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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 22 November 2019

"Elizabeth and Essex" by Lytton Strachey

A double biography of Elizabeth I of England and her favourite Robert Devereux the Earl of Essex. The relationship of Queen and subject was complicated by a clear fascination for the ageing Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, for this handsome dashing young man (she was nearly thirty years older than him); he took the liberties which she allowed him and allowed himself to become more arrogant and headstrong with predictably disastrous consequences. The end came when Essex and his supporters, having persuaded (by paying forty shillings) Shakespeare's theatre company to stage a production of Richard II, play in which a monarch is overthrown, marched from Essex House down the Strand to the City of London in an attempt to stage a coup.

Strachey's portrait of their stormy relationship had clear resonances with the TV drama I have just finished watching, Gold Digger, in which a penniless young man meets an older and wealthy woman and proceeds to woo her while her friends and family look on horrified.

Some of the subject matter is also covered by Daphne Du Maurier in Golden Lads, her double biography of Anthony and Francis Bacon. Anthony worked for the Earl of Essex while Francis was on the prosecution team at the trial of Essex for treason.

This book was written in 1928 by Lytton Strachey, known for other works such as Eminent Victorians. Given its date of publication it does not have the rigour we associate with modern biography and is essentially a narrative, told with verve and style.

Several fascinating facts, among them that the Bodleian Library was founded with books seized by the Earl of Essex from the library of Spanish Bishop Jerome Osorius in a raid on the Portuguese town of Faro, (C 8)

Some classic moments:

  • Human beings, no doubt, would cease to be human beings unless they were inconsistent.” (C 2)
  • The inconsistency of the Elizabethans exceeds the limit limited to man. ... who can reconstruct those iron-nerved beings who passed with rapture from some divine madrigal sung to a lute by a bewitching boy in a tavern to the spectacle of mauled dogs tearing a bear to pieces?” (C 2)
  • Francis Bacon has been described more than once with the crude vigour of antithesis; but in truth such methods are singularly inappropriate in his most unusual case.” (C 5)
  • Life in this world is full of pitfalls: it is dangerous to be foolish, and it is also dangerous to be intelligent” (C 5)
  • It is probably always disastrous not to be a poet.” (C 5)
  • So, in ecstasy and in torment, in absurdity and in greatness, happy, miserable, horrible, and holy, King Philip went off, off to meet the Trinity.” (C 10)
  • Why should the heir of the ancient aristocracy of England bow down before the descendant of some Bishop’s butler in Wales?” (C 11)
  • Who or what were these people, with their mantles and their nakedness, their long locks of hair hanging over their faces, their wild battle-cries and gruesome wailings, their kerns and their gallowglas, their jesters and their bards? Who were their ancestors? Scythians? Or Spaniards? Ot Gauls? What state of society was this, where chiefs jostled with gypsies, where ragged women lay all day long laughing in the hedgerows, where ragged men gambled away among each other their very rags ... where wizards flew on whirlwinds, and rats were rhymed into dissolution?” (C 12) The people in question were the Irish. Wonderfully obscure, especially that last clause!


November 2019; 180 pages

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