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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Sunday, 25 August 2013

Author and statesman

Thursday, August 25th., Royal Victoria Hotel, St. Leonards.

Dorothy went to Winchelsea by bus. I walked on the front westwards and watched bowls and thought of the plot of my next story "Under the Hammer", for about an hour and a half.

I finished reading "Coningsby" on Tuesday. It is a sad welter. No construction. Very little cohesion. Too much eloquence. But there are good things in it. It is very rich and varied. The big interview between Monmouth and his grandson Coningsby towards the end, written in a very inflated style, is excellent in force and effectiveness - the convention of it being once granted. Much of the political criticism is good, and much of it very epigrammatic and amusing.

Coningsby, or The New Generation, is an English political novel by Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield, published in 1844. It is rumoured to be based on Nathan Mayer Rothschild. The book is set against a background of the real political events of the 1830s in England that followed the enactment of the Reform Bill of 1832. In describing these events Disraeli sets out his own beliefs including his opposition to Robert Peel, his dislike of both the British Whig Party and the ideals of Utilitarianism, and the need for social justice in a newly industrialized society. He portrays the self-serving politician in the character of Rigby (based on John Wilson Croker) and the malicious party insiders in the characters of Taper and Tadpole.

There is a small but influential cult for Lord Beaconsfield. The rites of the cult are performed in private; but I have assisted at them - without actual initiation. I like Beaconsfield because he was such a grandiose adventurer, not merely in politics but with the pen. As a boy I took the sketches in Ixion for matchless satire. I have read most of the mature novels. The trouble with Beaconsfield as an artist is that he was a statesman who diverted himself with fiction instead of being a novelist who diverted himself with politics. He created an empress but I doubt if he created anybody else.

A fellow of terrific energy, variety, shameless flatteries, and bluff, he composed novels as he might have composed symphonies had the idea occurred to him. He revelled in his own gifts. Too often, as you read, you are inclined to complain: "This Oriental artificer is not writing a novel, he is just larking around." The animadversion would be just.

His best things are his worst: glorious fustian such as the descriptions de luxe in "Lothair". Every few pages he gets drunk, wonders where the devil he is, and pulls himself together like a gentleman. Withal, he had moral passions and political vision, together with an informed sympathy for the underdog. The sermons implied or direct in his novels are sound enough. None of his books is consistently good, and none consistently bad. I think that "Lothair" and "Sybil" are the most satisfactory to read in. Among the best is "Endymion": perhaps that was why it failed.
Also see 'Heavyweight literature' - December 8th., http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/thursday-december-8th.html

Additionally for August 25th., see 'Contemplating defeat' - http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/contemplating-defeat.html

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