Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 685
Disraeli prefaces Ixion in Heaven by revealing the source of the story of Ixion, allowing the reader to discern Disraeli’s imaginative inventions. In legend, Deioneus steals some of Ixion’s horses. Ixion invites him to dinner and throws him to his death in a pit of burning coals. In Disraeli’s version, the killing is more or less accidental, and the double dealing concerning horses involves a racetrack. Significantly, though, in legend as in Disraeli’s novel, Ixion was granted a favor and should therefore have been appreciative. He proves himself, on the contrary, to be surly, deceptive, and covetous, not only insulting the hosts table and court but also seducing his hosts wife. Because it is this aspect of the legend that remains intact, Ixion in Heaven, in addition to being a delightful political satire, becomes a moral tale.
In terms of style and tone, Ixion in Heaven, like Disraeli’s other early works, is distinctly in the mode of Voltaire’s Candide (1759). The resemblance is recognizable in such understatements as Ixion’s comment to Jove concerning Dias homicidal intentions toward him for the murder of her father: “She certainly was the best of daughters.” It is likely that as a political burlesque, Ixion in Heaven is a roman à clef in the style of his other work of the period, such as Vivian Grey (1826-1827) and two works with which Ixion in Heaven is usually published, The Voyage of Captain Popanilla (1828), which satirizes political circumstances and personalities from the economists to the duke of Wellington, and The Infernal Marriage (1833), in which the Olympians in fact read Ixion in Heaven and which features Titans as Tories, Enceladus as Wellington, and Hyperion as Peel.
The coiffured Jove of Ixion in Heaven, whose interests are cards and his dinner, is King George IV, and the poet Apollo, “whose love of fame was only equalled by his horror of getting fat” and “without whom no dinner goes off well,” is clearly Lord Byron. The parody of the Silver Fork School of novels then current is evident in Mercury’s comments to Ixion on their way heavenward concerning the “parvenu planet which one does not visit,” the rage for “infernal cookery,” and the fashion for winter vacationing in Hell.
George Saintsbury, the eminent critic of nineteenth century letters, claimed that Ixion in Heaven was the best work of its kind. Curiously, it is often left out of discussions of Disraeli’s literary work. His literary reputation is based on his later works including Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845), and Tancred (1847), serious novels that expand the possibilities of the genre through their overtly political themes.
The fantasy tradition of which Ixion in Heaven is a part dates back to the influences on Lucian of Samosata (a Greek satirist of the second century c.e.) from Menipppus of Gadara, a freed slave; of Platonic dialogue; and of Attic Comedy. In Lucian’s dialogues, bathos and irony evolve through the displacement of mythical characters into ludicrous, because mundane, situations. A hypocrite and a confidence artist are the objects of two of his castigation fantasies. In addition to the previously mentioned Voltaire, also in this tradition are the satirical novel Mundus alter et idem (1605) by Joseph Hall, Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift, A Journey from This World to the Next (1743) by Henry Fielding, and Erewhon: Or, Over the Range (1872) by Samuel Butler.
More recent writers who use mythological characters, creatures, or settings include Thomas Burnett Swann, Sheri S. Tepper, and Jack Vance, as well as Fred Saberhagen in his Book of Lost Swords series, beginning with The First Book of Lost Swords: Woundhealer’s Story (1983), as well as The White Bull (1988). Stephen Donaldson based his Gap series on Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle and employed mythology and legends in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist (1986) and Soldier of Arete (1989), along with Isaac Asimov’s collection Azazel (1988), are other examples of novels using mythological themes. The vein of humor, however, is most obviously struck in the Xanth series by Piers Anthony in such works as Centaur Aisle (1982).
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