Lytton Strachey

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Holroyd’s fascination with Lytton Strachey reflects much about modern culture. His two-volume biography of Strachey (1968) was hailed as a masterpiece, both for its quality and for its willingness to deal straightforwardly with the homosexual aspect of Bloomsbury culture. The 1971 edition was made shorter by removing much of the literary criticism. LYTTON STRACHEY: THE NEW BIOGRAPHY is 250,000 words shorter than the original, but contains 100,000 new words. As Holroyd says, he is attempting to miraculously create “a comparatively shorter book with much more in it.”

This he has been able to do because the public’s interest in Strachey is principally biographical. Holroyd’s assessments of Strachey’s literary career, especially the assault on pious historical biography in works such as EMINENT VICTORIANS (1918), have pleasantly aged, been condensed, and placed in the context of a complicated, fascinating, and sexually charged life, populated with many of the most influential people of the interwar period. D. H. Lawrence, Rupert Brooke, John Maynard Keynes, T. S. Eliot, and Bertrand Russell are all there in full humanity, dealing with their “lower selves.” With almost all of Strachey’s contemporaries now dead, Holroyd has had a much freer hand in exploring Strachey’s intimate relations with Roger Senhouse, Bernard Partridge, Virginia Woolf, and Dora Carrington.

No one will want to discard the old biography, but this is the one for reading. Holroyd’s long association with Bloomsbury figures—in and out of court—has given him a sure grasp of the emotions which sparked from one member to the next, and has enabled him to tell a compelling story of Strachey’s search for emotional security and commitment to intellectual freedom.