By Robert O’Kell
Disraeli: The Romance of Politics examines the relationship between Disraeli’s novels and his political career and illuminates both in a way not previously attempted. The central argument is that the recurring fantasy structures of Disraeli’s novels and tales bear a striking similarity to the imaginative shaping of his political career. Both endeavours express the same urgencies of his life. The novels serve Disraeli as a means of exploring and coming to terms with both public and private aspects of his identity that are problematical, while the politics becomes a form of theatre in which the tensions and ambivalences of his character, including those related to his Jewish heritage, find ever more powerful expression in the roles occasioned by ideological disputes and his struggle for power within the Conservative Party.
In analysing the novels in the specific contexts of the crises of the political career – and vice-versa – this interdisciplinary study redefines the imaginatively autobiographical nature of the early fictions and provides radically new interpretations of the major novels, Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845), Tancred (1847), Lothair (1870), and Endymion (1880), placing all of them in the genre of what Disraeli called ‘the psychological romance.’ It also provides fresh analyses of the Young England movement, the discussions of the Condition of England, the Corn Law debate of 1845–6, the Irish Disestablishment crisis of 1868, and the Eastern Question in the 1870s. The latter two topics also lead to new insight into the nature of Disraeli’s imperialism and his relationship with Queen Victoria. These reassessments are all based on evidence drawn from Disraeli’s own manuscripts, letters and speeches, and from parliamentary debates, as well as the memoirs and correspondence of his contemporaries.
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