Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412
Benjamin Disraeli (who would become the Prime Minister of England in 1874) wrote Sibyl as a young adult (in 1845). The book is alternately titled The Two Nations because it bespeaks a nation divided between the poor and the affluent. The novel depicts a group of wealthy Englishmen, amusing themselves by eating and drinking at different restaurants and attending horse races.
At the novel's beginning, a group of affluent men are discussing plans to go out to the country. During this trip to Marney Abby, Lord Egremont meets one Walter Gerard, who is a radical conservative eager to rectify the inequality between the wealthy and the poor. His daughter is the charming Sybil, who shares her father's passion for social reform. Egremont also meets the radical Stephen Morley, who seeks to court Sibyl.
Lord Egremont is the younger brother of an English earl (Lord Marley), and he resolves to go undercover to investigate the conditions of the working classes.
Morley and Gerard team up to address members of Parliament and convince them to pass the People's Charter (representative of the contemporary English movement known as "Chartism" in which the reformers advocated for egalitarian principles such as universal suffrage for naturalized citizens, a secret ballot, and the dismissal of property requirements to serve in Parliament). Their mission is not successful, and their cause faces severe opposition by the Tories who have lately come into power in Parliament. Queen Victoria (elected in 1837) retains Whig her ladies-in-waiting (despite protests from the would-be Prime Minister, Robert Peel).
Violence from this Chartist movement erupts in the city of Birmingham. Egremont himself appeals to Parliament. When Sibyl reads a particularly moving speech of Egremont's, advocating for the rights of the working class, she becomes impressed and enraptured by him. Shortly thereafter, Stephen Morley forces Sibyl (whose father has not returned from a protest meeting) to marry him. The two are both arrested, but Egremont rescues Sibyl and Morley rescues Sibyl's imprisoned father, Gerard.
After a period of imprisonment, strikes are organized across the country, some peaceful, some antagonistic and violent. Sibyl is taken hostage by one such group (the Hell-cats). There is a standoff between Egremont's group of men and his brother, Lord Marley's men. Marley, Morley, and Gerard all eventually die from this altercation.
As a result, Egremont becomes Lord of Marney in his brother's stead and Sibyl inherits an estate of her own. The two resolve to not give up the fight to unify England as one nation.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 872
In the spring of 1837, the Reform Bill is in force for five years and the king, William IV, is dying. A new election is called as the youthful Queen Victoria ascends the throne. One of the new Conservative Party members of Parliament is Charles Egremont, younger brother of Lord Marney. Their mother, Lady Marney, set up her son’s election and helped to defray some expenses. Egremont asks his brother to defray the rest.
While visiting the ruins of Marney Abbey, Egremont meets two unusual men, Walter Gerard and Stephen Morley, and hears Gerard’s daughter, Sybil, sing. Although only brief, the meeting makes a deep impression on him. Egremont, with other family members, then goes to visit Mowbray Castle, the home of the de Mowbrays. Lord Marney wants his brother to marry Lady Joan, heir to the rich estates, thus solving Egremont’s financial problems. Egremont hardly notices her.
The castle stands just outside Mowbray, a large manufacturing town in the north of England. The wretched life and amusements of the working people contrast with the high life of the castle. The only link is Mr. St. Lys, the reforming vicar of Mowbray, himself the younger son of aristocracy.
Egremont becomes interested in the political views of Gerard and Morley, who live just outside Mowbray, and he wishes to see the real living conditions of the people. Visiting Warner, an impoverished handloom weaver, with St. Lys, Egremont meets Sybil, who regularly engages in acts of charity out of Mowbray Convent.
On the Marneys’ return home, the two brothers have a terrible argument about expenses and Marney’s wife. Egremont walks out and, Parliament being in recess, rents a cottage near Gerard and takes on the alias of Mr. Franklin, so that he can more easily hold lengthy discussions with Gerard, Morley, and Sybil. He also visits a nearby model factory run by the Traffords who, like the Gerards, are Roman Catholics. Morley’s and Gerard’s views are widely different even though both are active Chartists (a working-class movement for political reform). They are both also interested in pursuing certain claims to the Mowbray estates and are seeking a Mr. Baptist Hatton, an antiquarian, whose previous research unearthed some evidence that the Gerards are the rightful owners. Morley discovers Hatton’s brother in a lawless manufacturing area called Wodgate.
Egremont is then called back to London by his mother’s remarriage to Lord Deloraine. Parliament sits but remains deadlocked. The Chartists march to London to present their petition to Parliament and to hold an alternative assembly. Gerard is elected a delegate with Morley and brings Sybil with him to the capital. Various chance meetings take place: Morley discovers Hatton, now grown wealthy, but who is willing to take up Gerard’s claims again. Morley and Gerard call on Egremont and recognize him as Franklin. Egremont also meets Sybil on a separate encounter. The recognition of Egremont puts a distance between him and his former friends, as does his disagreement with their political views. Even so, Egremont declares his love for Sybil. She rejects him, declaring that the difference in class is unbridgeable and citing her desire to be a nun.
The Charter is finally presented to Parliament and is met with little interest or debate. Some disillusioned Chartists riot in Birmingham, and the government determines to clamp down. Egremont learns of the dangers to the Chartist leaders still left in London and warns Sybil, and she warns her father, but too late. Both are arrested. Egremont obtains her release, but her father is eventually sent to prison at York for eighteen months. Morley declares his love for Sybil. Even Hatton sees Sybil as a future wife, especially if the Gerard claims are substantiated. The vital evidence for this is locked up in Mowbray Castle, it is discovered.
An economic depression follows. Factories close or put their workers on short-time. In Lancashire there are widespread strikes. In Mowbray, two of the activists, Devilsdust and Dandy Mick, join trade unions and help plan a national strike. In nearby Wodgate, “Bishop” Hatton is converted to Chartism and immediately begins a crusade, marching on Mowbray with his workers. The Mowbray people join them, closing down the factories, including Trafford’s, though only after a confrontation in which Gerard, now released from prison, acts as mediator.
Hatton and Morley are at the scene, and, through Devilsdust and Dandy Mick, direct the mob’s attention to Mowbray Castle. While it is being attacked, Lord Marney’s yeomanry, setting out to quell the mob, meet Gerard leading a quiet demonstration. Marney acts in a high-handed manner; Gerard is killed and, in the ensuing melee, Marney, also. Another group of yeomanry, led by Egremont, retakes Mowbray Castle, though not before the vital documents are seized. Although Morley is also killed, Mick takes the documents to the nearby convent to be given to Sybil. She, meanwhile, having previously gone to the castle, helps save its inhabitants before being trapped by the rioters. Egremont dashes in to save her.
In a final scene, Egremont, now Lord Marney, marries Sybil, whose claim to the Mowbray estates is proved. Devilsdust and Dandy Mick are set up in business and are about to prosper.
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