Originally published in 1978. Henry Irving achieved an astounding success in Britain and America as an actor; yet he lacked good looks, had spindly legs, and did not have a good voice. He said so himself. Today Irving is regarded as the archetype of the old-time actor, but in his own time he was regarded as a great theatrical innovator. Even Bernard Shaw, who attacked him pitilessly, even unto death, called him ‘modern’ when he first saw him act.
Irving, the man, with his tenacious, obsessive talent, his human limitations and weaknesses, and his ephemeral glory is brought most sympathetically to life in this biography. It is written from contemporary sources, and from criticisms, lampoons, caricatures and gossip columns.
If Irving reflected certain aspects of his age, this book underlines the Victorian ethic to which he appealed and the backcloths against which it was set – the extraordinary lavishness of the Lyceum productions and the incredible extravagance of social entertaining. Not the least absorbing aspect of this biography is the fascinating account of the long partnership between Irving and Ellen Terry, still in many respects an enigmatic one, but here portrayed with lively insight into character combined with understanding and deep knowledge of the social and theatrical context of the Victorian age.
Table of Contents
Foreword John Gielgud 1. A Child of the Chapel 2. Enter Henry Irving 3. The Black Cloak of Hamlet 4. Some Heroines and a Villain Unknown 5. Wedding Bells and Sleigh Bells 6. Easy Tears and Hard Settlements 7. The Hundred Pound Hamlet 8. A Theatre ‘Where I Should be Sole Master’ 9. The Spirits of the Age 10. The Public Image and the Private Man 11. A Feast of Spectacle 12. America! America! 13. Blizzards and Shakespeare 14. Home to Cheers and Hisses 15. Mephisto (of the Grange) 16. The Time and the Hour 17. The Serpent in the Forest 18. G.B.S. Advancing 19. Enter Mrs Aria 20. Envoi