Lytton Strachey's first major work, Eminent Victorians, made a revolutionary gesture by giving the lives of its famous subjects ironic treatment, atypical of the serious genre of biography. His highly stylized lives were readable, but his campiness brought critical backlash from the institutional gatekeepers. This dismissal took the same form of homophobic panic that attended writers of aestheticism. Engaging recent constellations of queer style and queer temporality, I argue that Strachey's prose style is a kind of planned obsolescence, in the model of manufacturing schemes to promote demand for yearly updates. Planned obsolescence gives us a new way to look at innovation in styles and canon formation. The continual drive for innovation we think of as modernism is the same demand for novelty in any other commodity. Strachey's work disrupts the conservative modernist reaction to the perceived threat of commodity culture and calls into question its preservation of hierarchies of distinction. Strachey emphasizes momentary pleasure, not the future, and this opens an aesthetic resistance to the collusion of literature and the marketplace, both in its impact on aesthetic form and in its institutionalization in literary studies.
Skip Nav Destination
Scott Branson; Planned Obsolescence, or The Fate of Prose in Lytton Strachey's Biographies. GLQ 1 October 2017; 23 (4): 533–558. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-4157511
Download citation file: