A Victorian alliance of love and politics. Aug 24, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 47 • By JAMES BOWMAN
On the first page of this enjoyable double biography, Daisy Hay quotes the Mister-half of her titular couple as having said, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.”
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) could hardly have foreseen a world like ours, in which there is no longer any such thing as life without theory. All of our lives nowadays are judged by, or filtered through, one sort of theory or another, among the most prominent of which is the feminist theory that the personal is political and that history itself should be seen through the prism of the gradual emancipation of women from traditional assumptions about their sex, which amounted (and in many cases still amount) to bondage and oppression.
Daisy Hay herself is naturally no prisoner of such beliefs, but rather she is in thrall to the liberationist version of 19th-century social history and, therefore, of the domestic history she has chosen to relate here, which is thick with its assumptions. Thus we learn of Mrs. Disraeli that “Mary Anne’s activities were constrained by a bourgeois middle-class morality that emerged in the early decades of the nineteenth century and bloomed during Queen Victoria’s reign.” Put like that, it must have seemed obvious to the author to add that “Mary Anne wanted more”—even though her documentation suggests the only thing Mary Anne wanted “more” of was attention from her (first) husband.
The outline of her story can be found in Robert Blake’s classic biography of Disraeli, now nearly a half-century old. Mary Anne Evans, born with the same name as her great contemporary, the novelist George Eliot, married a wealthy man with the same name as another great novelist of the next century, one Wyndham Lewis. The owner of an ironworks in South Wales, Lewis bought his way into Parliament and then, urged on by his wife, bought the second seat for the same constituency of Maidstone, in Kent, for his (and her) young protégé, Benjamin Disraeli. When Lewis died suddenly of a heart attack a few months later, Disraeli, already best known as a novelist, began an assiduous courtship of his widow.
Mary Anne was 45 at the time and 12 years older than he, but Dizzy (as she seems to have been the first to call him) had had a string of relations with older women whom he had invited to mother him, as he now did the childless Mary Anne. She was pleased to do so. In the aristocratic circles in which he was already moving, Disraeli was widely regarded as being rather vulgar, and Mary Anne also had a reputation as a “rattle” (chatterbox) with a fondness for extravagant dress. Disraeli, who was deeply in debt, acknowledged to his wife that he had been first attracted by her money; but all the evidence of the voluminous lifelong correspondence between the two, which has been preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, supports his (and her) claim that the two soon grew to be deeply in love.
Daisy Hay fills in the details of the Disraelis’ domestic life that Robert Blake left out, mainly by generously quoting from their correspondence. Dizzy often wrote to Mary Anne several times a day when he was in Parliament and she in their home at Grosvenor Gate (modern day Park Lane) in London, or at the country estate they bought at Hughenden in Buckinghamshire. But Hay has also dug deeply into the writings of the couple’s contemporary acquaintances, including those of Disraeli’s sister, Sarah, who was his preferred confidante through the early years of his marriage. Hay’s labors are likely to persuade even those without much time for feminist theory that the retelling of the story of such a famous and historically important man from the point of view of the women whose company he so often preferred adds richly to our store of knowledge about him.
At least part of the reason for this is that Benjamin Disraeli was among the earliest democratic politicians to see that his private life could be turned to electoral advantage. To be sure, what carried this Jewish outsider—as he was still widely seen to be, in spite of his father’s having had him baptized at 13—to the top of 19th-century British politics was his own considerable talent as speaker and parliamentarian. But it helped to be able to represent himself to the public as the uxorious husband he seems actually to have been in private life—not least with Queen Victoria, who, after hesitating at first to accept him as a cabinet minister, ended up in widowhood liking him better than Disraeli’s great rival, William Gladstone. Hay recognizes that the love story of Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli was presented to the public with a political purpose in mind, but she makes rather too much of the fact.
12:42 PM, Jul 22, 2015 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
The lone bright spot last week was the release of Ryan Anderson's much-anticipated (by me, at least) book on Obergefell and the future of marriage.
Jul 20, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 42 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
If you were on social media last week, you no doubt heard about the new contract being promoted to college students by the activists at the Affirmative Consent Project in their effort to beat back the supposed “rape culture” on U.S. campuses. The group suggested that amorous couples, after signing the model contract, take a selfie to document their decision to hook up (and presumably provide a defense in any disciplinary hearings down the road should an accusation of misconduct be leveled).
8:27 PM, Jun 24, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Speaking at an LGBT event tonight at the White House, President Obama took credit for liberal LGBT progress since he took office six-and-a-half years ago.
7:32 AM, Mar 30, 2015 • By JERYL BIER
During President Obama's tenure, religious Americans have been increasingly marginalized by an administration that can be intolerant or at least unaccomodating of beliefs that conflict with its policies, regulations, or legislative goals. Perhaps most notably, President Obama campaigned by expressing support for traditional marriage, more than once citing his Christianity as the basis for his position, a position he later "evolved" away from. This has not stopped the president, however, from invoking scripture in support of other items on his agenda.
11:39 AM, Sep 22, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan officiated a same-sex marriage over the weekend, the Associated Press reports. It was her first.
"Justice Elena Kagan has officiated for the first time at a same-sex wedding, a Maryland ceremony for her former law clerk and his husband," reports the AP.
8:15 AM, Jun 5, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
The administration for children and families, part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), issued guidance in a memo
8:03 AM, May 20, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
The American Military Partner Association (AMPA) held its first National Gala Dinner in Washington Sunday, and the Department of Defense used the opportunity to tout the rapid advances the military is making in erasing gender distinctions in policies regarding military spouses and partners.
4:51 PM, Mar 4, 2014 • By PETER AUGUSTINE LAWLER
Richard V. Reeves has written in The Atlantic a confident and illuminating account of the state of marriage in America today. College-educated American men and women “are reinventing marriage as a child-rearing machine for a post-feminist society and a knowledge economy.” On this front, the Americans have once again shown their superiority to the Europeans, who, in their socially self-destructive way, remain ambivalent at best about the value of being married. But a European might respond that only an American could be content with such a self-consciously mechanical view of a relational institution. It’s easy to hear the French man Alexis de Tocqueville laughing between the lines of his deadpan description of American men describing marriage in terms of “self-interest rightly understood.”
'It Makes Economic Sense for a Woman to Have More Than One Husband.'8:22 AM, Jan 20, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
In an article published a couple days ago, Time magazine endorses "Polyandry," which Merriam-Webster defines as "the state or practice of having more than one husband or male mate at one time."
"It Makes Economic Sense for a Woman to Have More Than One Husband," reads the article's headline. The sub-headline reads, "By pooling male resources, polyandry improves household incomes and combats child poverty."
8:18 AM, Nov 16, 2013 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
Every time you think that we've finally touched bottom on Obamacare, some new problem emerges. So what began merely as a dysfunctional website became a broken and mis-designed system. When it turned out that lots of people were paying more for their plans, it then turned out that others were having their plans canceled—and that some people were even losing their doctors. And now we're finding that, along with everything else, Obamacare contains a marriage penalty, too.
Michael Warren, lapsed guitaristNov 11, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 09 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The other day, I picked up my guitar and didn’t know what to play. This is happening more and more, and I guess it’s because I pick up the guitar less and less. When I was 15, I could strum my way through the entire Beatles catalogue, half the songs on classic rock radio, and any number of self-penned blues jams before I ever had to stop and think about what to play next.
2:06 PM, Oct 9, 2013 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
While everyone else has spent the last few days obsessing about Gravity, the government shutdown, and the real possibility that the NFC East division champ will have six wins, it’s quietly been an interesting week for sociology nerds who think about marriage.
Sep 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 02 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
As the debate over gay marriage began heating up, supporters of the idea insisted that it was a matter of basic libertarianism. “Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t have one,” went the bumper-sticker-turned-rallying-cry. Of course, it was never going to be that simple with regard to something as foundational as marriage, and now we are starting to see there are real consequences to being publicly opposed to the practice.