Form and Content
In seventeen chapters of varying length, Lytton Strachey attempts in Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic History to examine the relationship between the queen and her last male favorite. The book is part biography, part social history, and part psychological study. Strachey does not limit his study to the lives of his principal subjects, but attempts to chronicle the major events in the careers of those persons who surrounded them in the last turbulent years of the sixteenth century. Strachey’s evaluation of the governmental, judicial, and social systems that flourished in the Elizabethan age are of interest because they reflect the social mores of modern times. Attempting to examine the motivations of men and women from another era is not an easy task even if an author is trained in the discipline of psychology; unfortunately, Strachey was not, and his lack of detached objectivity renders this aspect of his narrative almost useless for the serious student.
While attempting a chronological approach to his subject, Strachey moves back in time to provide his readers with background material as well as to foreshadow future events. At times, this technique becomes confusing, and the paucity of footnotes does little to ease the reader’s difficulties. A rather episodic work, the book often resembles a novel more than a serious history. Fortunately, Strachey does not resort to the invention of dialogue to advance his narrative, a device that was popular...
(The entire section is 453 words.)