Strachey, Prospero, and The Seventh Heaven

Peter Clarke

  • The Shorter Strachey selected and introduced by Michael Holroyd and Paul Levy
    Oxford, 288 pp, £6.95, April 1980, ISBN 0 19 212211 8
  • Lytton Strachey by Michael Holroyd
    Penguin, 1143 pp, £4.95, December 1979, ISBN 0 14 003198 7

It is odd that Lytton Strachey did not manage to strike up much fellow-feeling for Prospero. In an essay of 1904 on Shakespeare’s final period we find the puncturing remark (uncharacteristic of later deflationary measures only in the diffidence of the opening phrase): ‘To an irreverent eye, the ex-Duke of Milan would perhaps appear as an unpleasantly crusty personage, in whom a twelve years’ monopoly of the conversation had developed an inordinate propensity for talking.’ Yet Strachey shared with the ex-Duke a notable penchant for working his designs by command over light and air. The specific illuminating detail and the general atmospheric effect constituted his medium. Deadly in observation, lively in exposition, his biographical portraits made an irresistible impression upon his contemporaries.

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