Analysis

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Sybil, or The Two Nations is an 1845 fictional and political novel written by British writer and politician Benjamin Disraeli, originally published in London, UK, in three volumes. The novel is the second part of Disraeli’s Young England trilogy, which consists of Coningsby, or The New Generation, Sybil, or The Two Nations and Tancred, or The New Crusade. As it deals with the state of the working class of Victorian England and portrays the struggles of the people who were forced to live in poverty and unpleasant conditions, the novel is also considered a roman à these (a didactic novel in which the author presents a specific thesis or theory).

Disraeli took inspiration from the Chartist movement and talks about the consequences of the Industrial Revolution, which separated the country in two basic socio-economic classes—the rich and the poor; these classes are, essentially, the "two nations" mentioned in the book's alternative title. The rich enjoyed a lot of privileges of different character, while the poor and working classes dealt with heavy labor, low wages, unsanitary and inhumane living conditions, sickness, and depression.

Being a politician himself, Disraeli, in the majority of his works, blamed the industrialization of the British society for its unfavorable condition, and presented a unique solution in which he suggested that the aristocracy and the working class should work together, under a strong male leadership in the government, for the betterment of the country. He tried to push this idea forward in Sybil as well, as he was rather respected in several political circles because of his involvement and leadership of the Young England party, which promoted feudalistic ideals.

Aside from its obvious political plotline, the novel has a secondary romantic plot and tells the love story of Sybil Gerard—a beautiful aristocrat with a powerful persona and lovely singing voice who wishes to become a nun, and Charles Egremont—the younger brother of a Lord, who has lost his aristocratic status and inheritance and must work and marry a rich heiress. He takes up a new identity as a journalist and travels around the country, evaluating the condition of the people. At first, Sybil rejects him because of the obvious class differences, however he manages to win her over by finally expressing his political ideals in the parliament and becoming the new Earl of Marney. The marriage between Sybil and Charles represents the union of the 'two nations' of Victorian England. Thus, the novel is classified as a romance, as well.

Sybil received a lot of commercial success, especially in the time of its publication, and it is considered one of the most important political and so-called Condition-of-England novels in English literature. The novel is also at no. 11 on the "100 best novels" list composed by "The Guardian."

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