Lytton Strachey : 20th century British Biographer

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      A. G. Gardiner's Prophets, Priests and Kings and David Mason's Life of Gray anticipate the new biography, introduced by Lytton Strachey in the modern period. With him biography becomes an art. Strachey state his idea of biography. "Human beings are too important to be treated as mere symptoms of the past. They have a value which is independent of any temporal processes which is eternal and must be felt for its own sake." Thus the bases of all good biography must be humanistic respect for men. Closely associated with the "Bloomsbury Group", he was a close friend of Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster.

With him biography becomes an art. Strachey state his idea of biography.
Laytton Strachey

      Eminent Victorian (1918) are short studies of Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, General Gordon and Thomas Arnold. Strachey studied the characters from the human standpoint. He dealt with them with aloof irony puncturing the idealised image they still retained in English eyes. He pointed out the human glory and weaknesses of the characters. As for example, Florence Nightingale is not a ministering angel but a woman guided by masculine energy in bringing administrative reforms in the hospitals. He has pulled down the characters from the 'bunk'. American 'debunking' biographers have followed this Strachey tendency. He has employed the technique of fiction in his biographies. With a novelist's eye and structural sense, Strachey ignored much of the glamour about a figure and instead emphasised a few dramatic highlights which showed the essence of character and mind. Lytton Strachey technique has elevated biography to an art form as it had not been since Boswell.

      Queen Victoria is Strachey's best work and probably still the finest biography of the century. Strachey, cynically ironic about Victorianism is sympathetic to Victoria. Recognising her intellectual deficiencies and her narrow outlook, he none the less constructs neat scene after scene to demonstrate how Victoria's goodness and simple sincerity made her an empire's symbol of stability and character. His other biography is Elizabeth and Essex.

      Other biographers of the period are Philip Guedalla who wrote Supers and Supermen, Masters and Men which consisted of short sketches of Disraeli, Asquith, Hardy, Wells. In glitter and wit, they surpassed Strachey. In his full studies of Palmerston and The Duke, he has sobered down and his treatment matches his subjects.

       Along with Lytton Strachey, other biographers are Lord David Cecil whose The Stricken Deer deals with the poet Cowper and The Young Melbourne. A very popular development is the combination of biography with literary criticism as in Michael.Sadleir's Trollope, A commentary and P. P. Howe's Hazlitt. The biographers like Sir Harold George Nicolson, Peter Quennell are notable for Strachey like powers of organisation.

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