Last modified on 4 August 2014, at 17:48

Lytton Strachey

Giles Lytton Strachey (1 March 188021 January 1932) was an English biographer, critic and leading light of the Bloomsbury group. He is seen by some as the founder of the modern "debunking" school of biography.

SourcedEdit

  • [His reply to the chairman's other stock question, which had previously never failed to embarrass the claimant: "Tell me, Mr. Strachey, what would you do if you saw a German soldier trying to violate your sister?" With an air of noble virtue:] "I would try to get between them."
    • Reported in Robert Graves Good-bye to All That (1929), ch. 23.
    • Said during the First World War to a military tribunal assessing his claim to be treated as a conscientious objector. Variants along the lines of "I should try to interpose my body" are also sometimes quoted.
  • If this is dying, then I don't think much of it.
    • Reported in Michael Holroyd Lytton Strachey (1967-68) Vol. 2, part 2, ch. 6.
    • Said on his deathbed.

Eminent Victorians (1918)Edit

  • The history of the Victorian Age will never be written: we know too much about it. For ignorance is the first requisite of the historian – ignorance, which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid perfection unattainable by the highest art.
    • Preface
  • It is perhaps as difficult to write a good life as to live one.
    • Preface
  • It is not [the biographer's] business to be complimentary; it is his business to lay bare the facts of the case, as he understands them...dispassionately, impartially, and without ulterior motives.
    • Preface


MisattributedEdit

  • Madame, I am the civilization they are fighting for.
    • Supposedly said by Strachey in response to a woman who demanded he "fight for civilization" in World War One.

See Martin Ceadel, Pacifism in Britain:The Defining of a Faith. Oxford University Press, 1980 (p. 45). The actual quote, in a slightly different form, was said by H. W Garrod: " Madam, I am the civilization they are fighting to defend".See Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes, eds. Clifton Fadiman & André Bernard (1985; Little, Brown & Co., 2000), (p.228).

CriticismEdit

  • One observed a number of discordant features – a feminine sensibility, a delight in the absurd, a taste for exaggeration and melodrama, a very mature judgement and then some lack of human substance, some hereditary thinness in the blood that at times gave people who met him an odd feeling in the spine. He seemed almost indecently lacking in ordinariness.
    • Gerald Brenan "Bloomsbury in Spain and England", in S. P. Rosenbaum (ed.) The Bloomsbury Group (1995) p. 347.
  • Pass a person through your mind, with all the documents, and see what comes out. That seems to be your method. Also, choose them, in the first place, because you dislike them.
    • Walter Raleigh, letter to Lytton Strachey, May 8, 1918. Published in The Letters of Walter Raleigh (1879-1922) (1926) Vol. 2, p. 479.
  • To mark a man's faults and failings was, for Johnson, to indicate where he had diverged from his true relation to God; for Strachey it was an agreeable intellectual pastime, which flattered his sense of superiority both to his subject and to the illusion-ridden mob.

External linksEdit

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