Against "All that rowdy lot": Trollope's grudge against Disraeli

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Author: Karen Kurt Teal
Date: Fall 2007
From: Victorian Newsletter(Vol. 112)
Publisher: Western Kentucky University Research Foundation
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,338 words

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Benjamin Disraeli suffered under Anthony Trollope's pen. Trollope attacked the respected and popular prime minister in three well-known characterizations: Ferdinand Lopez in The Prime Minister (1876), Augustus Melmotte in The Way We Live Now (1874), and Joseph Emilius of The Eustace Diamonds (1873) and Phineas Redux (1874). The most obvious reason for these attacks appeared to be the prime minister's Jewish heritage. However, the types of attack were varied. The less well-known characterization of Disraeli in the person of Mr. Daubeny, the opportunistic prime minister of the Palliser novels, is emptied of anti-semitic slurs. The first three depictions were memorable and damaging, like boxing, without the gloves. Trollope's narrator tended to leaven all negative characterizations with a bit of good; even Emilius has a "manliness" about him. Nevertheless, in these depictions of Disraeli, the mediating qualities are quite thin, which causes readers to wonder about Trollope's narrator, who is usually ready to give every character his due. A closer examination of Trollope's letters, journalism, and public speeches reveals more about his long-standing distrust of Benjamin Disraeli.

Each of these characterizations contains the programmatic antisemitism of the era. Scott's Ivanhoe dismisses the Jewish characters from England at the close of the action; Dickens's Fagin leaves a lurid impression; Mark Lemmon, a Jewish confrere of Dickens who should have known better, published antisemitic cartoons in Punch; even Disraeli, who fought a life-long battle against the old prejudices, wrote some of the most surprising antisemitic literature of all in the character Sidonia of Tancred (1847), who insists that "All is race." Antisemitism was as common in the Victorian age as ambition and coal smoke. Jewish newcomers settling in London were lumped together with all the other recent arrivals, forming an exotic encampment of humanity in the City and east of Gracechurch and Bishopsgate Streets, and inspiring strong literary reactions. In Oliver Twist (1838), the narrator reminds the reader in an eerie passage that, as the wealthy class moved to the west end of London, they abandoned their noble family houses in the City to the undeserving masses engaged in nefarious activities. Thus Dickens describes the house of Fagin:

It was a very dirty place. The rooms upstairs had great high wooden chimney-pieces and large doors, with paneled walls and cornices to the ceiling; which, although they were black with neglect and dust, were ornamented in various ways. From all of these tokens Oliver concluded that a long time ago, before the Jew was born, it had belonged to better people, and had perhaps been quite gay and handsome: dismal and dreary as it looked now. (88)

In Dickens's works, this no-man's land was a place to which one was abducted; in the works of Doyle, the disorderly east-London was a place to be probed and policed. In the East End, William Booth found a degenerating swamp of subhumanity and wrote about it in his book, In Darkest England. Trollope's work reflects these widespread attitudes. But I want to argue that, at least for...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Teal, Karen Kurt. "Against 'All that rowdy lot': Trollope's grudge against Disraeli." Victorian Newsletter, vol. 112, fall 2007, pp. 55+. Accessed 20 Oct. 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A190150263