Walter Lamb (brother of painter Henry Lamb), George Mallory, Bertrand Russell, and G. E. Moore. Moore's philosophy, with its assumption that the summum bonum lies in achieving a high quality of humanity, in experiencing delectable states of mind, and in intensifying experience by contemplating great works of art, was a particularly important influence.

In the summer of 1903 Strachey applied for a position in the Education Department of the Civil Service. Even though the letters of recommendation written for him by those under whom he had studied showed that he was held in high esteem by those at Cambridge, he failed to get the appointment and decided to try for a fellowship in Trinity College. He spent from 1903 to 1905 writing his four hundred page thesis on Warren Hastings, which was not very well received among the scholars of his time.

When in the autumn of 1905 he left Trinity College, his mother assigned him a bed-sitting room at 69 Lancaster Gate. After the family moved to 67 Belsize Gardens in Hampstead and later to another house in the same street, he was assigned other bed-sitters. But, as he was about to turn 30, family life started irritating him, and he took to traveling to the country more often, supporting himself by writing reviews and critical articles for The Spectator and other periodicals. About 1910-11 he spent some time at Saltsjöbaden, near Stockholm in Sweden. In this period he also lived for a while in a cottage on Dartmoor and about 1911-12 spent a whole winter at East Ilsley on the Berkshire Downs. During this time he decided to grow a beard, which would become his most characteristic feature. On 9 May 1911, he wrote to his mother:

"The chief news is that I have grown a beard! Its colour is very much admired, and it is generally considered extremely effective, though some ill-bred persons have been observed to laugh. It is a red-brown of the most approved tint, and makes me look like a French decadent poet—or something equally distinguished."

In 1911, H. A. L. Fisher, a former president of the British Academy and of the Board of Education, was in search of someone to write a short, one-volume survey of French literature. Fisher had read one of Strachey's reviews ("Two Frenchmen", Independent Review (1903)) and asked him to write a such as sketch in fifty thousand words, giving him J. W. Mackail's 1909 Latin Literature as a model. Landmarks in French Literature, dedicated to "J[ane] M[aria] S[trachey]," his mother, was published on 12 January 1912. Despite almost a full column of praise in its honour in The Times Literary Supplement of 1 February and sales, that by April 1914, had reached nearly 12,000 copies in the British Empire and America, the book brought Strachey neither the fame he craved nor the money which he so badly needed.

Soon after the publication of Landmarks, Strachey's mother and his friend Harry Norton, supported him financially. Strachey later paid back the money. Each provided him with £100 which, together with earnings from the Edinburgh Review and from other periodicals, made it possible for him to rent a small, thatched cottage called "The Lacket" outside the village of Lockeridge, near Marlborough, Wiltshire. Here he established himself until 1916 and wrote the first three parts of Eminent Victorians.

Strachey's theory of biography was now fully developed and mature. He was greatly influenced by Dostoyevsky, whose novels Strachey had been reading and reviewing as they appeared in Constance Garnett's translations. Also the influence of Freud would be important on Strachey's later works, most notably on Elizabeth and Essex.

In 1916 Lytton Strachey was back in London living with his mother at 6 Belsize Park Gardens, Hampstead, where she had now moved. In the late autumn of 1917, however, his brother Oliver and his friends Harry Norton, John Maynard Keynes, and Saxon Sydney-Turner agreed to pay the rent on "The Mill House" at Tidmarsh, near Pangbourne, Berkshire. After the success of Eminent Victorians, published on 9 May 1918, he needed no help from outside. He continued to live at Tidmarsh until the proceeds from Queen Victoria (1921) made it possible for him to buy Ham Spray House near Marlborough, Wiltshire, to which he moved in July 1924, and which was his home for the rest of his life.

At Cambridge he had become close friends with non-Apostles Thoby Stephen and Clive Bell, and they, together with sisters Vanessa and Virginia Stephen (later Bell and Woolf respectively), eventually formed the Bloomsbury group. From 1904 to 1914 Strachey contributed book and drama reviews to The Spectator magazine.


Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf

During World War I he applied for recognition as a conscientious objector, but in the event was granted exemption from military service on health grounds. He spent much time with like-minded people such as Lady Ottoline Morrell and the 'Bloomsberries'. His first great success, and his most famous achievement, was Eminent Victorians (1918), a collection of four short biographies of Victorian heroes. This work was followed in the same style by Queen Victoria (1921). He died of (then undiagnosed) stomach cancer at age 51 at Ham Spray House, at Ham in Wiltshire.

Though Strachey spoke openly about his homosexuality with his Bloomsbury friends (he had a relationship with John Maynard Keynes, who also was part of the Bloomsbury group), it was not widely publicised until the late 1960s, in a biography by Michael Holroyd. He had an unusual relationship with the painter Dora Carrington. She loved him and they lived together from 1917 until his death. In 1921 Carrington agreed to marry Ralph Partridge, not for love but to secure the three-way relationship. She committed suicide two months after Strachey's death. Strachey himself had been much more interested sexually in Partridge, as well as in various other young men. Strachey's letters, edited by Paul Levy, were published in 2005.


Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell; John Maynard Keynes, Baron Keynes; Lytton Strachey by Lady Ottoline Morrell


Lytton Strachey with Dora Carrington and James Strachey


Lytton Strachey and Ralph Partridge


He was portrayed by Jonathan Pryce in the 1995 film Carrington. The film won a Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1996, and Pryce won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance as Strachey. Lytton Strachey was also portrayed by James Fleet in the film Al sur de Granada.

Virginia Woolf's husband Leonard Woolf has said that in her experimental novel, The Waves, that "there is something of Lytton in Neville". Lytton is also said to be the inspiration behind the character of St. John Hirst in her novel The Voyage Out. Michael Holroyd also describes Strachey as the inspiration behind Cedric Furber in Wyndham Lewis' The Self-Condemned. In Wyndham Lewis' novel The Apes of God, he is seen in the character of Matthew Plunkett, whom Holroyd describes as "a maliciously distorted and hilarious caricature of Lytton". In the Terminus Note in E.M. Forster's Maurice, Forster remarks that the Cambridge undergraduate Risley in the novel is based on Strachey.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lytton_Strachey

Further Readings:

Lytton Strachey: The New Biography by Michael Holroyd
Paperback: 600 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (December 12, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0393327191
ISBN-13: 978-0393327199
Amazon: Lytton Strachey: The New Biography

"A triumphant success. . . . His prose is confident, clear . . . occasionally perfect." —Dennis Potter, The Times (London)

"It is impossible to suppose that this ‘Life' will ever be superseded . . . the best literary biography to appear for many years."—John Rothenstein, New York Times "Written with vivacity and scrupulousness. . . . [Michael Holroyd] has a great novelist's sense of the obstinate mystery of the human person."—George Steiner, The New Yorker

Eminent Victorians: Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Dr. Arnold, General Gordon (Classic Reprint) by Lytton Strachey
Paperback: 334 pages
Publisher: Forgotten Books (November 2, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1440075115
ISBN-13: 978-1440075117
Amazon: Eminent Victorians: Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Dr. Arnold, General Gordon

THE history of the Victorian Age will never be written: we know too much about it. For ignorance is the first requisite of the historian-ignorance, which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid perfection unattainable by the highest art.

Letters of Lytton Strachey by Paul Levy
Paperback: 720 pages
Publisher: PENGUIN (April 6, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0141014733
ISBN-13: 978-0141014739
Amazon: Letters of Lytton Strachey

Lytton Strachey is one of the key figures in the cultural life of the twentieth century and his letters are a literary treasure-trove of the man and his world, as well as a record of the startling and poignant love-affair between himself and the painter Dora Carrington.

The breadth of his correspondence is breathtaking, going from precocious childhood letters to those written when he was a member of the secret Cambridge Apostles, and from letters to Leonard and Virginia Woolf, to Maynard Keynes and other members of the Bloomsbury Group, to love letters to Dora Carrington and Duncan Grant. The thousands of letters he wrote retain their vitality to this day, discussing changes in morals, the writing of history, literature and philosophy, politics, war and peace, and the advent of modernism.

Strachey believed that one only really comes to know a writer by reading his correspondence, and if these playful, provocative, and eminently sensible letters attest to anything, it is to the soundness of this belief.

Lytton Strachey and the Search for Modern Sexual Identity: The Last Eminent Victorian (Haworth Gay & Lesbian Studies)
Paperback: 210 pages
Publisher: Routledge (July 20, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1560233591
ISBN-13: 978-1560233596
Amazon: Lytton Strachey and the Search for Modern Sexual Identity: The Last Eminent Victorian

Examine Lytton Strachey’s struggle to create a new homosexual identity and voice through his life and work!

This study of Lytton Strachey, one of the neglected voices of early twentieth-century England, uses his life and work to re-evaluate early British modernism and the relationship between Strachey’s sexual rebellion and literature.

A perfect ancillary textbook for courses in history, literature, and women’s studies, Lytton Strachey and the Search for Modern Sexual Identity: The Last Eminent Victorian contributes to the expanding field of queer studies from an historian’s perspective. It looks at homosexuality through the eyes of Lytton Strachey as opposed to the too-often analyzed Oscar Wilde and E.M. Forster. Questioning the idea that homosexuality is a “transgressive rebellion,” as Strachey as well as scholars on Bloomsbury have insisted, this volume focuses on the ongoing conflict between Strachey’s Victorian notions of class, gender, and race, and his desire to be modern.

Date: 2012-01-21 05:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cathalin.livejournal.com
Wow, this is fascinating! Thanks for your posts... they are truly so interestinng!!!

Date: 2012-01-21 05:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elisa-rolle.livejournal.com
above all I love to do the research for them, and to find all the paintings or photographs to illustrate them

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