The biographer Lytton Strachey belonged to the Bloomsbury Group. He inaugurated the new era of biographical writing at the close of World War I. In his preface, Strachey enunciated the two fold principle of selection and scrutiny which was to mark all his work.
Strachey proposed a briefness which excludes everything that is superfluous and nothing that is significant. The completion of this mission made Strachey the greatness of modern biographers.
Strachey has certainly revolutionized the art of writing a biography. Before him, the biographer used to neglect like a hagiographer the darker side of their heroes because they generally used to idealize their heroes by representing them as angels of virtue. Strachey was the first to realize that in order to give a complete and human portrait.
Strachey did not hesitate to include in his biographies the failings, jokes and whims of his heroes. He believed that a biographer must have a psychological insight into his character.
A biographer must neither suppress vital facts nor obscure those aspects of his character which help us visualize his true picture as he lived. Instead of giving abstractness, Strachey indeed gave a creature of flesh and blood.
Strachey has suggested that the biographies must be primarily a form of literary art capable of giving the pleasure. In biography, it is not so much the subject as the treatment of the subject that really matters.
Strachey suggested that the biographies of eminent men should not be immediately written after their death because their relatives and friends are naturally reluctant to disclose the relevant confidential details. Thus he was of the opinion that:
First class biographies can only be written long after the hero’s death.
Strachey had a gift of irony which has hardly been equaled in literature by anyone since the eighteenth century masters.
Strachey has made biography a literary medium. His biographical style has the appeal of a fine work of art.
Strachey has brought us face to face with men and women, who are nonetheless fallible human beings and not infallible saints or gods. We watch them live, think, and quarrel like us. Sometimes they behave meanly and foolishly and sometimes nobly and wisely.
Strachey’s objectives were to make biography an unmistakable channel for the truthful transmission of personality; to write it as the most authentic footnote to history; to make it a vivid and complete story; to make it a source of inner satisfaction to the reader. In most of his experiments in biography Strachey certainly succeeded in attaining them. Strachey’s achievement in biography was indeed a challenge to dullness and incompetence.
Charles Richard Sander says:
Throughout his career Strachey protested against the lengthy, formless, badly written biographies produced by the Victorians. He insisted that the spirit of the biographer should be free and that he should write from a definite point of view, should select and include only the essential materials of a subject, should give to a work good structure and excellence of style.
His intensely personal sketches shocked many critics but delighted many readers. M. Forster says:
Strachey helped sweep away the ponderous Victorian approach to the writing to biography, replacing it with a witty and with impressionistic style that was widely imitated and studied at the University of Cambridge.
Instead of using the conventional method of detailed chronological narration, Lytton Strachey carefully selected his tact to present “Eminent Victorians”.
These deliberations suffice to signify that Strachey is the greatest biographer of the Victorian age.