A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving, and Their Remarkable Families

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Mar 2, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 640 pages


Deemed "a prodigy among biographers" by The New York Times Book Review, Michael Holroyd transformed biography into an art. Now he turns his keen observation, humane insight, and epic scope on an ensemble cast, a remarkable dynasty that presided over the golden age of theater.

Ellen Terry was an ethereal beauty, the child bride of a Pre-Raphaelite painter who made her the face of the age. George Bernard Shaw was so besotted by her gifts that he could not bear to meet her, lest the spell she cast from the stage be broken. Henry Irving was an ambitious, harsh-voiced merchant's clerk, but once he painted his face and spoke the lines of Shakespeare, his stammer fell away to reveal a magnetic presence. He would become one of the greatest actor-managers in the history of the theater. Together, Terry and Irving created a powerhouse of the arts in London's Lyceum Theatre, with Bram Stoker—who would go on to write Dracula—as manager. Celebrities whose scandalous private lives commanded global attention, they took America by stormin wildly popular national tours.

Their all-consuming professional lives left little room for their brilliant but troubled children. Henry's boys followed their father into the theater but could not escape the shadow of his fame. Ellen's feminist daughter, Edy, founded an avant-garde theater and a largely lesbian community at her mother's country home. But it was Edy's son, the revolutionary theatrical designer Edward Gordon Craig, who possessed the most remarkable gifts and the most perplexing inability to realize them. A now forgotten modernist visionary, he collaborated with the Russian director Stanislavski on a production of Hamlet that forever changed the way theater was staged. Maddeningly self-absorbed, he inherited his mother's potent charm and fathered thirteen children by eight women, including a daughter with the dancer Isadora Duncan.

An epic story spanning a century of cultural change, A Strange Eventful History finds space for the intimate moments of daily existence as well as the bewitching fantasies played out by its subjects. Bursting with charismatic life, it is an incisive portrait of two families who defied the strictures of their time. It will be swiftly recognized as a classic.

Please note: This ebook edition does not contain photos and illustrations that appeared in the print edition.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - otterley - LibraryThing

A biography of two great Victorian actors, and their families. I love the theatre and I think this reading experience made me sure that the theatre is not well served by reading about performance ... Read full review

A STRANGE EVENTFUL HISTORY: The Dramatic Lives of Two Remarkable Families

User Review  - Kirkus

Biographer and memoirist Holroyd (Mosaic, 2004, etc.) re-creates the separate and shared histories of two theater immortals.The author begins with a fetching chronicle of actress Ellen Terry's ... Read full review


Death of a Husband Death of a Lover PART THREE
Her Lady Macbeth
Ted and Edy and Harry and Laurence
All Is True
After the Shooting
Counter Attractions
One More Laurel Wreath
Mixed Fortunes

Englands Michelangelo
The Kingdom of Pattledom
A Marriage Is Arranged and a Deed of Separation Signed
The Kate Terry Valse
Found Drowned
Happiness for a Time
All Change
A Failure to Be Proud
Whats in a Name?
Entrances and Exits
Their Coronation
Our Lady of the Lyceum
Irving on Holiday
His Shylock
Shakespeares Lovers
Our American Cousins
From Malvolio to Mephistopheles
The Irish Pretender
Wishful Thinking
For Love or Money PART FOUR
Made in Heaven
Helgeland and Hungerheart
The End of Irving
Family Affairs
Masks and Faces
Not Quite Alone
The Long Game of Patience
An Occasion

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About the author (2010)

Knighted for his services to literature, Michael Holroyd is the author of acclaimed biographies of George Bernard Shaw, the painter Augustus John, and Lytton Strachey, as well as two memoirs. He is the president of the Royal Society of Literature and the only nonfiction writer to have been awarded the David Cohen British Literature Prize. He lives in London with his wife, the novelist Margaret Drabble.

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