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

Henry Irving – a merchant’s clerk who became the saviour of British theatre – and Ellen Terry, who made her first theatre appearance as soon as she could walk, were the king and queen of the Victorian stage. Creatively interdependent, they founded a power-house of arts at the Lyceum Theatre, with Bram Stoker as business manager, where they recast Shakespeare’s plays on an epic scale and took the company on lucrative and exhilarating international tours. In his masterly new biography, award-winning writer Michael Holroyd explores their public and private lives, showing how their artistic legacy and their brilliant but troubled children came to influence the modern world.


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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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    September 15, 2009


    672 pages

    RRP $29.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Also by Michael Holroyd

On Wheels
A Book of Secrets
Basil Street Blues and Mosaic
Bernard Shaw
Augustus John
Lytton Strachey


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The Wardrobe Mistress
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Orson Welles, Volume 3
Private London
The Invention of Angela Carter
The Beautiful Dead
The Witness
The Girls
The Slaughter Man
Strange Fascination
Bernard Shaw
Ambulance Girls Under Fire
Mr Showbiz
La Mama
Queer City
Take Courage