Sybil, or The Two Nations [ePub]

by Benjamin Disraeli

Disraeli is very much the bête noire of Gladstone's biography, but I thought reading one of his novels would provide more fun and interesting insight than adding yet another unfinished biography to my list.
One of Disraeli's oft-commented upon "qualifications" for office was his ability to flatter Queen Victoria - the rapturous description in here of the Virgin Queen's ascent to the throne amidst tweeting birds is pretty amusing. As literature, Disraeli's novels have been challenged by the test of time - huge undigested chunks of his theories of history alternate with the plot, improbable characters come up conveniently to explain things in long monologues - but also well-written and funny enough of the time.

The Two Nations of the title are the rich and the poor - Sybil herself is one of those impossibly virtuous and graceful Victorian novel heroines. As the daughter of an artisan, her nascent romance with the second son of an aristocratic family would seem to be impossible because of the class divide, but rather than their ultimate union being achieved by the exact democratizing social upheaval which is the ostensible theme of the book, it turns that her family actually *are* of the aristocracy, having been swindled out of their hereditary lands, a deceit that finally comes to light. So the happy ending, such as it is, more reaffirms the existing social order than anything else. This contradiction is, I believe, characteristic of Disraeli's slightly muddled set of beliefs at the time he wrote it and he himself was making his way in politics.

08.09.2010

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