In a brief passage from Bram Stoker's Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving, Stoker offers an account of how, in May 1895, Irving was awarded his knighthood. The narrative duly highlights the exceptionality of the moment, “the first time that in any country an actor had been, quâ actor, honoured by the State;” and it stresses the overwhelming applause that followed, nationally and internationally, since “the telegrams, letters and cables began to pour in from all parts of the world.” However, in the broader economy of a text that extends beyond 500 pages, offering a detailed description of Stoker's experience as business manager for Irving at the Lyceum Theatre in London (1878–1905), a text that centers on the actor's rise to his fame as the quintessential Shakespearian star of the late Victorian and Edwardian stage, and often goes into great detail in order to record and vindicate the traits that arguably defined Irving's superlative merit and greatness—in such a text (otherwise rather garrulous and marked by Stoker's “lifelong weakness for name-dropping”), the events of May 1895 are narrated with comparative concision, and almost in subdued tones.
The brevity with which Stoker reports on that key episode may in itself be rhetorically significant. It suggests that the culmination of Irving’s fame and public recognition, hence also a high point in the hagiographic and teleological design of the Personal Reminiscences,3 can only be properly celebrated with a reverence that requires a terse diction—words that will be weightier if they are fewer. The account comes, after all, from the biographer and memorialist who, in the course of dozens of previous chapters, had extolled the development of Irving's artistic identity, theatrical authority, and public prominence. No less tellingly, Stoker’s extensive narrative also signaled his own involvement (if not agency) in that momentous process—as Irving's “acting manager” and close friend; so close indeed that “we could almost read a thought of the other,” with such complicity as could be observed (Stoker's own phrase) “in a husband and wife who have lived together for long.”