'Trustees of posterity': Benjamin Disraeli and the European Bildungsroman

Farmer, Sandra Jean (1992) 'Trustees of posterity': Benjamin Disraeli and the European Bildungsroman. PhD thesis, King's College London.

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Abstract

This thesis studies Benjamin Disraeli's use of the form of the
"Bildungsroman" to invent and discover himself. It shows how Disraeli's own life was developing as a "Bildungsroman" while writing four of his twelve novels, Contarini Fleming, Coningsby, Sybil and Lothair, during the period 1832-1870.
As each of these four novels is studied in turn in Chapters I-IV
respectively, Disraeli's recurring hero appears in four guises, thus illustrating how the form of the "Bildungsroman" undergoes subtle changes.

In the open-ended Contarini Fleming (1832) with its emphasis on youth and ambition, Disraeli had intended to create a work similar to the classical German "Bildungsroman" portraying the development of a character. Despite its many comparisons with Goethe's paradigmatic Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, Disraeli's early novel has more of an affinity with Stendhal's Le rouge et Ie noire. The eponymous hero of Coningsby has the distinguishing quality of "insipidness" and is seen from the perspective of an exemplary class representative of the aristocracy. This novel is taken as an example of the English "Bildungsroman", an English "fairy story" because Coningsby's destiny is already predetermined.
The hero of Sybil, Charles Egremont's conviction is that one's identity is not inherited but created, which returns to the classical ideal of "Bildung", and which Disraeli reformulated as "vocation". It is argued that poverty and its relief was not the theme of Sybil but was used to point to the opportunities open to a reeducated aristocracy.

In Chapter IV it is shown that it is only with Lothair, written in old age, that Disraeli discovers himself and achieves a successful classical "Bildungsroman". The narrator evaluates the represented events in a restrained and indirect manner and demonstrates a concern with analysing what is involved
in the hero's discovery of himself and the world. The "Bildungsroman's"
valorization of the existing social order prompts Lothair to look towards the past. He refuses to consider the future still open and his discontinuation of the quest for a philosophy of life is presented as a sign of his achieved maturity and his
"Bildung" is concluded. In these four self-referential works Disraeli constructed a composite character whose biography was that of the author himself.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: B. > Theses
Item ID: 13473
Depositing User: Adam Miller
Date Deposited: 02 Feb 2015 12:54
Last Modified: 02 Jun 2019 11:50
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/13473

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