The Lion and the Uni­corn: Glad­stone vs. Disraeli

Richard Aldous
  • Review
By – February 24, 2012

In The Lion and the Uni­corn, Richard Aldous explores the lives of Ben­jamin Dis­raeli and William Glad­stone and their influ­ence on each other’s polit­i­cal careers. Already stud­ied as indi­vid­u­als, Aldous com­bines both men in one book with good rea­son. Mem­bers of oppos­ing par­ties with­in the British Par­lia­ment and often bit­ter rivals for the title of Prime Min­is­ter, their lives are inex­tri­ca­bly linked. 

The two men could hard­ly have dif­fered more. Dis­raeli was flam­boy­ant and charis­mat­ic, pos­sess­ing great pride in his Jew­ish ances­try. Glad­stone was somber, indus­tri­ous, and an Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian. Yet, Aldous argues that they were invert­ed dop­pel­gangers, their dif­fer­ences so dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed that they cre­at­ed mir­ror images. This sym­bio­sis of oppos­ing char­ac­ter imbued their polit­i­cal rival­ry with its ener­gy and dynamism. In Aldous’ opin­ion, despite their enmi­ty, Glad­stone and Dis­raeli were each nec­es­sary to the oth­er in order to draw out each other’s best tal­ents and to spur each oth­er on to new polit­i­cal heights. 

In telling the sto­ry of these polit­i­cal titans of the 19th cen­tu­ry, Aldous uses a nar­ra­tive style that engages the read­er. He is care­ful to keep his per­son­al opin­ions of Glad­stone and Dis­raeli to him­self, although from the reader’s per­spec­tive, nei­ther man comes off as par­tic­u­lar­ly like­able. Illus­tra­tions, index, notes.

Sara Lib­by Robin­son received her Ph.D. in Com­par­a­tive His­to­ry from Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty. Her forth­com­ing book, Blood Will Tell: Vam­pires as Polit­i­cal Metaphors Before World War I, is sched­uled for pub­li­ca­tion with Aca­d­e­m­ic Stud­ies Press.

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