Tory Historian is reading Disraeli or The Two Lives, a cleverly titled book by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young. In chapter III, Doer or Dreamer there is a discussion about Disraeli's novels that have fallen completely out of favour. Hardly anybody who is not a specialist in Victorian literature or Disraeli himself reads them now though the later ones are not that bad. The early ones, on the other hand, are truly terrible.
The authors of Disraeli acknowledge the poor quality of the writing and plotting of the early novels and quote Anthony Trollope's contemptuous dismissal:
...the glory has been the glory of pasteboard, and the wealth has been the wealth of tinsel. The wit has been the wit of hairdressers and the enterprise has been the enterprise of mountebanks.A comprehensive indictment. But there is another side to it, say Hurd and Young:
And yet Trollope's attack does not quite ring true. This is not simply because in Disraeli's later novels we find real jewels of cleverness. Rather, in all his novels, bad and good, mature and puerile, Disraeli was seeking something other than literary achievement.That may not tells us a great deal about the literary quality of the later novels, such as Coningsby or Sibyl but the comment does try to grapple with some of the contradictions in Disraeli's personality, which is one of the book's avowed aims.
A conflict had emerged in Disraeli's early years which never fully resolved itself. On the one hand, Disraeli became a passionately ambitious politician, intriguing and manoeuvring with growing skill, choosing whatever tactics and relationships might take him up the greasy pole. On the other hand, through his interest in literature he developed a set of ideas to which he was devoted and which throughout his life he spent much time refining.
He refused to give up either his career or his ideas; so how could they be reconciled? The answer was through his novels. For Disraeli, literary sparkle held the key to great leadership. Here was a man who had diagnosed the nation's ills and could supply the relevant imaginative remedies. Together with his Jewish stock and ancient ancestry, it gave him, as he later suggested, the feeling on waking each day that he could topple governments and shake dynasties.