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Sybil, or the Two Nations

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The book is a roman à thèse, or a novel with a thesis -- which was meant to create a furor over the squalor that was plaguing England's working class cities. The general reader whose attention has not been specially drawn to the subject which these volumes aim to illustrate, the Condition of the People, might suspect that the Writer had been tempted to some exaggeration in The book is a roman à thèse, or a novel with a thesis -- which was meant to create a furor over the squalor that was plaguing England's working class cities. The general reader whose attention has not been specially drawn to the subject which these volumes aim to illustrate, the Condition of the People, might suspect that the Writer had been tempted to some exaggeration in the scenes which he has drawn and the impressions which he has wished to convey. He thinks it therefore due to himself to state that he believes there is not a trait in this work for which he has not the authority of his own observation, or the authentic evidence which has been received by Royal Commissions and Parliamentary Committees. But while he hopes he has alleged nothing which is not true, he has found the absolute necessity of suppressing much that is genuine. For so little do we know of the state of our own country that the air of improbability that the whole truth would inevitably throw over these pages, might deter many from their perusal.


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The book is a roman à thèse, or a novel with a thesis -- which was meant to create a furor over the squalor that was plaguing England's working class cities. The general reader whose attention has not been specially drawn to the subject which these volumes aim to illustrate, the Condition of the People, might suspect that the Writer had been tempted to some exaggeration in The book is a roman à thèse, or a novel with a thesis -- which was meant to create a furor over the squalor that was plaguing England's working class cities. The general reader whose attention has not been specially drawn to the subject which these volumes aim to illustrate, the Condition of the People, might suspect that the Writer had been tempted to some exaggeration in the scenes which he has drawn and the impressions which he has wished to convey. He thinks it therefore due to himself to state that he believes there is not a trait in this work for which he has not the authority of his own observation, or the authentic evidence which has been received by Royal Commissions and Parliamentary Committees. But while he hopes he has alleged nothing which is not true, he has found the absolute necessity of suppressing much that is genuine. For so little do we know of the state of our own country that the air of improbability that the whole truth would inevitably throw over these pages, might deter many from their perusal.

30 review for Sybil, or the Two Nations

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Disraeli is very much the bête noire of Gladstone's biography, but I thought reading one of his novels would provide more fun and interesting insight than adding yet another unfinished biography to my list. One of Disraeli's oft-commented upon "qualifications" for office was his ability to flatter Queen Victoria - the rapturous description in here of the Virgin Queen's ascent to the throne amidst tweeting birds is pretty amusing. As literature, Disraeli's novels have been challenged by the test o Disraeli is very much the bête noire of Gladstone's biography, but I thought reading one of his novels would provide more fun and interesting insight than adding yet another unfinished biography to my list. One of Disraeli's oft-commented upon "qualifications" for office was his ability to flatter Queen Victoria - the rapturous description in here of the Virgin Queen's ascent to the throne amidst tweeting birds is pretty amusing. As literature, Disraeli's novels have been challenged by the test of time - huge undigested chunks of his theories of history alternate with the plot, improbable characters come up conveniently to explain things in long monologues - but also well-written and funny enough of the time. The Two Nations of the title are the rich and the poor - Sybil herself is one of those impossibly virtuous and graceful Victorian novel heroines. As the daughter of an artisan, her nascent romance with the second son of an aristocratic family would seem to be impossible because of the class divide, but rather than their ultimate union being achieved by the exact democratizing social upheaval which is the ostensible theme of the book, it turns that her family actually *are* of the aristocracy, having been swindled out of their hereditary lands, a deceit that finally comes to light. So the happy ending, such as it is, more reaffirms the existing social order than anything else. This contradiction is, I believe, characteristic of Disraeli's slightly muddled set of beliefs at the time he wrote it and he himself was making his way in politics.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    “We live in an age where to be young and to be indifferent can no longer by synonymous. We must prepare for the coming hour. The claims of the future are represented by suffering millions; and the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity”. The closing paragraph written by Disraeli nearly 200 years ago about the People (or the plight of the working classes) is still so relevant to todays society! Disraeli later became the English prime minister and on doing some research it is great to see t “We live in an age where to be young and to be indifferent can no longer by synonymous. We must prepare for the coming hour. The claims of the future are represented by suffering millions; and the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity”. The closing paragraph written by Disraeli nearly 200 years ago about the People (or the plight of the working classes) is still so relevant to todays society! Disraeli later became the English prime minister and on doing some research it is great to see that he stuck to his views of “One Nation” and improving the conditions of the working classes. The book was still a bit of a slog, but the last third was fab.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    If you don't like politics or satires, this is not the book for you. While I am not very political myself, I like satires very much. This one uses a variation of Romeo and Juliet as a framework: Charles Egremont, newly-elected aristocratic Member of Parliament, meets and falls in love with the beautiful poor Chartist Sybil Gerard. Disraeli used little subtlety in making his point of England being "Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; ... THE RICH AND THE POOR." and If you don't like politics or satires, this is not the book for you. While I am not very political myself, I like satires very much. This one uses a variation of Romeo and Juliet as a framework: Charles Egremont, newly-elected aristocratic Member of Parliament, meets and falls in love with the beautiful poor Chartist Sybil Gerard. Disraeli used little subtlety in making his point of England being "Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; ... THE RICH AND THE POOR." and amidst the humor and the romance, there are strong indictments about a government that allows the terrible conditions of the working classes. The book covers the conditions of farming labourers, mill workers, miners and metalworkers - each suffers in a different way but all suffering. I particularly liked the satire of the political hostesses & the names Disraeli used for the minor characters (such as Lord Muddlebrains, Lady Firebrace, Colonel Bosky, Mr. Hoaxem etc.). I had a little bit of familiarity with the way aristocratic women sometimes figured as political hostesses before this & so Disraeli's lampooning of them struck me as very funny, such as Lady St. Julian's belief that all that is necessary for the party to secure a Member's vote on some particular issue is to have "asked some of them to dinner, or given a ball or two to their wives and daughters! ... Losing a vote at such a critical time, when if I had had only a remote idea of what was passing through his mind, I would have even asked him to Barrowley for a couple of days."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    Rather well done historical fiction, blending actual events like Chartist riots and Parliamentary intrigues with social commentary about the aristocracy versus the working class, with nicely-done satirical sketches of fictional asshole aristocrats. Where I would fault Disraeli (although no more than a lot of other writers of his era) is on the romance. The heroine, Sybil, is perfect in every way; the heart of an angel, a seraphic singer, beautiful, plus like many a Victorian heroine though she i Rather well done historical fiction, blending actual events like Chartist riots and Parliamentary intrigues with social commentary about the aristocracy versus the working class, with nicely-done satirical sketches of fictional asshole aristocrats. Where I would fault Disraeli (although no more than a lot of other writers of his era) is on the romance. The heroine, Sybil, is perfect in every way; the heart of an angel, a seraphic singer, beautiful, plus like many a Victorian heroine though she is young and relatively uneducated she speaks with the wisdom and vocabulary of a 55-year-old Oxford don. She is so perfect that her father acknowledges she will most likely have to enter the cloister permanently, because no man is good enough for her.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Benjamin Disraeli was a politician. He had Queen Victoria's approval, or perhaps, more accurately, Victoria really disliked Gladstone. In any case, one can either enjoy or disapprove of his politics, but it is difficult to warm up to his abilities as a novelist. Sybil is first and foremost a political novel; it does offer character, and the fundamentals of a plot, but when you sift out the thin literary bits, you are left with large chunks of politics. It is interesting to see how Disraeli portra Benjamin Disraeli was a politician. He had Queen Victoria's approval, or perhaps, more accurately, Victoria really disliked Gladstone. In any case, one can either enjoy or disapprove of his politics, but it is difficult to warm up to his abilities as a novelist. Sybil is first and foremost a political novel; it does offer character, and the fundamentals of a plot, but when you sift out the thin literary bits, you are left with large chunks of politics. It is interesting to see how Disraeli portrays the two nations of the workers and the landed gentry, and one can learn from his discussion. There were indeed those of the upper class who were sympathetic to the concerns of the lower classes, and it is very true that the Industrial Revolution was a social revolution, but Disraeli's novel was very disjointed. Far too often political arguments and comments interfered with the telling and development of a good narrative. Structureally, we have the rich represented by Charles Egremont, who is the second son, and thus has more freedom to cast his eyes around society and question its structure. For the poor we have Sybil, a beautiful, angelic young woman whose father is Walter Gerard a leader of the poor who are trying to gain more recognition for their plight in society. Naturally, after several plot-like twists they fall in love, Egremont saves Sybil and all this is wrapped up with obvious political overtones from the author. This novel does perhaps offer some insight on the social upheaval occurring in the 19C but too many shades of party politics tend to dominate the novel. There are other writers of the industrial novel such as Dickens and Gaskell. For fiction read them.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sheree | Keeping Up With The Penguins

    My full review is available on Keeping Up With The Penguins. Look, I’m all about political reform and uplifting the working classes. I can totally get behind Disraeli’s points about representative democracy and equality. But I must say, when it came to crafting a fictional story to make those points, Disraeli made a real pig’s ear of it. Sybil reads like he sat down with a checklist of everything that should be included in an “industrial novel”, and wrote until he checked off all of them, one by My full review is available on Keeping Up With The Penguins. Look, I’m all about political reform and uplifting the working classes. I can totally get behind Disraeli’s points about representative democracy and equality. But I must say, when it came to crafting a fictional story to make those points, Disraeli made a real pig’s ear of it. Sybil reads like he sat down with a checklist of everything that should be included in an “industrial novel”, and wrote until he checked off all of them, one by one. I think I only soaked in about 10% of what Disraeli was pouring out. Sybil is probably better suited to readers who are already deeply familiar with the system of British government and the monarchy, and/or people who have a keen interest and some background knowledge of 18th and 19th century British history. Having an at-best rudimentary understanding of both, this book didn’t do much for me. I appreciated Disraeli’s ideas, but I wasn’t a fan of his execution.

  7. 4 out of 5

    B

    Disraeli definitely had an agenda with this book. Yes, he was very political in his life so why wouldn’t we expect his novels to reflect that? The difficulty with him is the following: a) He is trying to explain an entire movement in the Victorian period: the struggle for the rights of the working class. To encapsulate this in around 400 pages is extremely difficult to do. Thus, Disraeli introduces A LOT of characters that randomly show up one in every 20 chapters. Confusing? Fuck yes. b) He has t Disraeli definitely had an agenda with this book. Yes, he was very political in his life so why wouldn’t we expect his novels to reflect that? The difficulty with him is the following: a) He is trying to explain an entire movement in the Victorian period: the struggle for the rights of the working class. To encapsulate this in around 400 pages is extremely difficult to do. Thus, Disraeli introduces A LOT of characters that randomly show up one in every 20 chapters. Confusing? Fuck yes. b) He has to deal with the structure of traditional story telling v. his hopes for the characters he has created. He thus has to compromise either his beliefs or the believability of his inventions. c) He was kind of a dick in real life. That being said I did enjoy this book. Though I think Sybil is a hypocrite and Egremont should have quit being such a weenie, I appreciate what Disraeli attempted to do in writing this novel. Plus: Lord Marney is so deliciously evil I just want to cackle along with him :)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Free download available at Project Gutenberg. Free download available at Project Gutenberg.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Peter Ellwood

    It’s a funny little novel. Imagine a serving prime minister sitting down to write a novel, and you’d probably conjure up something pretty much like this offering. Great novelist Disraeli most certainly ain’t. His prose occasionally borders on the insane. It’s not all as clunky and awful as the extract which follows, to be sure. But imagine a piece of writing which includes: “the well-shaped mouth, firm and yet benignant, betokened the celestial soul that habited that gracious frame”. After yo It’s a funny little novel. Imagine a serving prime minister sitting down to write a novel, and you’d probably conjure up something pretty much like this offering. Great novelist Disraeli most certainly ain’t. His prose occasionally borders on the insane. It’s not all as clunky and awful as the extract which follows, to be sure. But imagine a piece of writing which includes: “the well-shaped mouth, firm and yet benignant, betokened the celestial soul that habited that gracious frame”. After you’d mastered the wave of nausea, you’d probably start comparing this quality of writing with year one of a school for writers. Am I picking on a rare lapse on Disraeli’s part? Well, no. Try this: “Sybil returned his gaze: the deep lustre of her dark orb rested on his peering vision; his eye fled from the unequal contest: his heart throbbed, his limbs trembled: he fell upon his knee” I expect he did, really I do. There are plenty more examples where that came from too. I do hope Disraeli’s offerings as prime minister were more convincing than that. The characterisation is shallow in some ways, but revealing in others. The first thing to say is that more or less no one has a character – they’re all just matchstick men and women, two dimensional and forgettable. But it’s interesting that he tends to mock the collectivity of aristocratic characters – they never seem to talk about anything but trivia or politics (and even that, in a carefully trivial way); whereas he tends to treat the collectivity of “The Poor” in a more sympathetic way, the noble savage kind of thing. But by the end he still comes down at the savage end of the spectrum rather than the noble. The plot is rubbish too. I won’t spoil it for prospective readers with too much detail, but the abrupt, madly histrionic and unexpected ending is a funny old way to round off a serious piece of writing. No, I’m being unfair: the ending is entirely predictable in many ways – you can see it coming from the very first chapters - but his means of getting to that destination is gorgeously over the top. I could go on. The funny thing though is that it’s quite an enjoyable read! There’s almost nothing in it that I would want to single out as a truly good example of the art of novel-writing, but somehow it’s quite good fun for a quiet afternoon. For that reason I would give it two and a half stars if such a rating existed, to lift it above the dross I tend to give two stars to. Perhaps one positive quality I would single out then is Disraeli’s unsinkable self-confidence. Not for one second do you doubt that he reckons he can do this writing thing, and strangely, it helps him along. It’s not great literature, but if you feel the need to have read at least one Disraeli novel before the bucket list is complete, then at least this one will not be all that painful!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    Taken for what it isn't; for example it isn't a sympathetic account of Chartism; Sybil is not a great book. It tries to champion the idea that if the working classes could only acknowledge their inferiority to the aristocracy then the aristocracy might then reward this act of deference by looking after the great unwashed a little better. This alliance presumably would be "one nation politics". Good luck Ed Milliband! Taken as a fascinating insight into a developing political mind, or a critique o Taken for what it isn't; for example it isn't a sympathetic account of Chartism; Sybil is not a great book. It tries to champion the idea that if the working classes could only acknowledge their inferiority to the aristocracy then the aristocracy might then reward this act of deference by looking after the great unwashed a little better. This alliance presumably would be "one nation politics". Good luck Ed Milliband! Taken as a fascinating insight into a developing political mind, or a critique of The Corn Laws, The Poor Law, The New Poor Law Ammendment, a revealing of the living conditions of the industrial and rural poor, the fear of revolution in mid 19th century Britain, the pointing out of some of the reasons why Chartism failed (at the time), as a collection of characters, some of whom work very well indeed (we have early spin doctors in here) as well as the unique novel writing of a major statesman, it is a work that deserves to be widely read. Mr Disraeli will be heard.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dominick

    Apparently, Disraeli read little fiction himself. This is evident from the appallingly bad plotting and derivative characterization herein. Disraeli awkwardly attempts to mix political treatise (Marx before Marx, as he has a go in favour of THe PEOPLE and Labour against Capitalism [capitals as used with vapid portentiousness in the novel], excoriating the growing disparity between rich and poor) with romance. It doesn't work, for several reasons. One is that there isn't much logical overlap betw Apparently, Disraeli read little fiction himself. This is evident from the appallingly bad plotting and derivative characterization herein. Disraeli awkwardly attempts to mix political treatise (Marx before Marx, as he has a go in favour of THe PEOPLE and Labour against Capitalism [capitals as used with vapid portentiousness in the novel], excoriating the growing disparity between rich and poor) with romance. It doesn't work, for several reasons. One is that there isn't much logical overlap between the plots (such as they are). Another is that it's difficult to make a plausible case for the inherent merit of the working class when the apparent symbolic representative thereof is in fact an aristoctrat who has been robbed of her due--a tired play on the fair unknown, hamhandedly handled. Furthermore, she doesn't even appear until about twenty percent of the way through the book and then has virtually nothing to do for the rest of it except love her father and be the object of an aristocrat's love. He ends up rescuing her from a mob of rioting strikers. So much for the working class. Disraeli seems to want to sympathize with the working class but without the ability to really get beyond the stereotypes of either the salt of the earth English peasant (duly cared for by paternalistic landowners) or the rowdy, violent mob (made so by greedy and parasitic landowners). The characters are at best flat. The action is poorly constructed. Disraeli will, for example, end a chapter on a cliffhanger and then ignore any follow-up to said cliff-hanger subsequently, except in passing. One might see this as daring and innovative. I see it as a failure of novelistic architecture. There are many more nineteenth century novelists to whom one ought to devote one's attention ahead of Disraeli. I would not suggest being in any hurry to read this. Go for Dickens instead. He does Dickensian characters much better than Disraeli does them, for one thing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sheyda

    This has been one of those books I have always felt that I should have read and never actually read...until 2017. What can I say? It was better than I expected, as a novel, and about as I expected as an historical fragment. The details of Parliamentary politics are mostly tedious and the characters rather one dimensional, but the insight into the social threat of Chartism is useful. And, of course, if you have read any of the Anglo-American poverty literature of the period from 1870 to the prese This has been one of those books I have always felt that I should have read and never actually read...until 2017. What can I say? It was better than I expected, as a novel, and about as I expected as an historical fragment. The details of Parliamentary politics are mostly tedious and the characters rather one dimensional, but the insight into the social threat of Chartism is useful. And, of course, if you have read any of the Anglo-American poverty literature of the period from 1870 to the present, you have basically encountered the central trope of the novel many times over.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paul Taylor

    A unusual "mongrel" of a book with echoes of Dickens, Austen and Hansard. Is it a love story, is it a social commentary or is it a description of the evolution of Parliamentary democracy? It tries to be all three. A unusual "mongrel" of a book with echoes of Dickens, Austen and Hansard. Is it a love story, is it a social commentary or is it a description of the evolution of Parliamentary democracy? It tries to be all three.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Katie Lumsden

    More like 3.75 stars. A really interesting read and another great Victorian novel. Some of the social commentary is a little heavy-handed and it's not a patch on Gaskell as industrial novels go, but an interesting plot and an enjoyable read :) More like 3.75 stars. A really interesting read and another great Victorian novel. Some of the social commentary is a little heavy-handed and it's not a patch on Gaskell as industrial novels go, but an interesting plot and an enjoyable read :)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    Disraeli, Benjamin. Sybil, or the Two Nations. 1845. A recent rundown of novels by politicians in The Telegraph still has Disraeli at the top of the list. Recent politicians as diverse as Jimmy Carter and Boris Johnson have written novels, but neither, I think, would have the affrontery to say with Disraeli, “When I want a novel, I write one.” Neither Carter nor Johnson have created a political trope like “the two nations” that we will still be using 174 years from now. But the truth is, for rea Disraeli, Benjamin. Sybil, or the Two Nations. 1845. A recent rundown of novels by politicians in The Telegraph still has Disraeli at the top of the list. Recent politicians as diverse as Jimmy Carter and Boris Johnson have written novels, but neither, I think, would have the affrontery to say with Disraeli, “When I want a novel, I write one.” Neither Carter nor Johnson have created a political trope like “the two nations” that we will still be using 174 years from now. But the truth is, for readers like me, Disraeli is not competing with the amateur class of politician novelists but with the great novelists of his century, especially Charles Dickens and George Eliot. In that class, I am afraid, he runs a distant third. Sybil is a well-meaning novel with a thesis, hinted at in his subtitle, that the poor have become a separate nation that needs to be reunited with the middle and upper classes. As a back bencher in Parliament, Disraeli was still optimistic that a socially conscious conservative movement could get that done in his lifetime. But once he gained real power, he discovered how intractable the problem was and turned his attention to keeping the Empire together. Sybil, a novel he wrote in his early forties, has neither the wit of Hard Times, Charles Dickens’ novel on the consequences of industrialization, nor the scope and depth of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Sybil is a too-good-to-be-true romantic heroine, and Egremont, the male lead, never quite comes alive. But the novel does do a good job of explaining the rationalizations used by the aristocracy to maintain the status quo that keeps the suffering poor in their place. We hear echoes of those bogus arguments in Congress today, and for that reason alone, Disraeli’s novel is still worth reading.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Peter Fullilove

    I found this such an interesting read, yet it's also a book that's hard to recommend. It is too long for one thing and the characters are pretty much two dimensional ciphers for the political narrative. But for me, the political narrative was compelling enough so neither of these really mattered. Disraeli's England has many parallel's to our own times, a country experiencing huge technological innovations, and a hunger and fear (depending on where you are placed on the social strata) of the chan I found this such an interesting read, yet it's also a book that's hard to recommend. It is too long for one thing and the characters are pretty much two dimensional ciphers for the political narrative. But for me, the political narrative was compelling enough so neither of these really mattered. Disraeli's England has many parallel's to our own times, a country experiencing huge technological innovations, and a hunger and fear (depending on where you are placed on the social strata) of the changes these will bring. You realise the Industrial Revolution has such a huge impact on almost every aspect of every person's life, on the work you would be doing, on where and how you lived, how much things cost, how long you lived. Of course, no story of massive societal change would be complete without a venal and enfeebled elite unable to grapple with the big 'state of the nation' questions. What I found really interesting is the argument that Disraeli puts forward that life under 'Venetian Capitalism' (which he never really properly defines but broadly speaking seemed to cover industrialisation, international finance, government borrowing and high, perpetual taxation) has meant that the conditions and opportunities for the poor are even worse than under feudalism. He theorises that the working class and old aristocracy are thus natural allies against the avaricious and greedy capitalist class. These are arguments that I've read about in a very detached way but I can't say I ever really properly understood. So if you like long political fiction and aren't too fussed about characterisations...or plot...then this is for you.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    I was expecting a political book, and I got one. The writing style might not be the greatest, and there were tendencies to melodrama. But this is a Victorian novel after all. Certainly, events were condensed and time-lines/scenes jumped around a bit, taking me a little time to acclimatise between chapters at first. However, once I understood Disraeli's style of writing, I settled in to the story, events and characters and read with ease. This is a subject which I really find interesting, but I s I was expecting a political book, and I got one. The writing style might not be the greatest, and there were tendencies to melodrama. But this is a Victorian novel after all. Certainly, events were condensed and time-lines/scenes jumped around a bit, taking me a little time to acclimatise between chapters at first. However, once I understood Disraeli's style of writing, I settled in to the story, events and characters and read with ease. This is a subject which I really find interesting, but I still learned a lot about events from the book and the end-notes. As a former political scientist, I used to preach about the class divide myself: and despite the workers of today having more than their chains to lose ( why risk the cars, a TV and computer in every room etc - I know; just chains of a different kind) not a lot has changed in terms of the locus of power (although the rift is more visible in the noughties again). I'd recommend this book, but with a warning that it takes a bit of getting into.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine

    I can certainly say that I will never re-read this one. I'm glad I read it; Ouida's politics are shaped to a certain extent by Disraeli, and it's good to see the antecedents of some of her ideas, but this is a total slog. I find all the political stuff either boring or ridiculous (the people are too violent and dumb to ever lead themselves except for very rare Great Men who also happen to be disenfranchised aristocrats? Really?). As a 21st century gal, I find all the arguments that Disraeli and Ca I can certainly say that I will never re-read this one. I'm glad I read it; Ouida's politics are shaped to a certain extent by Disraeli, and it's good to see the antecedents of some of her ideas, but this is a total slog. I find all the political stuff either boring or ridiculous (the people are too violent and dumb to ever lead themselves except for very rare Great Men who also happen to be disenfranchised aristocrats? Really?). As a 21st century gal, I find all the arguments that Disraeli and Carlyle and their ilk put forth about a benevolent aristocracy to be unpersuasive to say the least. The story part is alright but not very compelling especially since one of the main points is that Sibyl has to learn that all her high ideals about democracy and The People are totally wrong and Egremont, who spends like five minutes in the wild, knows everything about life. This is a snoozer, my friends.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Quade

    Epic Book. The symbolism and allegories are awesome. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to learn more about the origin of the English Political System, or the Chartist revolution. Disraeli masterfully portrayed the sufferings of the English poor in early Victorian England while juxtaposing it with the frivolities of the privileged class. Again, definitely a good read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Zlatina Stefanova

    Very well written book. It was a pleasure reading it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    David Bisset

    A great Victorian novel Disraeli was an important politician and an incomparable orator. I knew that he was also a novelist, but did not realise his ability. Sybil is not uniformly good, but the best passages hold there own with Dickens and his contemporaries. I also failed to realise that Disraeli was obsessed with the victims of the Industrial Revolution. On a lighter level, his descriptions of parliamentarians has continued relevance today! I am tempted to read some of his other mature novels.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Devon Flaherty

    The first thing I need to say about this book is about the particular edition that I read (published by International Alliance Pro-Publishing, not pictured), not about the book itself. But very quickly (I’m on the fourth book of my 1000-plus) I have learned another lesson. And here it is: Do NOT fall for the POD (print-on-demand) versions of public domain books. Now, we all know I love POD as much as the next guy, although largely for self-publishing authors trying to break into the field or cla The first thing I need to say about this book is about the particular edition that I read (published by International Alliance Pro-Publishing, not pictured), not about the book itself. But very quickly (I’m on the fourth book of my 1000-plus) I have learned another lesson. And here it is: Do NOT fall for the POD (print-on-demand) versions of public domain books. Now, we all know I love POD as much as the next guy, although largely for self-publishing authors trying to break into the field or claim more of their revenue. However, I snagged the International Alliance of Pro-Publishing version of Sybil, and I have regretted it ever since. To be honest, I hadn’t even thought of the idea of public domain books being printed for a quick buck by some crappy company or some guy sitting at home at his computer in the dead of night. But I sure figured it out quick. For one, the cover and paper type is completely indicative of a POD. Which is okay. But it is not the highest quality. What really got me was the lack of material (most classical books include introductions, character lists, all sorts of extra things to help you enjoy and understand the story) and the excess of typos, grammatical errors, and misspellings. And because the book is in an older, British English, it was hard for me to catch all of the mistakes, instead left looking at the page confused. If I had a dollar for every time the “publisher” forgot to close a quote or move a paragraph to the next line, I would have doubled my last month’s salary. Seriously. Not to mention that the format was terrible: large pages and small margins (it is more affordable for the publisher) make for very long times between page turns and easily losing one’s place. It felt like forever. The moral is, stick to the traditional publishers for the classics (Norton, Penguin, etc.), or at the very least, be on the look-out for bad versions of old literature (check ratings, sales, etc.), as I’m sure they will continue to rise in number. Now for another prefacing comment. This is Sybil or The Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli. It is not Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber and played in movie form by Sally Field. The OTHER Sybil is the one about the lady with dissociative identity disorder. THIS Sybil is known as a novel with a these, about the Chartist movement in early 19th century/Victorian England and the gulf between the classes. So, Sybil, or The Two Nations, by Benjamin Disraeli. First published in 1945. Where to start? This book is described as a novel with a thesis (as I mentioned). That means that Disraeli was trying to reach the masses and the powers-that-be by slipping his political and societal rhetoric, like a little pill, into literary applesauce. It was effective. Now, more than 150 years later, it is less effective, but it is interesting to witness. For one, Disraeli is an alright novelist, but not the best. His characters tend to be flat (uncomplicated) and he is extremely fond of the surprise ending chapter. (For example, you enter the chapter reading about a “guy” and some other people, and lots of events take place, and at the end of the chapter he suddenly writes, “and that man was EGREMONT” (yes, with the capitalization). Really obnoxious to us modern readers. Not to mention that the book–because it is full of hidden political pills–is very dull at times. Especially at the beginning. I admit to skimming whole sections where Disraeli turns back into his usual moralist self. The only reason I even found this part remotely interesting is 1) that someone did it and 2) I happened to have just watched Amazing Grace, which is a movie about William Wilberforce and includes many themes related to this book. And yet, the maker of that movie did a far better job at letting the “story” speak for itself. Disraeli’s version reminded me more of cookie dough where the liquid can still be distinguished from the flour. Doesn’t make for good cookies. It’s not all bad, though. By the end of the book I found myself continually thinking that it would make a great period film. Or even a re-write. In the hands of a skilled novelist (or screenwriter and director), the plot could really sing. And somewhere in there we would all get the idea of class distinction, the degradation and persecution of the working classes, the excesses of the upper, and all that. (There was a movie made in 1921, but I can’t find a way to get my hands on it.) One last thing: Did anyone else find it odd that to portray the rift between the upper and working classes, Disraeli chose Sybil, who secretly possessed a noble lineage and a plan to move into the upper class? I found that awkward, to say the least. Maybe it helped make the message more tolerable to the upper class? These days, it seems like a poor choice born of an undercurrent of the dregs of prejudice. Like Disraeli, as noble as he was, couldn’t even imagine a pure and worthy heroine without a claim to “old blood.” Also annoyed me that three of the main characters were named Marney, Mowbray, and Morley. Just one of those things. Would I recommend it? Depends on how interested you are in Victorian suffrage and how willing you are to read pages of Chartist essay. In the end, I would say wait for the film, or until your Literature teacher makes you read it. Then enjoy. Review from The Starving Artist at devontrevarrowflaherty.com.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Phaedon

    If nothing else, this book was eye opening. I felt like it gave me a view of 19th century England that I didn't have before. I can't help but wonder how much of it was objectively fair and how much was polemic, but it really piqued my interest and drove me to go do a little bit of research about British history, particularly around that period. Above all, it paints quite a horrifying picture of the conditions of the working class in the early 19th century. We tend to glorify the industrial revolu If nothing else, this book was eye opening. I felt like it gave me a view of 19th century England that I didn't have before. I can't help but wonder how much of it was objectively fair and how much was polemic, but it really piqued my interest and drove me to go do a little bit of research about British history, particularly around that period. Above all, it paints quite a horrifying picture of the conditions of the working class in the early 19th century. We tend to glorify the industrial revolution, but this novel definitely shows the dark side of its aftermath. At times Disraeli's writing is thoroughly entertaining and even quite beautiful. However, there are plenty of digressions from the main plot and characters, some of which were easier to wade through than others. I did find it hard to follow some of the secondary narratives, particularly those that involved lots of dialogue about 19th century politics between the aristocractic personages. Still, I learned something. It inspired me to learn more, and it did captivate my attention for most of the read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    Published in 1845 caused a great sensation because it showed the reading public, who were primarily middle and upper class, the realities of the life led by the laboring classes and the poor., the people who made their comfortable existence possible. The author, Benjamin Disraeli, was twice prime minister and a social activist and political reformer his whole life. The two titles of this novel speak to its structure as an exposé of the grim world of the working class hung on a romance which brin Published in 1845 caused a great sensation because it showed the reading public, who were primarily middle and upper class, the realities of the life led by the laboring classes and the poor., the people who made their comfortable existence possible. The author, Benjamin Disraeli, was twice prime minister and a social activist and political reformer his whole life. The two titles of this novel speak to its structure as an exposé of the grim world of the working class hung on a romance which brings the two worlds together. The novel begins in a men’s club in London in 1837 where wealthy youth, the sons of the landed gentry, gather to socialize and on this occasion are discussing the form of the horses running in the Derby the next day. The protagonist, Charles Egremont, is part of this crowd, but he is a second son in system of primogenitor which means that the family wealth, title and property has gone to his older brother, Lord Marney. His own prospects depend on finding a rich wife or of receiving some post in government sufficient to maintain him in the life he had been born to. When his brother marries the woman Egremont had set his sights on Egremont exiled himself to travel the world. His intellect “emancipated” by experiences abroad he returns to England still part of his former social set but wanting to have some deeper goal in life. Disraeli illustrates how jaded these young men are in contrast to Egremont who despite having easily won a seat in parliament that is practically in the gift of his family is beginning to show signs of independence from the political stands of his family. Exploring a ruined abbey on the family lands he falls into conversation with two men who talk at length about social conditions and the fact that the new Queen really rules two separate nations the rich and the poor. Egremont is deeply interested this but then comes the sound of a woman singing in the abbey grounds whose graceful features and angelic looks “combined to produce a beauty as rare as it is choice”. Sybil enters the story and Egremont is bewitched. When he accompanies his family to Mowbray Castle, which is near one of the major industrial towns of the north, he is supposed to propose to the elder daughter whose father is expected to endow her with enough money to keep her and her husband in comfort, instead Egremont meets up again with Sybil, her father Walter Gerrard and his friend and political mentor Stephen Morley. While parliament is on its summer recess he returns to the area under the guise of being a journalist named Franklin. He sees firsthand the plight of the poor and also enters the world of the Chartists of which Walter Gerrard is a leader. Sybil now acting as his housekeeper and aide not having become the nun she wished to be. The Chartists movement was an attempt by the beleaguered working class to gain political rights including universal male suffrage without regards to property, a secret ballot, and pay for members of parliament so all could afford to serve. Disraeli vividly demonstrates the forces at work and the anger and despair of the working classes turned off the farms to work in dismal conditions in the factories owned by the rich. Egremont/Franklin gets an inside view of all this. Like most Victorian novels this one is quite ponderous with long descriptions of conversations, events and places. I don’t really like books where you have to keep referring to footnotes or endnotes, but the endnotes here are well-done and essential if the reader, like me, knows nothing about the political history of the period. Through it all Egremont works to make Sybil love him despite knowing that once his true identity is revealed he will be seen as class enemy not friend. There are many twists and turns and subplots. Egremont’s family goal is to be elevated to a dukedom, barons want to become peers and sit in the House of Lords. These subplots may seem off the point but they do demonstrate the gulf in concerns between the moneyed class and the people whose labor fills their coffers. As a result of a particular subplot thread, the recovery of lands based on paperwork unearthed by an investigative lawyer, and with the assistance of a heroic dog, all ends well and Egremont and Sybil are united. The book ends with the author entering the narrative stating what the purpose has been to enlighten his readers to the real state of affairs in England and the development and concerns of the political parties. He concludes by encouraging the young to become engaged, “The claims of the Future are represented by suffering millions; and the Youth of the Nation are the trustees of Posterity.” The book may be overlong but it has a distinct resonance today.

  25. 5 out of 5

    G.D. Master

    “Sybil, or The Two Nations,” a novel by Benjamin Disraeli, is a work of Victorian fiction set at the transition of the British economy from the feudal era to the industrial revolution. Benjamin Disraeli was a complex figure in British society, having religious and political aspirations along with being an incredibly intelligent man; he wrote some the most sophisticated literature ever attempted. He sets up Sybil in his beginning chapters with a fictional account of Charles Egremont’s lineage fro “Sybil, or The Two Nations,” a novel by Benjamin Disraeli, is a work of Victorian fiction set at the transition of the British economy from the feudal era to the industrial revolution. Benjamin Disraeli was a complex figure in British society, having religious and political aspirations along with being an incredibly intelligent man; he wrote some the most sophisticated literature ever attempted. He sets up Sybil in his beginning chapters with a fictional account of Charles Egremont’s lineage from England’s medieval history, telling readers how his family’s name changed from Greymount to Marney to Egremont. Charles Egremont enters the story, having loaned large sums of money from his brother, the Lord Marney, to fund an election for a seat in parliament. Unable to pay back the loan, he sets off on his own under an assumed name, Franklin, and meets Sybil, a figure of religious purity within the novel. Sybil’s father, Walter, and his cohort, Stephen Morley, are helping to organize workers for the chartist movement that will further democratize the British parliament. Egremont and his new friends meet up with two riff-raffs, Devils Dust and Dandy Mick, and through these characters readers are shown the slums of Mowbray, the dystopia of Hellhouse Yard, and conditions in England’s factories and coal mines. What seems like a convoluted novel, filled with endless sub-plots and side excursions, is an incredibly well organized look at how British politics was evolving during the period and where it could possibly go given Disraeli’s positive influence. While Disraeli could be considered an aristocratic Tory, he behaved very independently in British politics and after publication of Sybil became an active member of the British parliament and was two times its Prime Minister. Much of the criticism on Sybil is concerned with the novel as political propaganda and what Disraeli got wrong. Disraeli did not get anything wrong. He wrote a fiction based on political speculation, more politicians should try it. They might be better prepared for how things really work in the future. Disraeli was a conservative and thought that there were some things right about British parliament before Whig policies and civilian labor movements began to lead to more democratization. The end of Sybil is less concerned with politics and devolves into a chivalric fantasy with a prince and princess, Egremont and Sybil, stepping into their roles as king and queen. The most important understanding about the end of Sybil is, that as absurd as it seems, it was entirely possible given the circumstances Disraeli laid out. Disraeli’s ideas about government having more involvement with agriculture, industry, and the world market may be apparent in modern policy. His idea of charity, via religious faith, rather than state welfare may be problematic. Whatever his agenda, Disraeli was a literary genius and a skilled politician, how often have these traits ever merged? “Sybil, or The Two Nations,” is a challenging read, even for collegiate academics. It is not a recreational read. It may be the most important novel in Victorian industrial literature. Its history, politics, economics, and fictionalized society are a real world model to be discussed, measured critically, and reasoned about responsibly. Given the depth and seriousness of Disraeli’s epic, there is enough entertainment and down-to-earth fun to keep broad-minded and engrossed readers turning pages.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Fred

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Spoiler Alert: “This aristocratic living is a awful bore,” said Lord Marney. “Egremont, why don’t you go in for parliament?” “But what of the election expenses?” asked Egremont. “Mother will pay £1000, and I will see about the rest,” asserted Lord Marney. “What if I don’t get elected?” inquired Egremont. “Don’t be ridiculous!” Lord Marney told him. --- “Who is that beautiful young woman who sings so sweetly?” Egremont asked. “Prithee, yon wight be my daughter, as good as she is kind, and as beautiful Spoiler Alert: “This aristocratic living is a awful bore,” said Lord Marney. “Egremont, why don’t you go in for parliament?” “But what of the election expenses?” asked Egremont. “Mother will pay £1000, and I will see about the rest,” asserted Lord Marney. “What if I don’t get elected?” inquired Egremont. “Don’t be ridiculous!” Lord Marney told him. --- “Who is that beautiful young woman who sings so sweetly?” Egremont asked. “Prithee, yon wight be my daughter, as good as she is kind, and as beautiful as she is good,” replied Gerard. “Tell me, do all the lower orders speak this way?” Egremont demanded. “Verily, only those who are dispossessed aristocracy,” Gerard admitted, “Although mayhap I give too much away.” “Sybil, your charms are such I would press my suit,” announced Egremont. “Two doors down is a woman who does ironing,” replied Sybil, “but I see that is not your meaning. You must know I am engaged in entering a convent.” --- “Lady Marney is working on behalf of this dreadful division” “Jamaica?” “No, she went of her own accord.” --- “Oh Father, after your petition to parliament has been ignored, with the remarkable exception of Lord Egremont, “how could you be so bold as to plan sedition?” The police will be here within the instant! They are here!” “You get one telephone call, miss.” “Isn’t that an anachronism?” “Don’t worry miss, there are so many impossibilities in this story, no-one will notice.” “I came as soon as I could,” whispered Egremont, “You are free to go. I can’t say the same for the conspirators, though.” -- “Mother Superior, I must admit I have reservations about entering the convent,” admitted Sybil. Mother Superior lowered her eyes and observed, “I understand, my child. I, too, have loved.” --- “We will burn down Lord Mowbray’s Castle”, said Dandy Mick. “No,” said Mowbray,” We must search the castle for a vital document!” “The Yeomanry are here!” said Dandy Mick. “They’ll never take me alive, although I have always counselled quietism,” cried Mowbray, “Dandy Mick, take this document to Sybil at the convent”. … “Lord and Lady Marney are returning from their year-long honeymoon in Italy,” said Lady St. Julien. “I must say that Sybil scrubs up remarkably well. I always knew she was one of us.” “Egremont is not neglecting his parliamentary duties then?” “Oh, it’s only a year. No-one will notice.” … “The Youth of the Nation are the Trustees of Posterity! Now make me Prime Minister!” said the author.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Martin Jones

    Theresa May in her first speech outside Number 10 said that she was a one nation Conservative. As it happened, I was just finishing Sybil, by nineteenth century Conservative prime minister Benjamin Disraeli - the book from which the One Nation idea derives. Sybil, set in northern England, describes a calamitous divide between rich and poor, a division so dramatic that people live entirely different existences within one country. Sybil certainly does not shy away from the iniquities of social divi Theresa May in her first speech outside Number 10 said that she was a one nation Conservative. As it happened, I was just finishing Sybil, by nineteenth century Conservative prime minister Benjamin Disraeli - the book from which the One Nation idea derives. Sybil, set in northern England, describes a calamitous divide between rich and poor, a division so dramatic that people live entirely different existences within one country. Sybil certainly does not shy away from the iniquities of social division. The descriptions of poverty, oppression and infanticide are comparable with Dickens. Nevertheless, the complexity of the book comes from showing that the two nation divide is also an illusion. There are all kinds of plot twists showing complex links between the two worlds. Today Labour leaders like Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell cling to the illusion of worker solidarity; but as they face another day of rows, resignations and turbulence, perhaps they should read the following passage from Disraeli's book as the lovely Sybil comes to realise that her cause is not as straightforward as it appears: "There was not that strong and rude simplicity in its organization she had supposed. The characters were more various, the motives more mixed, the classes more blended, the elements of each more subtle and diversified, than she had imagined. The People she found was not that pure embodiment of unity of feeling, of interest, and of purpose, which she had pictured in her abstractions. The people had enemies among the people: their own passions; which made them often sympathize, often combine, with the privileged." As a story, Disraeli shamelessly uses that tried and tested Mills and Boon device, where a man and woman, though apparently hopelessly divided by wealth, find unlikely love - the worthy shop girl catching the eye of the billionaire idea. This familiar plot becomes part of Disraeli's bigger argument about the complexity of social divisions. There are long nineteenth century sentences to deal with; and at some points Disraeli gaily abandons that good advice to show rather than tell. But this is a great book, one of the most influential in the history of modern British government, with continuing relevance to the politics we see today.

  28. 4 out of 5

    James

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This is a curate's egg. As a story, its narrative is all over the place, although it does its best to bring it all together at the end. The characters are ciphers, and Disraeli can't quite decide whether his protagonist is the titular heroine or the sympathetic toff, Egremont. Yet it is fascinating as a setting out in symbolic form Disraeli's ideas for One Nation Conservatism. And what a strange fish it is - Disraeli (oddly for a man of Jewish heritage) hearkens back to a golden age when the Cat This is a curate's egg. As a story, its narrative is all over the place, although it does its best to bring it all together at the end. The characters are ciphers, and Disraeli can't quite decide whether his protagonist is the titular heroine or the sympathetic toff, Egremont. Yet it is fascinating as a setting out in symbolic form Disraeli's ideas for One Nation Conservatism. And what a strange fish it is - Disraeli (oddly for a man of Jewish heritage) hearkens back to a golden age when the Catholic Aristocracy and the Church held sway in Britain and looked after the common people as their God-given charges. His descriptions of the poor conditions of the working class under the bourgeois Capitalists are as stark as anything in Elizabeth Gaskell, or Engels for that matter. But he portrays the revolting workers (Chartist agitators and their mob) in a similar fashion to Shakespeare's portrait of Jack Cade. For Disraeli, what is needed is a kind of chemical marriage between a parliament of feeling gentlemen (represented by Egremont) and the soul of an English Catholic sentimental care for the poor (Sybil). The creaky plot hinges on the proving of Sybil's father's right to be a land owner. There are good characters and some excellent sections of narrative along the way, but this can't be held to be more than a curiosity in Victorian literature.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Susannah Sanford mcdaniel

    The story part of the novel was reasonably predictable: the girl is perfect in every way, the male lead falls in love, male makes mistake, takes time for the girl to forgive, boy makes grand gesture, girl is not convinced, boy makes bigger gesture and waits, everyone ends up with plenty of money and married and happy...despite a tragedy or two. Ah, victorian novels. Everyone ends up with married with money and the heroine always faints at least once in a difficult situation. If you're luck, a st The story part of the novel was reasonably predictable: the girl is perfect in every way, the male lead falls in love, male makes mistake, takes time for the girl to forgive, boy makes grand gesture, girl is not convinced, boy makes bigger gesture and waits, everyone ends up with plenty of money and married and happy...despite a tragedy or two. Ah, victorian novels. Everyone ends up with married with money and the heroine always faints at least once in a difficult situation. If you're luck, a strong male character dies heroically. The political-platform-and-political-and-family-history sections of the books were rather boring. If I knew more about Victorian England politics, perhaps I would find it more interesting. I'm usually more interested in the women of Victorian England, not the men bickering in saloons about how to keep the poor under their thumb and which men were more socially ambitious. They all married for money. Just admit it. The men that didn't marry for money existed almost exlusively in novels. Overall, the story kind of made up for the rants on how terribly the poor were treated and the discussions on how the rich were not always awful people (only sometimes awful). But, I wouldn't put this book in my top favorites list.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    #11 in the chronological read of the McCrum top 100 list. While I enjoyed it, my main takeaway is that I learned alot by reading it. I'm still not caught up on last years entries to the new GR account so my memory is a little hazy. An explanation of my star rating. 5= Truly cream of the crop. Amazing. In a wondrous realm of its own 4= Special and well written. More than good...maybe even a great book, but not a rare 5 star wonder. 3= Moments of brilliance, a pleasure to read. I'd recommend it. 2= A #11 in the chronological read of the McCrum top 100 list. While I enjoyed it, my main takeaway is that I learned alot by reading it. I'm still not caught up on last years entries to the new GR account so my memory is a little hazy. An explanation of my star rating. 5= Truly cream of the crop. Amazing. In a wondrous realm of its own 4= Special and well written. More than good...maybe even a great book, but not a rare 5 star wonder. 3= Moments of brilliance, a pleasure to read. I'd recommend it. 2= An average "so-so" book that didn't shine... since I rarely read mass market romances/mysteries, they are average in MY range of books. (I admit that sounds snarky) 1= Why did I bother to read this? I was lured past a certain point and I finished it. "Finish what you start" has been largely replaced with "ditch it if it's not worth my time" but for some reason I slogged on.

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