A Dizzy Romance

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On 24 November 1880, the Pall Mall Gazette carried a review of a new novel, entitled Endymion. Its author was the recently retired Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. The Pall Mall Gazette could not resist drawing a comparison in its review between Disraeli and his arch-rival, Gladstone.

It is quite characteristic of the two chiefs of the great political parties that one of them should have hastened to employ his leisure after his fall from power in thunders against the Vatican. . . and that the other in the same circumstances should have betaken himself to the writing of a novel of society.

Disraeli’s ‘novel of society’ is very rarely read now. It was his last completed work of fiction, begun after the Conservative defeat of 1868, and finished after his second term as Prime Minister came to an end in the spring of 1880. Some of the reviewers were sniffy about it (one dubbed it a ‘political novel without political principles’) and some saw it as a practical joke played on opponents, but others were impressed by the energy and wit of its 76-year-old author. ‘A distinguished critic wound up an essay on Mr Disraeli’s romances three or four years ago by lamenting the degradation of a promising novelist into a Prime Minister,’ wrote the Pall Mall Gazette reviewer, as he opened his commentary. ‘Those who least admire Lord Beaconsfield’s politics will be most pleased to welcome his restoration from the lower intellectual type to the higher.’

Disraeli moved between the ‘lower intellectual’ world of politics and the ‘higher’ realm of literature throughout his career. In the 1820s and 1830s he wrote novels to make his name, to hold the bailiffs at bay and to take revenge on powerful people who snubbed him. In the 1840s, when he was excluded from government, he produced his ‘Condition of England’ trilogy, in which he used the novel form as a platform for political campai

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About the contributor

Daisy Hay’s new book, Mr and Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance, is out now. She is a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker for 2014–15, which means she is currently trying hard to think new and interesting thoughts.

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