The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs. Disraeli

The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs. Disraeli

by Richard Aldous
     
 

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The vicious political struggle that electrified Victorian society, brilliantly re-created for a new generation. William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli were the fiercest political rivals of the nineteenth century. Their intense mutual hatred was both ideologically driven and deeply personal. Their vitriolic duels, carried out over decades, lend profound insight

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Overview

The vicious political struggle that electrified Victorian society, brilliantly re-created for a new generation. William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli were the fiercest political rivals of the nineteenth century. Their intense mutual hatred was both ideologically driven and deeply personal. Their vitriolic duels, carried out over decades, lend profound insight into the social and political currents that dominated Victorian England. To Disraeli-a legendary dandy descended from Sephardic Jews-his antagonist was an "unprincipled maniac" characterized by an "extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy, and superstition." For the conservative aristocrat Gladstone, his rival was "the Grand Corrupter," whose destruction he plotted "day and night, week by week, month by month." In the tradition of Roy Jenkins and A. N. Wilson, Richard Aldous has written an outstanding political biography, giving us the first dual portrait of this intense and momentous rivalry. Aldous's vivid narrative style-by turns powerful, witty, and stirring-brings new life to the Gladstone and Disraeli story and confirms a perennial truth: in politics, everything is personal.

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Editorial Reviews

William Grimes
It may well have been the greatest political rivalry of all time. For half a century, in a series of battles that transformed Victorian Britain, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli faced off like two heavyweight fighters, giving and receiving no quarter. Sometimes they fought for great principles, sometimes for enormous political stakes, but in truth no quarrel was too petty for these two giants. Mutual loathing made their bruising encounters a riveting spectacle, richly enjoyed by the British public and recaptured, with great zest, by Richard Aldous in The Lion and the Unicorn…What Mr. Aldous presents, quite entertainingly, is a dual character study and a blow-by-blow account of two warriors engaged in hand-to-hand combat for the better part of their lifetimes.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Two titans, Disraeli and Gladstone, dominated English politics in the Victorian age. Each did multiple stints as prime minister and as leader of the Conservative (Disraeli) or Liberal (Gladstone) party. Political opposition shifted over the years to mutual personal disapproval and finally to rage-driven attack. Aldous (of University College, Dublin) traces the development of this seemingly pathological antagonism amid the policy disputes of the era. Both combatants displayed rhetorical skills unimaginable in a politician today. Both were writers, Gladstone of dull works on religion and on Homer, Disraeli of novels lampooning notable figures of his day, especially Gladstone. Aldous portrays both as possessing repellent character traits, such as Disraeli's vindictive mockery and Gladstone's moral hypocrisy. All these tangy ingredients make this joint biography highly appetizing, even if some readers may find issues like the Corn Laws, that so energized Gladstone and Disraeli, a bit faded. However, vexing issues of international trade, religion in public life and voting rights divide our nation as they did Victorian England. Aldous's smooth pacing and adroit writing bring a forgotten world back to life and demonstrate how two forceful if warring personalities can create a history that neither could have achieved acting alone. (Sept.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Aldous (School of History & Archives/University College Dublin) chronicles the engrossing political chess match between two vastly different British prime ministers in lively prose that delivers the pacing and plot twists of a novel. Aristocratic William Gladstone (1809-98) was a stern moralist, Jewish outsider Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81) an affable orator whose ascendancy to power was hailed as a breath of fresh air by many among his colleagues and the public. Disraeli's foppish charm won him the steadfast loyalty of Queen Victoria, whose admiration was such that she even elevated him to the peerage, an act that only intensified Gladstone's intense dislike for his enemy, who heartily reciprocated his sentiments. Whispers about Gladstone's penchant for prostitutes hurt his reputation less than it might have in today's political arena: Even after he insisted that he sought to "save" these women from their lot in life, opponents and supporters alike merely laughed about his "benevolent nocturnal rambles." The author offers an entertaining look at Disraeli's quirky habits, explaining that the confirmed dandy "was also a parvenu who unnerved his aristocratic colleagues with his unusual ideas (not least in dress) about how a country gentleman lived and behaved." After all the vitriol that passed between the two great leaders, it's oddly touching to know that upon hearing the news of Disraeli's death Gladstone noted in his diary, "There is no more extraordinary man surviving him in England, perhaps none in Europe." Underneath the motherlode of distaste for each other, Aldous suggests, ran a hidden vein of respect. No stunning new information here, but a rousing portrait of 19th-centuryEngland's most venomous political rivalry, featuring a highly readable exploration into the dueling natures of two powerful men.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393065701
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
09/17/2007
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
6.70(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.30(d)

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