Novel Possibilities: Fiction and the Formation of Early Victorian Culture

By Joseph W. Childers | Go to book overview

2
Fiction into Fiction

After four unsuccessful attempts in five years, Benjamin Disraeli finally won a seat in Parliament in 1837 and almost immediately gave his maiden speech. The results were nearly disastrous. One observer recalls Disraeli beginning with "florid assurance," but "speedily degenerating into ludicrous absurdity" and "being at last put down with inextinguishable shouts of laughter" ( Greville 3:404). Rising directly after Daniel O'Connell had been a mistake. The Irish leader and his followers created such an uproar that they succeeded in hooting down the freshman MP. In a manner that would become his political trademark, however, Disraeli was able to turn this initial embarrassment to his advantage. He writes to his sister Sarah of how R. L. O'Shiel, an Irish MP of longstanding and with little love of O'Connell or his tactics, overheard "a knot of low Rads" disparaging Disraeli at the Athenaeum:

Suddenly Shiel threw down the paper and said in his shrill voice, "Now gentlemen, I have heard all you have to say, and, what is more, I heard this same speech of Mr. Disraeli, and I tell you this: if ever the spirit of oratory was in a man, it is in that man. Nothing can prevent him from being one of the first speakers in the House of Commons.... If there had not been this interruption, Mr. Disraeli might have made a failure; I don't call this a failure, it is a crush.... The House will not allow a man to be a wit and an orator, unless they have the credit of finding it out." (Quoted in Monypenny and Buckle 2:13)

Later that same evening Disraeli chanced to meet O'Shlel, who stood by his analysis of Disraeli's situation, advising him to "get rid of your genius for a session. Speak often for you must not show yourself cowed, but speak shortly. Be very quiet, try to be dull.... Quote figures, dates, calculations. And in a short time the house will sigh for the wit and elegance which they all know are in you" ( Monypenny and Buckle14).

Disraeli's dubious start is directly connected to issues of discursive

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