More Like a Mistress

Tom Crewe

  • BuyMr and Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance by Daisy Hay
    Chatto, 308 pp, £20.00, January 2015, ISBN 978 0 7011 8912 9

I first heard of Benjamin Disraeli in a school assembly when I was ten or eleven. Our headmaster also taught history, and though he was known to us mainly as an expert in horse-drawn hoes, seed drills and threshing machines, that day he introduced us to a man born into the wrong religion and given an imperfect education, an author of unlikely novels and unlikelier cheques, sniffed at by the upper classes when he arrived at their dinner tables and baited by the mob when he asked for their votes. I remember most clearly the description of Disraeli: a bottle-green waistcoat, purple pantaloons, rings worn over white gloves, hair meticulously curled and parted so as to fall languorously on one cheek. Finally, in a coup de théâtre too rarely allowed the historian of the 18th-century harvest, it was revealed that, against all the odds, Disraeli had risen to the position of prime minister. Combining admonition and uplift in a manner typical of the assembly address, our headmaster urged us to work hard(er) and follow our dreams, be ourselves and never give up; thus Disraeli became a model of self-empowerment.

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