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A Strange Eventful History


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A major literary event from 'one of the greatest biographers of our age'

About the Author

Besides the Lives of Augustus John, Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey (which was filmed as Carrington), Michael Holroyd has written two volumes of memoirs, Basil Street Blues and Mosaic. He is the current president of the Royal Society of Literature and the only non-fiction writer to have been awarded the British Literature Prize. He lives in London and Somerset with his wife, the novelist Margaret Drabble.


Holroyd's latest starts as a biography of Ellen Terry, one of the greatest actresses of the late 19th century-until it reaches the beginning of her professional and personal involvement with the even more legendary Henry Irving. The story circles back to recap Irving's life, then moves forward with their collaborations on Shakespeare plays and "blood-and-thunder melodramas" at London's Lyceum Theater as well as road shows in England and America. Holroyd also delves into the lives of their children (from separate relationships), and it's Ellen's offspring, Edy and Gordon Craig, who dominate the second half of this hefty family history: Edy took up with a longtime companion who originally had a lesbian crush on Ellen and would later become involved with Vita Sackville-West; Gordon was a visionary set designer who treated the women in his life-including Isadora Duncan-abominably. There's even a place in the saga for George Bernard Shaw (the subject of Holroyd's three-volume biography), who conducted a passionate correspondence with Terry for years before they ever met. Holroyd does a masterful job of keeping all the narrative lines flowing smoothly, ensnaring readers in a powerful backstage drama rivaling any modern celebrity exploits. (Mar.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

"Holroyd has a wonderful eye for entirely captivating of the glories of the form" Guardian "It has all the tumbling narrative, spicy detail and easy empathy that determine his midas touch... shows Holroyd yet again pushing the biographer's art to new imaginative planes" Financial Times "Magnificent - not just as a fascinating exercise in group biography, but as a masterpiece of comic writing...such joie de vivre" New Statesman "This is a fabulous cavalcade of a book, written with infectious verve and deep imaginative sympathy ... a joy to read" -- John Carey Sunday Times "Michael Holroyd has once again triumphed over a seemingly impossible subject. For so capacious is this tale of two great actors and their descendants that he has written a sweeping social history of theatre in the late 19th and early 20th-century England. Deftly plotted, with an infectious verve that springs from his delight in the waywardness of human nature" -- Frances Spalding Independent

Literary biographer Holroyd (Bernard Shaw; Augustus John; Lytton Strachey) admirably interweaves the histories, from the Victorian stage to modern theater, of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving and their families. In this engaging social history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Holroyd writes informatively of the theatrical world, highlighting not only the glamour of Irving's and Terry's careers but also the toll the hard work and disappointments of their calling had on their personal lives. He speculates, offering substantiating detail, on the relationship between Irving and Terry, who spent as much time together offstage as they did on. Terry's son Edward Gordon Craig's life as an influential stage designer leads the biographer on a merry chase through his relationships with eight women and his 13 children. His sister Edith Craig's life as a suffragette, her lesbian entourage, and her contributions to the theater have not been well documented, a shortcoming Holroyd corrects. Irving's sons, Laurence and Harry, relatively minor characters in this narrative, followed in their father's footsteps but didn't reach his level of success or inherit his daring, charisma, and creativity. This well-indexed book is highly recommended for all academic libraries and all libraries with theater collections.-Susan L. Peters, Galveston, TX Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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