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Books that Changed Humanity: Eminent Victorians

ANU Humanities Research Centre
Event organized by ANU Humanities Research Centre

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Books that Changed Humanity is an initiative of the Humanities Research Centre, based at the Australian National University. The HRC invites experts to introduce and lead discussion of major texts from a variety of cultural traditions, all of which have informed the way we understand ourselves both individually and collectively as human beings.

Join us as Dr Alastair MacLachlan (Australian National University) introduces and discusses Lytton Strachey's 1918 literary sensation Eminent Victorians.

May marks the centenary of Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians. Ostensibly a group of four mini-biographies – Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold and General Gordon – it was the literary sensation of 1918. Written during World War 1, and published at its darkest hour, it was hailed by its admirers as ‘a revolutionary’, ‘liberating book’. It was also condemned as a ‘Hunnish’ ‘debunking’ of national heroes, and blamed for the decadence and pacifism of the post-war era.

After a brief sketch of its author, Lytton Strachey, a founder member of the ‘Bloomsbury group’, and close friend of Virginia Woolf, Maynard Keynes etc.,

Eminent Victorians will be assessed under five heads:

1. As the first ‘modern biography’: the book which changed the genre for ever.

2. As a critique of ‘Victorianism’: of sexual repression in its various Victorian modes. 3. As the manifesto of an alterative ethics, focussed on private not public virtues.

4. As an anti-war polemic: a critique of World War 1 as a product of Victorian values. 5. As a ‘queer’ text, which can be read as an early expression of ‘gay rights’ agendas.

It is also a great read and at times very funny.

All members of the public are welcome to come, listen, and share their thoughts over a friendly glass of wine.

Alastair MacLachlan is an Adjunct of the Humanities Research Centre and Research School of Humanities and the Arts at ANU. He has written on the English Civil Wars, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, European Nationalism and the English Marxist Historians. He has recently completed a book on G.M. Trevelyan and Lytton Strachey, entitled ‘The Pedestal and the Keyhole’ (you can probably guess which is which!)