Cover image for Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli : a strange romance
Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli : a strange romance
Hay, Daisy, 1981- , author.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.
Physical Description:
xii, 308 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 23 cm
General Note:
Originally published: Great Britain : Chatto & Windus, 2015.
At the beginning (1792-1839). Storytelling ; Tall tales ; Tittle-tattle ; Fairy story -- Ever after (1840-1867). On heroes and hero-worship ; Household words ; Princess Nobody ; The rose and the ring -- Once upon a time (1868-1873). Happy ending ; Afterwards.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DA564.B3 H39 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Deep in the archives of the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford lies a tattered scrap `of paper with newlyweds' scribbles on it. It is a table listing the qualities of a couple. One column reads: "Often says what he does not think," "He does not show his feelings," "He is a Genius"; and the other: "Never says anything she does not think," "She shows her feelings," "She is a Dunce." The writing is Mary Anne Disraeli's, contrasting her own qualities with those of her husband, BenjaminDisraeli, one of the foremost politicians of the Victorian age.

From the outset they made an unlikely couple. Mary Anne was the daughter of a sailor, twelve years Disraeli's senior, and married to someone else when they met. She was also highly eccentric, liable to misbehave, and (worse still) embarrassingly overdressed for grand society dinners. Her Diz was of Jewish descent, a mid-ranking novelist who was mired in debt. They made perfect targets for the vicious Victorian press and society gossips, who pounced on any and every foible. Yet their odd match appeared to make them impervious to such slings and arrows, as together they spun their unusual tale into a romance worthy of the novels they so loved.

Reading between the lines of a great cache of their letters and friends' anecdotes, Daisy Hay shows how the Disraelis rose to the top of the social and political pile. Along the way, we meet women of a similar station and situation whose endings were far unhappier than Mary Anne's, acting as a counterpoint to her fairy-tale status as the landed angel in the prime minister's house.

In an age where first ladies and their husbands are under ever-increasing pressure to perform and to conform, Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli offers a portrait of a political couple who refused to do either.

Author Notes

Daisy Hay is the author of Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry's Greatest Generation ,for which she was awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize by the British Academy. She has a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Cambridge and an M.A. in Romantic and sentimental literature from the University of York. From 2012 to 2013 she was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and is currently a lecturer in English literature and archival studies at the University of Exeter. She lives in Devon, England.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Hay's remarkable book makes clear and extensively documents the circumstances of Mary Anne Lewis' marriage to British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli and her enduring role in his rise, career, and ultimate victory in politics. Mary Anne, in all her fine oddness and sweetness, bolstered her dear Dizzy with financial and emotional support through times both rough and good, despite the disparity in their ages and abilities. The author begins chapters with a paragraph detailing a contemporaneous woman's situation, with or without a man in her life; these small departures into backdrop are astonishing, often heartbreaking, and are made all the more effective by Hay's straightforward commentary on them as she, too, like one profiled widow, speaks for the legions of silent women marooned by marriage between the social strata of Victorian Britain. Mary Anne was perhaps a lucky one, then, with widowhood leaving her a place to live and a yearly stipend. Mary Anne and Dizzy's was truly, finally, a love affair, though tossed and troubled by lack of money, standing, and familial support and beset by secrets they kept from one another. Hay's thoughtful and measured prose, filled with quotations from letters, missives, and love poems, is a page-turner of a historical, political, and feminist romance. A superlative achievement.--Kinney, Eloise Copyright 2015 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Benjamin Disraeli, a struggling novelist, and Mary Anne Lewis, a free-spirited, wealthy widow 15 years his senior, had a deep bond marked by overt romantic displays and shared ambition, even as Disraeli became British prime minister. Through strong scholarship and deft storytelling, Hays (Young Romantics) depicts the occasionally brutal evolution of their marriage and its power shifts: Disraeli was initially reliant on Lewis's finances, but he slowly asserted his independence during his political ascension-and, in a show of gratitude, eventually gave her the peerage. Their letters to each other and sibling-confidantes reveal not only embarrassing personal struggles for the time-Lewis's sins included dressing garishly and describing Disraeli in bed at social occasions-but also that Lewis saved them in the face of his ruinous debts. The letters give fascinating insight into imperial England's upper-class mores and political considerations. Hays's vivid account offers an empathetic, modern understanding of a passionate, seemingly mismatched couple who inspired each other's great achievements in the restrained Victorian era-a relationship that remains every bit as absorbing as those in Disraeli's own romantic novels. Illus. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Assoc. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

When Mary Ann Evans Lewis Disraeli died in 1872, the Times of London reported that the private history of her marriage to Benjamin Disraeli, a notable Victorian-era politician, would be "remembered as a beautiful episode in political life." Hay (Young Romantics) aims to re-create that "beautiful episode" in this dual biography, the first monograph to focus extensively on the nature of their union. A sailor's daughter who became a viscountess, Mary Ann Disraeli inspired much curiosity and tongue wagging in her day as a wealthy and rather eccentric widow who was less educated and much older than her husband. Hay's goal is to strip their marriage of mythmaking, and she uses a rich array of archival material to accomplish this end. The result is a painstakingly researched narrative of their lives. Hays is a specialist in literature, thus this account takes a decidedly interdisciplinary bent, with detailed references to the novels of the period and sustained attention to works penned by Disraeli himself. She contends that both "epistolary" and "silver-fork" novels were literary models for their romance. Because Hay chooses to tell the couple's story against the backdrop of such allusions, the political and historical context in which their marriage unfolded is of secondary if not tertiary importance. VERDICT Only for the most serious students of 19th-century British studies.-Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Part 1 At the Beginning (1792-1839)
1 Storytellingp. 3
2 Tall Talesp. 17
3 Tittle-Tattlep. 44
4 Fairy Storyp. 68
Part 2 Ever After (1840-1867)
5 On Heroes and Hero-Worshipp. 109
6 Household Wordsp. 142
7 Princess Nobodyp. 169
8 The Rose and the Ringp. 196
Part 3 Once Upon a Time (1868-1873)
9 Happy Endingp. 225
10 Afterwardsp. 243
List of Illustrationsp. 263
Select Bibliographyp. 265
Notesp. 271
Acknowledgementsp. 293
Indexp. 295