Benjamin Disraeli was unique among British prime ministers in the 19th century in many ways, but perhaps none more so than for his career...

Benjamin Disraeli was unique among British prime ministers in the 19th century in many ways, but perhaps none more so than for his career as a novelist. Whereas many scholars have treated Disraeli’s literary endeavors as an aberration born of financial necessity, in his book Disraeli: The Romance of Politics (University of Toronto Press, 2014), Robert O’Kell presents the novels as key to understanding his inner life and how he conceptualized his political career. Beginning with his participation in publisher John Murray’s attempt in the 1820s to establish a rival newspaper to The Times, O’Kell uses Disraeli’s novels and other writings to illuminate his self-image, one defined by his Jewish ancestry and his own intellectual and rhetorical gifts. Though convinced of his own genius, Disraeli had to overcome both anti-Semitic slurs and the stigma gained as the author of gossipy “silver-fork” novels to win election to Parliament and to become the leader of the Conservative Party. Many of his novels reflect his efforts to work out those challenges for himself, serving as a chronicle of his continuing attempts to come to terms with his identity within the context of the society and politics of his era.

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