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An insight into Disraeli
on 23 July 2008
Coningsby was published in 1844 and was the first in Disraeli's trilogy of 'political' novels (the others being Sybil and Tancred).
The story revolves around the ealy life of Harry Coningsby. Harry is the orphaned grandson of the Marquess of Monmouth, but Harry's parents incurred the wrath of Monmouth by their marriage. Harry is restored to his granfather's favour and sent to school at Eton. The story follows Harry's career at Eton and Cambridge. While at Eton, Harry saves the life of Oswald Millbank - the son of a northern industrialist. This commences a friendship between Oswald and Harry and leads Harry to fall in love with Oswald's sister, Edith.
In recent years, some historians have dismissed Disrael's political novels as a source for Disrael's creed. This notion can hardly be supported. The story of Harry Coningsby's early life as readable, but it is Disraeli's political critique which makes 'Coningsby' a fascinating read for those interested in Victorian politics.
'Coningsby' is firmly set against the political backround of the years between the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832 (which widened the voting franchise) and the fall of Lord Melbourne's Whig ministry in 1841. Disraeli comments and expounds political views throughout the novel, although generally placing his views in the mouths of one or other of the novel's characters.
In 'Coningsby', we find a critigue of the Toryism of Peel (which Disraeli perceived to be unprincipled), utilitarianism and the Whigs. In the end, Disraeli seems to suggest that there can be a unity of interest between traditional landed elites and the new 'millocracy' through some form of Tory Paternalism.