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Benjamin Disraeli

(1804—1881) prime minister and novelist


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(1804–81),

first earl of Beaconsfield, politician, prime minister, novelist, eldest son of I. D'israeli. He was to attempt an ambitious variety of literary forms before he settled on the novel. His first novel, Vivian Grey (1826), published anonymously, achieved considerable success. In 1827 he published a Swiftian satire, Popanilla. Between 1828 and 1831 he travelled in Spain and Italy, and made much use of these, and of subsequent travels in Albania, the Levant, and Egypt, in future novels. In 1831 he published The Young Duke followed by Contarini Fleming (1832) and Alroy (1833), which, together with Vivian Grey (in the order Grey—Alroy—Fleming), formed his first trilogy. In 1833 appeared the burlesque Ixion in Heaven and in 1834 another burlesque, The Infernal Marriage, his one long, serious but unsuccessful attempt at poetry, The Revolutionary Epic, in blank verse, and A Year at Hartlebury, written with his sister Sarah, whose authorship he never admitted. A Vindication of the English Constitution appeared in 1835; the Junius‐inspired Letters of Runnymede, together with The Spirit of Whiggism, in 1836.

By 1834Disraeli had established himself in the highest social and political society, which was vividly reflected in his next two novels, Henrietta Temple and Venetia, both love stories and both published in 1837. A verse play, The Tragedy of Count Alarcos, appeared in 1839. The trilogy for which Disraeli is most renowned, Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845), and Tancred (1847) may be regarded as the first truly political novels in English. He published no more novels until Lothair in 1870. Endymion (1880), his last completed novel, was set in the period of his youth. He left Falconet unfinished at his death.

Many of the characters in his novels were intended as portraits of prominent men and women of the time. A combination of fascination and amused contempt for high society, both social and political; a clever vein of irony; shrewd observation of personal and political manoeuvre; an apparently genuine sympathy for poverty and oppression; and a brisk readability characterized his novels.

Subjects: Literature — British History.


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