Disraeli: A Biography

Overview

He was a dandy, an adventurer, a spendthrift, a sensational popular novelist. Combining political flair with an appetite for wine, women, and salons, he overcame a reputation as a loser by his election - while debtor's prison loomed - to the immunity of a seat in Parliament. More than once, disabling depression had left him bedridden, but his physician was ambition and women his tonic. He married a widow twelve years his senior for her money and forged an astonishing career. Benjamin Disraeli was one of the most ...
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Overview

He was a dandy, an adventurer, a spendthrift, a sensational popular novelist. Combining political flair with an appetite for wine, women, and salons, he overcame a reputation as a loser by his election - while debtor's prison loomed - to the immunity of a seat in Parliament. More than once, disabling depression had left him bedridden, but his physician was ambition and women his tonic. He married a widow twelve years his senior for her money and forged an astonishing career. Benjamin Disraeli was one of the most extraordinary Englishmen of the nineteenth century. This major new biography is a superlative portrait not only of this fascinating figure but of the Victorian Age that shaped him. "Life," he claimed, "is a masquerade." Born a Jew, he was raised from his teens as an Anglican but always exploited his origins to political and literary advantage, remaining an enigma to a world that first reviled yet ultimately revered him. The background that handicapped him, the positions he held - often precariously - the power he loved to wield, the novels he published, the wit he employed devastatingly, and the women he needed, used, and loved, all illuminate the man and underscore the dimensions of his triumphs over prejudice and personal flaws. In the searching glare of a hostile press, he drove himself from upstart playboy to an earl full of dignity and honors. Nevertheless, as is revealed here for the first time, in the shadows of fame he seems to have secretly fathered two children.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Perceived by his well-born contemporaries as an outsider and discriminated against as a Jew, despite his Anglican conversion at age 12, Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) could not escape his origins, so ``he made the most of them, with an authentic pride,'' notes the author in this magisterial, exhaustively researched biography. More than any other biographer, Weintraub ( Victoria ) makes us see the relentless anti-Semitism Disraeli faced, as well as the Conservative prime minister's strong identification with his Jewish roots (he spoke passionately about ``restoring the Jews to their own land''). Using Disraeli's novels as a mirror of events, Weintraub ably charts his metamorphosis from heavily indebted dandy to caustically witty politician, favorite of Queen Victoria, domestic reformer and architect of British imperial policy. One chapter is devoted to tantalizing new circumstantial evidence that Disraeli, while married, may have fathered two illegitimate children by two different women. Illustrated. (Oct.)
Library Journal
A dandy, a best-selling novelist, and a womanizer are not the usual descriptions applied to Prime Minister and professional intimate of Queen Victoria, Benjamin Disraeli. Yet after reading Weintraub's encompassing work, these are the adjectives that stick. Weintraub has a good background for this work, having written Victoria: An Intimate Biography ( LJ 1/15/87). It is evident that he has done his homework; letters, newspapers, diaries, and contemporary works of the day are all thoroughly quoted. But it is this very detail that makes the book hard going, tending to swamp the reader. As much time and effort seems to be spent on Disraeli's having yet another love affair as on Disraeli's opinions on the American Civil War or even Victoria's becoming empress of India. There is a continual flow of encyclopedic facts but not enough flavor of the man. Still, from the work Weintraub has done, this biography should be on most academic and larger public library shelves. -- Katherine Gillen, Mesa P.L., Ariz.
Gilbert Taylor
Recurring interest in Disraeli--this is the third "life" since 1967--stems from the variety of motifs from which the writer may select. Shall it be Disraeli's conduct of British imperialism? His advocacy of social reform? His modernizing leadership of the Conservative party? Disraeli produced ample grist for political historians, but Weintraub instead emphasizes his subject's private life as converted Jew, prolific novelist, and Victorian fashion plate and chaser of hoopskirts. The beneficiary of a rich grandfather and a father's forgettable career as hack literateur, young Benjamin had the time and the genes to work with words, an inclination that took advantage of the great Reform Bill of 1832, which wedged open British politics to talents such as his. He soon sat in Parliament and hit on novels as a means of political commentary and, concomitantly, self-promotion. Although unread today, Disraeli's novels naturally impress Weintraub with their insights into their author's era and ambitions, and so he paraphrases long passages that signpost Disraeli's 40-year-long career as society wit and insider of parliamentary intrigue. If his nemesis, Liberal leader Gladstone, exemplifies Victorian morality at its stiffest, Disraeli shows there was life beneath the top hats and cravats, a vibrant humanity this latest biographer succeeds in bringing out.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780517129418
  • Publisher: Random House Value Publishing, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/28/1994

Meet the Author

Stanley Weintraub

Stanley Weintraub is Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Arts and Humanities at Penn State University and the author of notable histories and biographies including 11 Days in December, Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, MacArthur's War, Long Day's Journey into War, and A Stillness Heard Round the World: The End of the Great War. He lives in Newark, Delaware.

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