Benjamin Disraeli and the politics of performance

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker:

Tempx_disraeli2When Lytton Strachey’s “Eminent Victorians” was published, in 1918, it included, in addition to the portraits of his leading characters, cameos of almost all the other famous Victorians: Cardinal Newman is alongside Cardinal Manning in Manning’s chapter; Gladstone is glimpsed in the chapter on General Gordon; and Lord Palmerston is visible, grimacing, behind Florence Nightingale. The only Victorian of eminence missing in the ironic gallery is the most ironic of them all, Benjamin Disraeli: man of fashion, satiric novelist, twice Prime Minister, and the dominant figure of the Conservative Party in Britain from 1846 until his death, in 1881.

The reason for leaving him out is plain: Strachey’s figures, large and small, are invariably studies in that sanctimonious hypocrisy which Strachey imagined to be the keynote of the period. And of all the things that Disraeli was—mocker and opportunist, hired gun and flatterer, gadfly and courtier—the one thing that no one could ever call him was sanctimonious and hypocritical.

More here.