Biographical Portrayals in Strachey’s Eminent Victorians and Keynes’s Biography of Isaac Newton
The Bloomsbury notion of biography moved against what was the predominant norms of biography at the time. Iconoclastic in all their efforts, the Bloomsbury writers did an interesting thing regarding biography. In both Lytton Strachey’s portrayal of Florence Nightingale from Eminent Victorians and Maynard Keynes’s brief portrait of Isaac Newton, they strive to reinsert the iconoclastic into figures that have become so mainstream as to be banal in their eyes. There is an ironic derision of the stereotypes both figures have become alongside an enormous amount of respect for the non-stereotypical aspects of their character that made these figures as great as they were.
Strachey’s Eminent Victorians could be summarized as an attempt to demonstrate the ways in which the key figures of the Victorian era were not as Victorian as one might assume. Florence Nightingale, in particular, could not be seen, through Strachey’s eyes at least, as simply the “Lady with the Lamp” seeking out and aiding wounded soldiers on the battlefield. While he certainly does portray her as an angel of mercy, the images he chose are more of the thousand eyed stentorian seraphs who threw Adam and Eve out of the garden rather than the cherubic babies popular during the Renaissance. He emphasizes her strength, determination, and ability above her compassion and gentler features.
Florence Nightingale had come to symbolize all womanly virtues that were upheld by the Victorians. She embodied their ideals of the “Angel in the House” in that she ministered to the world, They saw her actions as an extension of her maternal duties, simply expanded beyond the borders of her own home. Strachey, in exposing the manipulative, economic, and unstable sides of her does his best to expunge that particular conception of...