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Henry Irving was easily the most famous Victorian actor (although it would be more accurate to call him a Late Victorian - he didn't achieve stardom until the 1870s). Ellen Terry, his stage partner for some 25 years, was the undisputed queen of the British theatre as only Mrs Siddons had been before her, and as no one has been since.

There are inevitably many books about them. But in A Strange Eventful History Michael Holroyd has undertaken something new. The first joint biography of the pair, it also extends the story to the next generation, and gives a full account of their children - both Ellen's son and daughter and Irving's two sons.

The result is a portrait that is far more spacious than most theatrical biographies, and one that puts as much emphasis on personal and family relationships as it does on public careers. All six central characters were involved in theatrical work of one kind or another, but it is their off-stage lives that we are mostly left thinking about.

This is even truer of Ellen Terry than of Irving - partly, paradoxically, because she was such a creature of the theatre. Both her parents were actors; so were three of her sisters and her brother, while she herself first appeared on stage as a small child. She also enjoyed the advantages of ­golden-haired good looks, easy humour and a light, graceful manner. There was never any problem about her choice of profession: reading about her, we pretty much take it for granted.

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