DISRAELI by Stanley Weintraub


A Biography
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 Disraeli (1804-81) was an outsider who cultivated the art of letters as successfully as he practiced the craft of politics. Here, Weintraub (Arts and Humanities/Pennsylvania State University; Long Day's Journey into War, 1991, etc.) meticulously traces the British PM's life and personae. Son of a minor literary antiquarian, Disraeli--partly because, as a Jew, he was excluded from most other professions--began at age 21 to write social and political novels. Mysterious, prodigal, and theatrical, he cultivated a Byronic style as a womanizer and dandy, even undertaking a tour of the Mideast. His charm and charisma helped him overcome the many barriers to public office, and, in 1868, he became PM and confidant to the enfeebled Queen Victoria, permitting him, as he put it, to hold the ``top of the greasy pole'' as the leader of England during its imperial age. Unable to accomplish domestic reform in Parliament, he expressed his radicalism in his many influential novels, especially Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845), and Tancred (1847), evoking the horrid conditions of the poor, the ineffectualness of the law, the irrelevance of the aristocracy, and the spiritual poverty of the Church. In his unique aphoristic style, Disraeli claimed to ``live for Power and the Affections,'' finding love among many women; marrying, in order to escape debt, a 40-ish widow 12 years his senior; reputedly fathering two illegitimate children; and flirting with a whole series of women when, in his 60s, he was at the height of his political power. ``Somehow,'' Weintraub says, ``England survived Disraeli's separation from reality.'' With erudition and zest, Weintraub explains the byzantine nature of 19th-century politics, the significance of Disraeli's Jewishness, and the relation between the fiction and reality. But the inner life eludes him--just as it seems to have eluded Disraeli. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1993
ISBN: 0-525-93668-8
Page count: 720pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1993


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