Queen Victoria Critical Context - Essay

Lytton Strachey

Critical Context

When first published in 1921, Queen Victoria was considered an extremely innovative biography. Strachey, a literary critic, applied his knowledge of literature to the writing of biography. Instead of being dry and pedantic, the author’s style was highly personal, witty, and ironic. Strachey believed that biographers should have a point of view, that they should select their material carefully and only include the essential elements, that they should use good structure, and most important, that they should produce a biography that is also literary art. Extremely well written, Queen Victoria has a tongue-in-cheek, deliciously droll air about it. The book is good biography, and it is also good literature.

Strachey’s somewhat irreverent style has produced a host of imitators whose main goal is to reduce historical figures to life size. His emphasis on personality has also laid the foundation for a plethora of psychological studies. To a large extent, Strachey created a trend toward more readable and more interesting biography.

Queen Victoria offers the young adult reader an interesting and comprehensible account of the personality and career of a complex woman. Victoria gave her name to an era that spanned most of the nineteenth century. Many twentieth century institutions and events have their roots in the Victorian age, the influence of which still echoes down through time. The book also profoundly affected how biographies are constructed; it offers much to the student of history and to the student of literature.