Lytton Strachey was the prominent member of the famous literary and artistic circle run by the culturally elite, the Bloomsbury Group. He was a biographer and an essayist, and he made his mark with the publication of Eminent Victorians, that consists of the portraits of the most famous figures of the early twentieth-century England. The “Eminent Victorians” was published in 1918 while Illustrated Queen Victoria was published in 192. The present essay intends to evaluate that although Strachey made the mockery of the public adulation of Queen Victoria, nonetheless, he fell under the spell of her “vitality, conscientiousness, pride, and simplicity.”
The book follows the traditional form of the biography, starting from “antecedent” to “old age” and then finally her death. The book consists of ten chapters covering the major events of her life and achievement in a tone of irony and sly humor in the beginning while a shift in tone by the end of the book. According to Strachey all of her life Queen Victoria wanted someone she could lean upon, a very psychological trait identified by Strachey. Her relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is told accurately including the absurd nature of the event. He depicts Victoria it her all faults and furthermore, most importantly he tries to understand her through her relationships with other people and finally expresses his deep fascination for her in the penultimate chapter of the book (Joyce, 2007).
Strachey when it came to summing up her achievements, he argues that although Victoria’s age made remarkable advancements in science and industry, nevertheless, it left monarchy “perfectly cold,” as the lines state:
“The amazing scientific movement, which Albert had appreciated no less, left Victoria perfectly cold. Her conception of the universe, and of man’s place in it, and of the stupendous problems of nature and philosophy remained, throughout her life, entirely unchanged.” (Strachey, 258)
Her religious orthodoxy and the astonishing problems of philosophy and the man’s position in the universe remained “unchanged.” And finally, Strachey claims that at the end of her reign, the Crown was weaker than any other period in the history of England. Strachey goes on to discuss her life in a more general fashion, the tone of irony and sarcasm is changed into the more general conception of her character. In the recent times the publications, dramatizations, and exhibitions have retained their interest in Victorian art. In the last chapters of the book Strachey’s fascination with queen increases as we will see shortly. Strachey seems to be bewildered by the sheer “irresistible sincerity” of his subject apart from the mockery her public figure among masses. In chapter nine, part three Strachey expresses her profound yearning for India and Indian mysticism which is at odds with her age and times. The following line perfectly captures his beguilement with his subject:
“The thought of India fascinated her; she set to, and learnt a little Hindustani; she engaged some Indian servants, who became her inseparable attendants, and one of whom, Munshi Abdul Karim, eventually almost succeeded to the position which had once been John Brown’s.” (Stachey, 258)
The lines clearly state Queen’s interest in mysticism and Strachey’s fascination with the Queen. Furthermore, Strachey goes on to get insightful and fundamental traits of the Queen in the following passages where he admires Queen Victoria not as the Queen of England but as an individual, these chapters of the book specifically focus on the Victoria figure, no the Queen Victoria’s one. Therefore, the irony and sarcasm of Strachey turn into admiration and the authentic view of the life of the most famous and admired figure in the history of England. As the lines state:
“Duty, conscience, morality — yes! in the light of those high beacons the Queen had always lived. She had passed her days in work and not in pleasure — in public responsibilities and family cares.” (Strachey, 262)
The lines clearly indicate the shift from public to more personal view of the figure and most of all the real and honest depiction of her character from all the possible dimensions. Strachey argues that the most interesting and amazing thing about Queen Victoria was her sincerity, and “her truthfulness, her single-mindedness, the vividness of her emotions and her unrestrained expression of them, were the varied forms which this central characteristic assumed” (Strachey, 262). Hence, the central theme of the book was not to satirize the subject but to give as honest and as authentic an account one’s life, and personality as possible (Muzzey, 1922). The above given textual evidence evidently suggest the unbiasedness of the author as we have carefully analyzed the tone and texture of the passages from the book. The ending passage of the book further illuminates his fascination for the queen not merely for her truthfulness and her compassion for her family and her people but also for being a Queen, as the lines state exquisitely:
“The little old lady, with her white hair and her plain mourning clothes, in her wheeled chair or her donkey-carriage — one saw her so; and then — close behind — with their immediate suggestion of singularity, of mystery, and of power — the Indian servants.” (Strachey, 266)
Strachey’s portrait of Queen Victoria is an honest and real depiction of the lady’s life, not merely a political figure but as an individual, as a wife, as a girl and finally as the queen of the people not only the people of England but also the people of India and her deep affection for Indian culture signifies her perspectival personality.
Joyce, Simon. The Victorians in the Rearview Mirror. Ohio University Press, 2007.
Muzzey, David S. “Queen Victoria.” (1922): 122-125.
Strachey, Lytton. Queen Victoria: A Life. No. 7. IB Tauris, 2012.