Daisy Hay, "Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli: A Strange Romance" (FSG, 2015)


As I imagine most any biographer will tell you, one of the great joys and privileges of biographical research is using archives. This is where one encounters tangible pieces of the subject's life- letters, diaries, receipts, knick-knacks; one never knows what one will find. But how to incorporate that experience into a book? This is one of many compellingly original angles that Daisy Hay brings to the story of Benjamin and Mary Anne Disraeli in her new book, Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli: A Strange Romance (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015) The story of Benjamin and Mary Anne Disraeli occurs in a moment of changing attitudes towards marriage, celebrity and love- a moment more often seen through the eyes of men and viewed in terms of "history." Using the Mary Anne Disraeli archive at the Bodleian Library in Oxford- assembled by Mrs. Disraeli herself- Hay opens up this story in two ways: by bringing the voices and experiences of women into it, and by considering the Disraeli's as "born storytellers" in 19th century world that was "thick with stories. "They themselves spun stories around their partnership," Hay writes, "but they also made the tales they spun come true." It's an illuminating perspective from which to write a biography of public figures, and also one which highlights the vital importance of archives in the preservation of stories of the past.

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