Giles Lytton Strachey ( ; 1
March 1880 – 21 January 1932) was a British writer and
He is best known for establishing a new form of
in which psychological
insight and sympathy are combined
with irreverence and wit. His 1921 biography Queen
was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial
Life and career
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 2nd wife, the former Jane
Grant, who became a leading supporter of the women's suffrage
He was named "Giles Lytton" after an early
sixteenth-century Gyles Strachey and the first Earl of
, who had been a friend of Richard Strachey's when he was
Viceroy of India
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
Lytton was four years old, the family moved from Stowey House to 69
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.
was educated at a series of schools, beginning with one at Parkstone, Dorset.
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 getting 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
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.
1897 Strachey turned 17, 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. At Liverpool 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
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, an
advice that Lady Strachey took as an insult, deciding then that her
son would attend Cambridge's Trinity College instead.
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, take a leave of Trinity but remained there 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
and Saxon Sydney-Turner. Together with one undergraduate,
A. J. Robertson, the five students formed a small society called
"The Midnight Society" which, in the opinion of Clive Bell, formed
the source of the Bloomsbury Group
Strachey also belonged to the "Conversazione Society," the famous
" to which
, 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 400-page thesis on Warren
, which wasn't very well received among the scientists
of his time.
Beginnings of his career
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 bed-sitters. But,
as he was about to turn 30, family life started irritating him, and
he started traveling into the country more often, supporting
himself by writing reviews and critical articles for The Spectator
and other periodicals.
1910-11 he spent some time at Saltsjöbaden, near Stockholm in Sweden.
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.
It would be during this time that he
decided to grow a beard, which would become his most characteristic
feature. On 9 May 1911, he would write to his mother:
"The chief news is that I have grown a
Its color 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
In 1911, H. A. L.
, onetime president of the
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
asked him to write a sketch of French literature in fifty thousand
words, giving him J. W. Mackail
as a model. Landmarks in French
, 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 honor in the The Times Literary
of 1 February and sales, that by April 1914,
had reached nearly 12,000 copies in the British Empire
, the book did not bring Strachey
either the fame or the money which he so badly needed.
after the publication of Landmarks, Strachey's mother and
his friend Harry Norton each provided him with £100 which, together
with earning 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 in Wiltshire.
Here he established himself until 1916.
Here also he wrote the first three parts of Eminent Victorians
Strachey's theory of biography was now fully developed and mature.
He was being greatly influenced by Dostoevsky
, whose novels Strachey had been
reading and reviewing as they appeared in Constance Garnett
's translations. The
influence of Freud
would also be
important on Strachey's later works, most notably on Elizabeth
Lytton Strachey was back in London living with his mother at 6
Belsize Park Gardens, Hampstead, whence 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.
the success of Eminent
, published on 9 May 1918, he needed no help
from the 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 they, together with sisters Vanessa
(later Bell and Woolf respectively), eventually formed
the Bloomsbury group
. From 1904 to
1914 Strachey contributed book and drama reviews to The Spectator
During World War I
he applied for
recognition as a conscientious
, 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
and the 'Bloomsberries'. His first great success, and
his most famous achievement, was Eminent Victorians
collection of four short biographies of Victorian heroes. This work
was followed in the same style by Queen Victoria
of (then undiagnosed) stomach cancer at age 51 at his country
house, Ham Spray House, at Ham in Wiltshire.
Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey at
Though Strachey spoke openly about his homosexuality
with his Bloomsbury friends (he had
a relationship with John Maynard
, 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
. Allegedly, she loved him; she committed suicide two
months after his death, but Strachey was much more interested
sexually in her husband Ralph Partridge, as well as in various
other young men. Strachey's letters, edited by Paul Levy, were
published in 2005.
He was portrayed by Jonathan Pryce
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
'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
Strachey as the inspiration behind Cedric Furber in Wyndham Lewis
' The Self-Condemned
. In Wyndham's
novel The Apes of God
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 remarks that the
Cambridge undergraduate Risley in the novel is based on
Academic and biographies
- Characters and Commentaries (ed. James Strachey,
- Spectatorial Essays (ed. James Strachey, 1964)
- Ermyntrude and Esmeralda (1969)
- Lytton Strachey by Himself: A Self Portrait (ed.
Michael Holroyd, 1971) (ISBN 978-0-349-11812-3)
- The Really Interesting Question and Other Papers (ed.
Paul Levy, 1972)
- The Shorter Strachey (ed. Michael Holroyd and Paul
- The Letters of Lytton Strachey (ed. Paul Levy, 2005) (ISBN
- "Lytton Strachey: his mind and art," Charles Richard Sanders.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957.
- Since May 1959, the Strachey's old home has been part of
Douglas House, the large American Forces Club which now occupies
Nos. 66-71 Lancaster Gate.
- "Lytton Strachey: A Biography," Michael Holroyd. Penguin Literary
Biographies, 1971. (ISBN 0-374-52465-3)
- "My Commonplace Book," Mary Stocks. Peter Stocks, 1970.
- Holroyd, 72-73.
- Holroyd, 93.
- Holroyd, 94.
- Holroyd, 96.
- Holroyd, 129.
- Holroyd, 130.
- Holroyd, 147-153.
- Holroyd, 136-137.
- The Letters of Lytton Strachey (ed. Paul Levy, 2005) (ISBN
- Henry Tertius James Norton, the "H.T.J.N." to whom Eminent
Victorians is dedicated. Strachey later paid back the
- Frances Partridge, Bloomsbury groupie - Guardian
Unlimited Retrieved on 23 December-2007.
- Lytton Strachey, Michael Holroyd 1994, ISBN
- Lytton Strachey and the Search for Modern Sexual
Identity, Julie Anne Taddeo. Binghamton: Harrington Park
- Lytton Strachey: The Art of Biography, Desmond
MacCarthy. "Sunday Times" 5 November 1933: 8.
- Lytton Strachey: his mind and art, Charles Richard
Sanders. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957.
- The Psychological Milieu of Lytton Strachey, Martin
Kallich. NY: Bookman Associates, 1961.
- Nabokov and Strachey, G.Diment. "Comparative
Literature Studies" 27.4 (1990): 285-97.
- Lytton Strachey, John Ferns. Boston: Twayne
- Holroyd/Strachey/Shaw: Art and Archives in Literary
Biography, Harold Fromm. "The Hudson Review", 42.2 (1989):
- Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, Millicent Bell.
"The Biographer’s Art", ed. Jeffrey Meyers. London: Macmillan
Press, 1989, 53-55.
- Lytton Strachey’s Elegant, Energetic Character
Assassinations Destroyed for Ever the Pretensions of the Victorian
Age to Moral Supremacy, Roy Hattersley. "New Statesman" 12