Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Lytton Strachey's Strange Falsetto Squeak

Photograph c2015 © Joseph Podlesnik
Above Photograph by Joseph Podlesnik. When I first met him in the early 1980s, Joe was completing his BFA in painting and drawing, with a minor in English, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His foremost achievement then was the adroitness of his vision-based drawing skills, and to great extent it continues to be, although he has since branched out to film-making, teaching—and, as this phenomenal image confirms, to drive-by photography. At much as it may appear to be, this is not the product of layered manipulation in Adobe Photoshop. This is an on-site camera shot. A second photograph is below. And a book of his photographs, titled Almost Seeing, can also be previewed and purchased online.


Leonard Woolf [British writer, husband of Virginia Woolf] in Sowing: An Autobiography of the Years 1880 to 1904. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1960, p. 133—

[Describing the mannerisms of British Bloomsbury writer Lytton Stratchey] His body was long, thin, and rather ungainly; all his movements, including his walk, were slow and slightly hesitant…When he sat in a chair, he appeared to have tied his body, and particularly his legs, into what I always called a Strachean knot. There was a Strachean voice, common to him and to all his nine brothers and sisters…It was mainly derived, I think, from the mother and consisted in an unusual stress accent, heavy emphasis on words here and there in a sentence, combined with an unusual tonic accent, so that emphasis and pitch continually changed, often in a kind of syncopated rhythm. It was extremely catching, and most people who saw much of Lytton acquired the Strachey voice and never completely lost it. Lytton himself added another peculiarity to the family cadence. Normally his voice was low and fairly deep, but every now and again it went up into a falsetto, almost a squeak.

Strachey's strange falsetto squeak was also famously described by British writer Robert Graves in Goodbye to All That, Garden City NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1957—

[During World War I] Lytton Strachey was unfit, but instead of allowing himself to be rejected by the doctors he preferred to appear before a military tribunal as a conscientious objector. He told us of the extraordinary impression that was caused by an air cushion which he inflated during the proceedings as a protest again the hardness of the benches. Asked by the chairman the usual question: "I understand, Mr. Strachey, that you have a conscientious objection to war?" he replied (in his curious falsetto voice), "Oh no, not at all, only to this war." Better than this was his reply to the chairman's other stock question, which had previously never failed to embarrass the claimant: "Tell me, Mr. Strachey, what would you do if you saw a German soldier trying to violate your sister?" With an air of noble virtue: "I would try to get between them."

Photograph c2015 © Joseph Podlesnik