The drama wasn’t always onstage.
Jul 5, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 40 • By EDWARD SHORT
In 1905, after Irving died, Terry married an American actor 30 years her junior. Edy found his youth ludicrous—he was younger than she was—while Ted welcomed him, convinced that he would shed ten years off his own life. “How wonderful,” he wrote his mother after hearing of the nuptials: “We are a queer family.” This was putting it mildly. Terry might have kept her relations with Irving carefully veiled but Ted would go on to have 13 children with eight women and Edy established a lesbian colony in Kent that even Vita Sackville-West found outré.
When Shaw looked back at Irving and Terry’s long run at the Lyceum, he saw “twenty years’ steady cultivation of the actor as a personal force, and [the] utter neglect of the drama.” Shaw could have pointed to Irving’s passing over not only his own work but that of Ibsen, Wilde, Barrie, Pinero, and Henry Arthur Jones. It was not until after Irving’s death that the balance between actor and drama was realigned—though this was achieved by a generation of actors, directors, and playwrights who prized Irving and Terry, seeing them as the bridge between David Garrick and Sarah Siddons and Gielgud and Olivier.
That he should be the first actor in England to be knighted amused Irving. Max Beerbohm, seeing him on his way to the station on the day he was honored at Windsor Castle, recalled:
In his biographies of Lytton Strachey, Augustus John, and Shaw, Michael Holroyd gave bohemianism center stage. Here he explores something far stranger than bohemia, and that is family life, about which he writes with considerable eloquence.
Here, Holroyd proves his mastery anew by heeding what Henry James called “the ever-importunate murmur, ‘Dramatize it, dramatize it!’ ” That James also happened to be Irving’s most relentless critic, finding his productions blatant and crude, is another story.
Edward Short is a writer in New York.
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