Benjamin Disraeli - Early Life - Literary Career

Literary Career

Disraeli turned towards literature after his financial disaster, motivated in part by a desperate need for money, and brought out his first novel, Vivian Grey, in 1826. Disraeli's biographers agree that Vivian Grey was a thinly veiled re-telling of the affair of The Representative, and it proved very popular on its release, although it also caused much offence within the Tory literary world when Disraeli's authorship was discovered. The book, initially anonymous, was purportedly written by a "man of fashion" – someone who moved in high society. Disraeli, then just twenty-three, did not move in high society, and the numerous solecisms present in his otherwise brilliant and daring work made this painfully obvious. Reviewers were sharply critical on these grounds of both the author and the book. Furthermore, John Murray believed that Disraeli had caricatured him and abused his confidence–an accusation denied at the time, and by the official biography, although subsequent biographers (notably Blake) have sided with Murray.

After producing a Vindication of the English Constitution, and some political pamphlets, Disraeli followed up Vivian Grey with a series of novels, The Young Duke (1831), Contarini Fleming (1832), Alroy (1833), Venetia and Henrietta Temple (1837). During the same period he had also written The Revolutionary Epick and three burlesques, Ixion, The Infernal Marriage, and Popanilla. Of these only Henrietta Temple (based on his affair with Henrietta Sykes, wife of Sir Francis William Sykes, 3rd Bt) was a true success.

During the 1840s Disraeli wrote three political novels collectively known as "the Trilogy"–Sybil, Coningsby, and Tancred.

Disraeli's relationships with other male writers of his period were strained or non-existent. After the disaster of The Representative, John Gibson Lockhart became a bitter enemy and the two never reconciled. Disraeli's preference for female company prevented the development of contact with those who were otherwise not alienated by his opinions, comportment or background. One contemporary who tried to bridge the gap, William Makepeace Thackeray, established a tentative cordial relationship in the late 1840s only to see everything collapse when Disraeli took offence at a burlesque of him which Thackeray penned for Punch. Disraeli took revenge in Endymion (published in 1880), when he caricatured Thackeray as "St. Barbe".

Disraeli's writing is considered generally interesting: his books teem with striking thoughts, shrewd maxims, and brilliant phrases which stick in the memory; on the other hand, he is often considered artificial, extravagant, and turgid. Critic William Kuhn argued that much of his fiction can be read as "the memoirs he never wrote", revealing the inner life of a politician for whom the norms of Victorian public life appeared to represent a social straitjacket – particularly with regard to his allegedly "ambiguous sexuality."

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