The new movement in biography as a literary form began in England with Giles Lytton Strachey (STRAY-chee) as World War I came to an end. Strachey came from a family distinguished in the army, the civil service, and literature. His mother, Lady Jane Strachey, was a respected essayist and an amateur student of French literature; Lionel Strachey, a cousin, had established a literary reputation in the United States; another cousin, John St. Loe Strachey, was the brilliant editor of the Spectator from 1898 to 1925, and his children, John Strachey and Mrs. Amabel Williams-Ellis, were both writers.
A delicate child of marked but rather special talents, Lytton Strachey was limited in his choice of profession. At Trinity College, Cambridge, he distinguished himself in his studies, composed verses, and won the Chancellor’s Medal with his poem “Ely.” Fearing that he lacked true creative power, however, he dallied with literature in the critical essays that he wrote while living with his mother on an independent income. He began writing sketches of the great and the near-great of the Victorian Age; some of these sketches were later published in Eminent Victorians. As biography, his style was new to the English public, but it caught their fancy, and the book sold well. Actually Strachey had been strongly influenced by French biographers, especially Sainte-Beuve—his first publication was Landmarks in French Literature—and their...
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