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About the book
  • Published: 15 September 2009
  • ISBN: 9780099497189
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 672
  • RRP: $36.99

A Strange Eventful History

The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and their Remarkable Families

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A major literary event from ‘one of the greatest biographers of our age’

Ellen Terry was a natural actress who filled the theatre with a magical radiance. The Times called her the ‘uncrowned queen of England’ but behind her public success lay a darker story. The child-bride of G. F. Watts, she eloped with a friend of Oscar Wilde at 21 and gave birth to 2 illegitimate children. But her greatest partnership was on-stage, with legendary actor-manager and tragedian Henry Irving. At the Lyceum Theatre in London, the two of them created a grand Cathedral of the Arts.
Their intimately-involved lives exceeded in plot the Shakespearean dramas they performed on stage – and indeed were curiously affected by them. They also influenced the life and work of their remarkable children, Ellen’s children in particular. Edy Craig, who founded a feminist theatre group, The Pioneer Players, established a lesbian community whose complex love-affairs make those of the Bloomsbury Group appear quite conventional. Her brother, Edward Gordon Craig, the revolutionary stage designer who collaborated w

  • Pub date: 15 September 2009
  • ISBN: 9780099497189
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 672
  • RRP: $36.99

About the Author

Michael Holroyd

Besides the Lives of Augustus John, Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey (which was filmed as Carrington), Michael Holroyd has written two volumes of memoirs, Basil Street Blues and Mosaic. His most recent book, A Strange Eventful History, winner of the James Tait Black Prize for Biography, was a biography of theatre greats Ellen Terry and Henry Irving and their children. He has been president of the Royal Society of Literature and is the first non-fiction writer to have been awarded the British Literature Prize. He lives in London and Somerset with his wife, the novelist Margaret Drabble.

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Praise for A Strange Eventful History

“Holroyd has a wonderful eye for detail...an entirely captivating biography...one of the glories of the form”


“It has all the tumbling narrative, spicy detail and easy empathy that determine his midas touch... shows Holroyd yet again pushing the biographer's art to new imaginative planes”

Financial Times

“Magnificent - not just as a fascinating exercise in group biography, but as a masterpiece of comic writing...such joie de vivre”

New Statesman

“This is a fabulous cavalcade of a book, written with infectious verve and deep imaginative sympathy ... a joy to read”

John Carey, Sunday Times

“All theatre enthusiasts are indebted to Henry Irving and Ellen Terry: and now also to Michael Holroyd for bringing their families back to dazzling life”

Sir Ian McKellan

“Through a rapidly evolving, scene-changing narrative, presented with a range of eye-catching effects Holroyd evokes the mysterious world of the Victorian and Edwardian theatre, the hiss of the gas footlights, the coloured lights and smoke, with all the attention to detail of the star-struck fan seated in the front stalls”

Mark Bostridge, Independent on Sunday

“He writes with eloquence and clarity, sketching the broader context with a light but firm touch and incidentally providing a literary masterclass in the marshalling and sifting of detail”

Literary Review

“'[Holroyd's] own uncanny powers of balance, perception and penetration [appear] in a multiple biography that somehow recaptures an ephemeral imaginative reality more intense to its subjects and their public than life itself”


“Holroyd's sweeping biography...proceeds at a furious pace, and, in less expert hands, the detail packed onto the page might bewilder; instead, the effect is of an epic, perfectly balanced by intimacies of setting and character.”

The New Yorker

“As unconventional as it is fascinating”

The Times

“A fabulous cavalcade of a book, written with infectious verve”

John Carey, The Sunday Times

“To attempt the biography of even one of these giants of the 19th Century English stage would be a challenge to most, but the energetic Michael Holroyd tackles both...Amazingly he carried it off in a ripping yarn spiced with melodrama and tinged with pathos”

Judith Rice, The Guardian

“Holroyd's charmingly modest intention is to "carry readers back in time and convey a sense of adventure and intimacy with the past". In this he triumphantly succeeds”

Katie Owen, Sunday Telegraph

“A funny, gossipy epic”

Christopher Hirst, Independent

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