She was ""in at the birth of a new phenomenon, stardom."" She was ""a century-spanner, with one foot in the future and the other in the past . . . a hippie sympathizer ahead of her times;"" she was a ""trouper,"" a ""demon mother"" to two defiantly illegitimate children, and one of the first English women to achieve ""sustained financial independence."" The reader of Prideaux's biography of the fine and popular Victorian actress will have to agree with her many friends and admirers--foremost among them George Bernard Shaw, with whom she carried on a passionate and intelligent correspondence--that Ellen Terry was ""an exceptional creature,"" gifted with a sunny, impetuous, and generous nature unshadowed by jealousy. Appropriately, Prideaux has written a predominantly sunny book about her; with its affectionate wit, its sleek style, it reads almost like a historical novel--one that does not dig too deeply into the dark side of either its subject's life or its historical period. Ellen Terry did have her hard times--working as a child actress to help support her trouper family; being tossed out of her early marriage to a thirty-years-older, neurasthenic painter, breaking up with her lover, the architect Edward Godwin, after bearing him two children; experiencing trouble with her gifted, inconsiderate son--the great stage designer Edward Gordon Craig; finally, growing old and outdated. But Prideaux treats these difficulties with as much aplomb as Ellen Terry herself, and the triumphs and friendships predominate, particularly in her great years with actor-producer Henry Irving at the Lyceum Theater which was a heady blend of class and trash--and on her popular tours to America. The theater of the age is a bonus, and quotes from Terry's own letters and acting notes match her own verve.