Disraeli has been well served by historians. Yet until now, no one had attempted a life as Disraeli himself might have sensed it. In this respect, the author’s expertise as a cultural historian enables him to bring a fresh perspective to one of the great political figures of the nineteenth century.
Benjamin Disraeli was culturally the most unusual of Victoria’s prime ministers. His Jewish grandfather emigrated from Italy, and his literary father became a confirmed skeptic and ersatz country gentleman. Benjamin Disraeli was thus born into a family of comfortable means, ethnically Jewish but perfectly willing to encourage their son to convert to Anglicanism at the age of thirteen in order to further his chances in the narrow world of English high society.
The election of 1837 serves for Weintraub as a microcosm of Disraeli’s life. As he spoke from the platform of the Maidstone Corn Exchange, resplendent in canary waistcoat and green trousers, chains glistening and pomaded black curls falling to his cheeks, stereotypical anti-Semitic taunts of “Shylock” and “old clo’s” resounded from the milling crowd, reminding conservative voters that no one with such a name could be, as he claimed, a defender of the British constitution. Ironically, these epithets were thrown at a social dandy who was already 20,000 pounds in debt and frequently on the verge of arrest.
When the call for elections came, Disraeli was diverted from the...
(The entire section is 520 words.)