A Strange Eventful History, By Michael Holroyd

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The Independent Culture

Holroyd specialises in huge, highly readable biographies of figures fading into oblivion – Lytton Strachey, Augustus John and, to a lesser extent, Shaw.

Now he has focused on two dynasties all but forgotten outside theatrical circles. Mainly remembered for a melodrama, The Bells, Henry Irving bore a strong resemblance – "hollow cheeks, thin lips... pallor" – to Dracula, the creation of his stage manager Bram Stoker.

His theatrical partner Ellen Terry dominated the English stage. In this funny, gossipy epic, Holroyd reveals that their two unconventional families discovered permissiveness long before the Sixties.

Ellen's daughter Edy (Edith) Craig embraced lesbianism and founded a feminist theatre company, while her son, the stage designer Gordon Craig, had 13 children by eight women, including Isadora Duncan.