Imminent Victorians

Okay, for starters, I know it’s Eminent Victorians. But it’s next up on my list of books to write about and so …. you know. (Sorry. Nothing is un-funnier than a pun somebody tries to explain.)

I’ll begin by saying that Eminent Victorians is part of a larger reading plan for this month, a month when I’d like to re-read a few things I first read in my twenties. I wonder how well those books will have worn twenty years later. I did this a bit over the spring and summer, and even gave it a name: the Madeleine Project. But I haven’t done as much of it as I’d like, and since it’s cold outside these days, and the fireplace looks so warm, and I’m taking things a little slower, it seems like an ideal month to re-read.  (In fact, I’ve just noticed I’m in great company:  Dorothy and Danielle have both written about books they’d like to re-read.)  

And now, on to the book: Eminent Victorians, for those who don’t know, is a series of biographical sketches written by one of the Bloomsbury notables, Lytton Strachey. I’ve always wondered how his last name is pronounced, so I googled it. It’s strakey, which rhymes with flakey. (As in, doesn’t post on a regular schedule, doesn’t stick to the same topic and has been known to make really stupid jokes.)

When I read Eminent Victorians twenty years ago, I loved the piece on Florence Nightingale (I even wrote down something about how Nightingale saw God as a glorified sanitary engineer and so she felt free to boss him around just like she bossed everybody else in Victorian England around.) And I had no idea things went so badly for General Gordon, having never heard of General Gordon and not knowing the British military had such a hard time of it after the American Revolution.

I was also unaware at the time that these sketches were considered sort of shockingly modern, something I’ve since discovered, mostly through reading about Strachey in the context of Virginia Woolf, who thought at one time she might marry him. (Good thing that passed, is all I can say.)

The copy I’ve got this time around is illustrated, so there are interesting pictures of the notables Strachey writes about. They certainly look stuffy –especially the ecclesiastical figures he spends a good part of the book talking about. Or maybe the pictures were chosen to emphasis all the Victorian stuffiness that Strachey was reacting against.

The question I’d like to answer is this: just exactly what did Strachey think “un-stuffy” looked like? Strachey, at least from his photographs and the things I’ve read about him in Virginia Woolf’s diaries, was a bit of a piece of work himself. So how he goes about kicking aside the traces really interests me.

I hope it interests you, too, because that’s what I’m devoting my next post to. (By the way, the sketch of Strachey you see at the beginning of the post is on the cover of his letters, which look quite interesting.)


16 thoughts on “Imminent Victorians

  1. This book sounds fascinating–especially the part about Florence Nightingale. So much so that I did a quick catalog check (I’m at work–I’m a librarian) and was delighted to discover that we own the title. I took a little trip upstairs to retrieve the book, and, after checking it out, will add it to my TBR pile. Thanks for a neat suggestion.

  2. I’m looking forward to your next post! I remember hearing about that book when I was reading Woolf’s diary; it does sound quite interesting. And I love the Madeleine project.

  3. I am also TBM — It’s very interesting looking back like that.

    Hey LK — I think there was a lot of erotic and wild stuff going on then, but not in the public realm, where photographers lurked.

    Ms. SS — You’re so lucky to be able to do that. I’m afraid if I had the capacity to take those kinds of little trips, I’d never be able to lug it all home! I’m interested to hear what you think. So far, I’m about done with the first sketch, and have underlined all sorts of amusing things.

    Ms. HMH — I’m glad you think so and if you do read it, will be interested in your impressions. It’s longer than I remembered, so it might be a day or so before I get done. (Today, I’ve got things to wrap and a little shopping to do, and a nap to take!)

    Archie. That’s very good. I love puns.

    Dorothy, And I’m looking forward to your re-reading reports. Have fun with your book group meeting today. It’ll be fun to hear how that was.

  4. I would SO like to read this book as it’s supposed to be wonderful, and very much the kind of thing I’d like to write myself. But alas it’s very hard to get hold of. I must search again around ebay and the second hand sites. Looking forward very much to your review, BL.

  5. I actually worked for two years (we moved offices last year) in the three Georgian houses knocked together, one of which belonged to Strachey. Definitely a location in which any number of traces where kicked over, right up to the point we left! My boss’ office was actually the drawing room and my own staff were distributed anywhere between what would have been the kitchens in the basement and the servant’s rooms in the attic. I suspect I probably inhabited a lovely room overlooking Gordon Square which formerly belonged to the housekeeper. A year on, I still miss it…

  6. I’ve been looking for a ML copy of this for ages. I’ve only read the Florence Nightingale piece, but it was excellent. Very interested to hear what you think…

  7. P.S. Don’t feel too much sympathy for the British military after the American revolution (though you might reserve a little for the poor troops in the Crimea for whom Florence Nightingale was literally a lifeline). Post-Khartoum, General Kitchener went in with Gatling guns and simply wiped out the Mahdi and his (mostly armed with muskets and spears) tribesmen.

  8. Lk — That’s great. I hope it turns out to be an amusing and interesting gift.

    Hello Relaxed Dad — That’s an amazing connection. I’d miss an office like that too! (And thanks for that bit of military history, by the way.)

    Hello Ella — First, I’m posting some cookies. I’m not sure why — I guess they seemed like perfect, sitting by the fireplace and reading cookies. I’ve got a bit more left to go before posting.

    My dear litlove, I had no idea this would be a hard one to find. You’d think with so many wonderful british biographers (YESYESYES — youyouyou) there’d be an audience that would have kept this in print. I’m happy to put a copy in the mail to you — maybe we could have an exchange: one unavailable in the u.s. british mystery for one unavailable in britain British biography. And hey, I’ll even throw in a pencil sharpener to sweeten the deal.

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