Endymion (Disraeli novel)

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Endymion
Disraeli Endymion.jpg
First edition book cover
AuthorBenjamin Disraeli
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
GenreNovel
PublisherLongmans & Green
Publication date
1880
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)

Endymion is a novel published in 1880 by Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, the former Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He was paid £10,000 for it.[1] It was the last novel Disraeli published before his death. He had been writing another, Falconet, when he died; it was published, incomplete, after his death.

Background[edit]

Like most of Disraeli's novels, Endymion is a romance, although Disraeli took the unusual step of setting it between 1819 and 1859. This meant that the hero of the novel–Endymion Ferrars–had to be a Whig, rather than a Tory. The time period that Disraeli chose was dominated by the Whig party; there would have been little opportunity for a young, rising Tory. Given that, it seems likely that Disraeli chose the time period in order to move a final time in the world in which he grew up and began his ascent.

First edition from 1880 title page from Vol iii

Plot[edit]

William Pitt Ferrars, a rising Tory politician with ambitions to the cabinet, is disappointed of his hopes by the fall of the Tory ministry of the Duke of Wellington in 1832, and his party's overwhelming defeat in that year's parliamentary election. He retires from his opulent house in Hill Street, London, to the modest country estate of Hurstley; his failure to reenter the government in Sir Robert Peel's fugitive ministry in 1835, and his inability to secure a parliamentary seat in the elections, leads his wife to die of sorrow and disillusionment, and subsequently to his own suicide. He leaves behind him two adolescent children, Endymion and Myra, who are determined to redeem their father's legacy by Endymion's reaching the high political position which his father had destroyed his spirit by attempting to attain. Endymion has received a clerkship in Somerset House, a government office, and lodges in Warwick Street at the home of the Rodneys, former protegees of his parents; in this employment he is acquainted with fellow clerks Trenchard, Seymour Hicks, and the aspiring but pretentious novelist St. Barbe; Trenchard lays the foundations for his future career by introducing him to the debating club of the politically-minded Mr Bertie Tremaine. In the meantime his sister is engaged as a companion to the daughter of Adrian Neuchatel, a great Whig magnate and banker. Myra becomes a favorite member of the household, and her position enables her to introduce Endymion to the high society of the Whig party. There Myra is wooed and won by Lord Roehampton, Secretary of state for the Melbourne ministry. By her influence in that situation Myra first brings Endymion to prominence by opting him for private secretary to the Whig cabinet minister Sidney Wilton, an old friend of her father, and her brother distinguishes himself. In the elections of 1841, however, the Whigs are voted out of office, and Endymion loses his position, which however he compensates for by entering parliament for the constituency of Lord Montfort, whose wife Endymion has befriended. Lord Montfort's power in the borough has been compromised by the rising influence of Lord Beaumaris, a former fellow-tenant of Endymion at the Rodneys; formerly a Whig, the weak-minded Beaumaris has been converted to Toryism by the eccentric Waldershare, another of the Rodney tenants. However, Beaumaris is controlled by his wife Imogene, Mrs Rodneys' sister and thus favorable to Endymion; Tories and Whigs, Beaumaris and Montfort, combine in Endymion's support, and he is elected unopposed. In Parliament, under the guidance of Lord Roehampton, Endymion's makes his mark among the Whig opposition; and when his party returns to power in 1846 he becomes under-secretary of state to Lord Roehampton; when the latter dies of overwork, the mediocre Rawchester takes his place, and Endymion resigns. Meanwhile, Prince Florestan, a pretender in exile from his country, and coincidentally a friend of Endymion from his Eton days; who has been living in disguise as a tenant of the Rodneys while arranging his financial affairs with the banker Neuchatel, returns to his country and has successfully established himself on his throne-he now offers the widowed Myra (whom he has met at the Neuchatels) the crown as his queen, and she accepts; Endymion, struck to the heart at this separation from his sister, finds consolation in the love of Lady Montfort, whose husband has died, and, though his party is again evicted from government, is now a prominent member of the out-of-party Whigs, headed by Sidney Wilton; with the fall of the Tory ministry Sidney Wilton becomes Prime Minister, with Endymion as his secretary of state; with success in foreign wars and prosperous management of relations with the continent, Endymion makes himself the natural successor to Sidney Wilton, who resigns at his ministries' high appreciation of Prince Florestan, whom Wilton dislikes. (He had been Florestan's guardian, guarranteed to keep him from his ultimately successful political ambitions; and his rival for Myra's affections.) Endymion is charged by the queen with the formation of the next government.

Endymion is Disraeli in his youth. Zenobia, a queen of fashion, is his Lady Blessington with a combination of some other great lady; but Lady Blessington is the basis of the picture and she is Benjamin Disraeli's first great patroness who opens the avenue of his wonderful career which, under the very eyes of modern folks, has been as strange as anything to be found in the Arabian Nights Tales. And the Jew ex-premier, under his guise of Endymion, challenges the moderns with this view of his fortunes and his genius: and yet challenges with not half so much audacity as he would do under his own name did not his clever sense forbid him. As for the judgement of his rivals and compeers, he might have dared to set that aside, and as the young aspiring Hebrew—at a time when his race were little higher in caste than gipsies in the land—audaciously tell England at his start that he intended to become her prime minister and the first statesman in the world ere he has done with it. Zenobia changes her personality or rather retires to the background to give place to Lady Montfort. She is a combination of Lady Blessington and Mrs. Wyndham Lewis (the latter Disraeli married) so we have in Lady Montfort at once the patroness and the wife—the wife of Endymion.[2]

All the aristocratic nonsense was dissipated by Job Thornberry and his Anti-Corn Law League; and the modern school of politics was formed which has given the power of the House of Commons to the British people whom none more than the Tory minister, Disraeli, has courted and beguiled. Zenobia, the patroness of Endymion's unsuccessful father, passes out of sight, but Endymion finds a happy destiny in his patroness wife, Lady Montfort, and though the prophetic promise of the story is not fulfilled—"You shall be prime minister"—the author is conscious that it is fulfilled in himself.[2]

Characters[edit]

The title character's name is a reference to the shepherd Endymion of Greek mythology, familiar in 19th century culture as the title of an 1818 John Keats poem among other references. It is explained in the text as a traditional name of his noble family since the time of Charles the First, and is in fact represented historically among English nobles such as Endymion Porter.

It is very like his own autobiography, with his retrospection of English politics woven into the thread of a story. The action and conversations are distributed between characters who have figured in English politics or the fashionable romance of Europe during the last forty years. St Barbe, the journalist in " Endymion " is supposed to be an intended caricature of Thackeray, which is exciting the indignation of the admirers of the great satirist, and Gushy is taken to be Dickens. Vigo, another personage of the novel, is a combination of Poole, the tailor, and of George Hudson, the Sunderland railway king, as he was styled in his time. Prince Florestan is probably a sketch of Louis Napoleon in his early days in England. He is constantly presented as a child of destiny wailing for the European revolution of '48 to give to him his throne. Job Thornberry comes into the story with the Anti-Corn-Law League; and in him there is that remarkable change in English politics which made the Whigs so different from what they were fifty years earlier and which necessitated the passage of Reform Bills by the Derby-Disraeli ministries in very rivalry to the Liberals themselves. Job Thornberry may be Richard Cobden; for he certainly has much of Cobden's subject in him.[2] The energetic and capable minister Lord Roehampton is taken to be Lord Palmerston, and Count Ferrol is perhaps Bismarck. Neuchatel, the great banker, is the historical Rothschild; Cardinal Henry Edward Manning figures as the tendentious papist Nigel Penruddock.[3]

  • William Pitt Ferrars, father of the hero, distinguished Tory politician in 1830's
  • Mrs Ferrars, mother of the hero
  • Endymion Ferrars
  • Myra Ferrars, Endymion's twin sister, wife of Lord Roehampton, later of Florestan
  • Lord Roehampton, Secretary of state, prominent Whig politician, and a patron of Endymion
  • King Florestan, friend of Endymion, and exiled pretender to a continental throne (presumed France)
  • Lady Montfort, distinguished Whig society lady, patroness of Endymion, later his wife
  • Lord Montfort, eccentric Whig nobleman
  • Count Ferrol, continental statesman
  • Baron Sergius, continental statesman, friend of Florestan
  • The Duke of St Angelo, Florestan's chamberlain
  • Bertie Tremaine, prominent Mp., leader of third party in house of commons of 1841; of ambiguous principles
  • Tremaine Bertie, brother of the latter, MP., member of his party
  • Job Thornberry, leader of Anti-Corn-Law League, radical MP.
  • Nigel Penruddock, the Archbishop of Tyre, rejected lover of Myra, churchman, Tractarian
  • St. Barbe, vain, envious satirical novelist
  • Trenchard, Whig MP., friend of Endymion
  • Seymour Hicks, social climber, friend of Endymion
  • Mr Rodney, protegee of Pitt Ferrars, friend of Endymion, Tory MP.
  • Mrs Rodney, protegee of Lady Ferrars
  • Lord Beaumaris, tenant of the Rodneys, socially reclusive, prominent Tory politician
  • Lady Beaumaris, sister of Mrs Rodney, prominent Tory society figure in 1840's
  • Zenobia, prominent Tory society figure in 1830's
  • Sidney Wilton, Whig minister, patron of Endymion, ultimately Prime Minister
  • Lord Waldershare, tenant of the Rodneys, eccentric nobleman, Tory MP.

Themes[edit]

The novel is full of political lessons and conceits, and its pictures of aristocratic circles, with the semi-ministerial management of English affairs by the queens of fashionable society on behalf of their Endymions, not only expose the romance of Disraeli's own life, but also reveal the things behind the scenes which, perhaps, none so well could have done as this Jewish ex-premier of England in the literary winding up of his strange eventful life. It is this inner view of Disraeli's novel which gives its real significance.[2]

The Disraelian philosophy which pervades his novel is, that finding a Lady Blessington for a patroness, a Mrs. Wyndham-Lewis for a wife, and an anonymous lady friend send him ^20,000, a young man with his genius can dare to aspire to be prime minister of England, and in his marvellous career can up a race outcast for ages among all nations. These are the facts of Benjamin Disraeli's own life which he sufficiently exposes to the reader in his novel. Say what the critics may of the magnificent egotism of this Jewish statesman of rare genius and rarer audacity, his gratitude to woman—his patroness and his wife—has a most tender touch of sentiment in it, which not even Napoleon surpassed in his tributes to Josephine as the star of his better destiny. Endymion's sister predicts that all his good fortune will come to him through women. Such was the case in the premier's own life.[2]

Publication[edit]

Disraeli, Benjamin (1880). Endymion (3 volumes). London: Longmans & Green. Internet Archive: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3. (The author's name appears only on the spine.)

References[edit]

  1. ^ https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/9200279/Disraelis-sensations-for-a-jaded-public.html
  2. ^ a b c d e Tullidge 1881, p. 348-.
  3. ^ Margaret Drabble (editor), The Oxford Companion to English Literature, fifth edition (Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 318, Endymion.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]