Mr & Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance by Daisy Hay review – touching and erudite

It is a truth generally acknowledged that a man who marries a woman 12 years older than himself must be after her money. Or else he has a mother fixation. Both have been said of Benjamin Disraeli, who married the 47-year-old Mary Anne Lewis at the age of 35. He was a novelist and a dandy with political ambitions; she was a showy widow of means. After their first meeting on April Fools’ Day 1832, he described her as “A pretty little woman, a flirt and a rattle … gifted with a volubility I should think unequalled.” She greatly admired his novel Vivian Grey.

It would be pleasing if Daisy Hay’s investigations had uncovered a tale of true love in the face of convention, but they haven’t. What she has found instead is a more complicated and ultimately touching story, which she tells with an exhilarating combination of pace and erudition. Her starting point is simple; that if the Disraelis’

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