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The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone Vs. Disraeliby Richard Aldous
Synopses & Reviews
A brilliant account of the dramatic confrontation between the two mighty opposites of the Victorian age.
It was the most important duel in Victorian politics. From the mid-19th Century, parliamentary and political life in Britain would be dominated by their head-to-head confrontation. Each would seize the initiative at different times; blows would be traded and points scored. One would seemingly have an unassailable advantage only to see it retrieved by his foe. Even death failed to end the struggle; Disraeli's political ghost continued to torment Gladstone, not least during the shocking Home Rule debates of 1886.
The Lion and the Unicorn is the story of this great rivalry; the challenge is how to tell it in a compelling way for a 21st Century audience. Part of the problem is that while one man appears to be the epitome of his times, the other is apparently the quintessence of ours. William Gladstone is often used to exemplify every undesirable feature of the Victorian age, most notably hypocrisy, self-righteousness and cant.
In a great feud that electrified the Victorian age, Gladstone and Disraeli set out their political and moral stalls in vivid opposition to each other, where, in addition, their abiding personal loathing personalized their disputes. The conflict between these two political giants would help to establish the modern parliamentary system.
"'Two titans, Disraeli and Gladstone, dominated English politics in the Victorian age. Each did multiple stints as prime minister and as leader of the Conservative (Disraeli) or Liberal (Gladstone) party. Political opposition shifted over the years to mutual personal disapproval and finally to rage-driven attack. Aldous (of University College, Dublin) traces the development of this seemingly pathological antagonism amid the policy disputes of the era. Both combatants displayed rhetorical skills unimaginable in a politician today. Both were writers, Gladstone of dull works on religion and on Homer, Disraeli of novels lampooning notable figures of his day, especially Gladstone. Aldous portrays both as possessing repellent character traits, such as Disraeli's vindictive mockery and Gladstone's moral hypocrisy. All these tangy ingredients make this joint biography highly appetizing, even if some readers may find issues like the Corn Laws, that so energized Gladstone and Disraeli, a bit faded. However, vexing issues of international trade, religion in public life and voting rights divide our nation as they did Victorian England. Aldous's smooth pacing and adroit writing bring a forgotten world back to life and demonstrate how two forceful if warring personalities can create a history that neither could have achieved acting alone. (Sept.) ' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Aldous (history, U. College Dublin, Ireland) presents a dual biography of the longstanding rivalry between two legendary British politicians, the Liberal Party's William Gladstone and the Conservative Party's Benjamin Disraeli, both of whom served as 19th century Prime Ministers. While the personal antagonism between the two is noted, Aldous focuses on their political collisions over "globalisation and free trade, wars of religion and ideology between Christians and Muslims, liberal internationalism, humanitarianism and realpolitik, constitutional liberty and the rights of the individual, national identity, imperial expansion, and the role of government in raising the poor," in short, the very same questions that animate many political debates in the current era. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The vicious political struggle that electrified Victorian society, brilliantly re-created for a new generation.
William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli were the fiercest political rivals of the nineteenth century. Their intense mutual hatred was both ideologically driven and deeply personal. Their vitriolic duels, carried out over decades, lend profound insight into the social and political currents that dominated Victorian England. To Disraeli--a legendary dandy descended from Sephardic Jews--his antagonist was an "unprincipled maniac" characterized by an "extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy, and superstition." For the conservative aristocrat Gladstone, his rival was "the Grand Corrupter," whose destruction he plotted "day and night, week by week, month by month." In the tradition of Roy Jenkins and A. N. Wilson, Richard Aldous has written an outstanding political biography, giving us the first dual portrait of this intense and momentous rivalry. Aldous's vivid narrative style--by turns powerful, witty, and stirring--brings new life to the Gladstone and Disraeli story and confirms a perennial truth: in politics, everything is personal.
About the Author
Richard Aldous, who has written previously on Harold Macmillan and Malcolm Sargent, is head of History & Archives at University College, Dublin. He reviews for the Irish Timesand is a political analyst for RTE Television.
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