Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Although they have been considered controversial, the biographical writings of Lytton Strachey are never dull. When he addresses himself to the Victorian period, those writings possess a special interest, for the biographer himself was a product of that period, and his feelings about it, while mixed, were far from vague or uncertain. The age of Victoria at once fascinated and repelled him. Its pretentiousness exasperated the artist in Strachey, but he could not help acknowledging its solidity and force and its many outstanding scientists and individuals.
Four such individuals are his subjects in Eminent Victorians. Not the greatest of their time, these four, superficially diverse in their activities, belong among the most appropriate representatives of the age. Strachey picked an ecclesiastic, a woman of action, an educational authority, and a man of adventure to illustrate the multifaceted era in which they lived and worked. The quartet of portraits proved to be a critical and financial success, and it became the cornerstone of an increasingly solid career. After its publication, Strachey was no longer in need of assistance from family or friends. Nevertheless, his treatment of Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Arnold of Rugby, and General Gordon did not go unchallenged. He was accused of having been unduly severe with his subjects, of handling facts with carelessness, and of indulging in superficial judgments. Such indictments often came...
(The entire section is 1292 words.)
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Eminent Victorians begins with an account of the life of Cardinal Manning (1807–1892), a convert from the Church of England who became Archbishop of Westminster and the leader of England’s Catholic community. When Manning went to Oxford University, he seemed set for a political career, but his hopes were dashed when his father was declared bankrupt. Manning was soon elected to a Fellowship at Merton College, Oxford, conditional on his taking orders in the Church of England. Manning became attracted to the Oxford Movement, a reform movement in the Church of England associated with the names of John Keble and John Henry Newman. But as the Oxford Movement seemed to slip closer to Roman Catholicism, Manning, who was now Archdeacon of Chichester, cut himself off from it.
Manning was a rising force in the Church of England, a man of great energy and administrative skill. However, he was tormented by what he believed to be the temptations of the devil to worldly ambition. Unable to find peace, he analyzed his motivations in detail, trying to decide whether, if advancement came along, he should accept or reject it. He also felt drawn towards the Roman Catholic Church. When it became clear from a legal case that Church of England doctrine could be decided by an Act of Parliament, Manning converted to Catholicism. The pope appointed him provost of the Chapter of Westminster. Within seven years, Manning had become Archbishop of...
(The entire section is 1348 words.)