Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Benjamin Disraeli had dual careers as a statesman and a novelist. He published several novels before entering Parliament, continued writing during his political career, and published one novel after completing his service as prime minister in 1880. Coningsby represents both the political and artistic interests of Disraeli. Politically, the novel is important because it documents the rise of Young England, a small group of young members of Parliament with which Disraeli was associated after the 1841 Tory victory. The novel provides a fictionalized account of the political climate the decade after the passage of the 1832 Reform Bill, which provided for somewhat wider voting privileges and for greater representation of the large manufacturing centers. Artistically, the novel is written as a traditional bildungsroman, a study of the maturation of the novel’s hero. Harry Coningsby develops from a fourteen-year-old who, overcome by emotion, cries in an early scene, to a twenty-three-year-old newly elected member of Parliament. Disraeli intertwines his political and personal themes by having his protagonist involved with the politics of his day. An adolescent when the Reform Bill passes, Coningsby grows from an unquestioned acceptance of the conservative politics of his grandfather Lord Monmouth to a state of independence in which he accepts neither the Whig nor Tory Party politics. Instead, becoming the leader of the Young England group, he searches for principles that he believes should be the basis of life in England. Coningsby and two later novels, Sybil (1845) and Tancred (1847), function as a trilogy documenting the political, social, and religious views of the Young England group. The Young England trilogy is often considered the best of Disraeli’s fiction.

Claiming to present impartially the various prevailing political views of the day, the narrator of Coningsby is intrusive. Through the narrator’s characterizations and political wit, the Young England group is most often favored, while the established politicians, both Whig and Tory, are satirized. The political events and some of the characters in the novel so closely follow history that keys have been devised equating characters with their historic counterparts. So when the narrator openly judges the quality of the characters, he indirectly comments on some historical figures. Sidonia,...

(The entire section is 981 words.)