Elizabeth and Essex Critical Essays

Lytton Strachey


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Strachey did not intend Elizabeth and Essex for an audience limited to young adults, but the book’s lack of scholarly depth makes it suitable as an introductory work for the student who wishes to explore the often complicated relationships that existed between Elizabeth I and the men and women who made up her court. Yet it must be used with caution: Strachey, like the filmmakers and novelists whom he inspired, often omitted or changed the facts to suit his narrative. More interested in painting with words than in pursuing historical truth, he often misleads and confuses the novice. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of language, Strachey is a master whose style bears emulation. When used in conjunction with other biographies of Elizabeth I, such as Sir John E. Neale’s Queen Elizabeth (1934) or Elizabeth Jenkins’ Elizabeth the Great (1958), Elizabeth and Essex can prove very useful in training the young reader to evaluate the merits of a biographical study.

This work often resembles a duel between the male and female principles in nature, between the impulsive personality and its more calculating counterpart, and between ambition and power; it also depicts the eternal struggle between youth and age. In each instance, Robert Devereux, the second earl of Essex, represents the former principle and Elizabeth I, the latter. Every event related by the author is seen as but another move in the deadly game of parry and...

(The entire section is 598 words.)