A Strange Eventful History (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
Lest anyone think that the culture of celebrity is a recent invention, Michael Holroyd’s generally engrossing account of the lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving, and their numerous children and romantic partners contains many examples of just how enthusiastically their contemporaries loved and idolized these icons of the British stage. Their every movement was front-page news for journalists catering to the public’s desire to know the most trivial details of their lives, and, in this fishbowl atmosphere, relationships with their children, lovers, and professional associates were subject to the kind of intense scrutiny that can either harden or unbalance its recipients. Although Terry and Irving were by temperament and training able to stand up to this constant attention, their children and friends often reacted to it in much more negative ways. As a consequence, A Strange Eventful History for the most part more than lives up to its title, as it reveals in compelling detail how life on the public stage could result in severely troubled private lives.
Ellen Terry was born into the world of the theater in 1847, although at a much lower level than that she would eventually achieve. Her father was a competent supporting actor. Her mother took theatrical odd jobs between pregnancies, and most of the family’s nine children would go on to have some sort of theatrical career. The family’s life was one of frequent travel from one provincial...
(The entire section is 1548 words.)
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