The only people to understand the dynamics by which two individuals are held together in a marriage are the two principals involved. So goes the cliche. The chemistry between them will remain a mystery to even their closest associates, and is probably more acid or more alkaline than anyone could guess. Certainly, the union between Benjamin and Mary Anne Disraeli was a puzzle. They seemed to have nothing but their pretensions in common.
Both were fantasists. Mary Anne insisted that hers was a rags-to-riches story. By her own efforts, she had exchanged cheap lodgings in Bristol as a girl for considerable wealth and, the ultimate accolade, the title of viscountess in her own right. She was someone who ‘would not be unmarried for all the world’, which was just as well, for her unions, first with the wealthy MP Wyndham Lewis and then with the talented, ambitious Disraeli, assured her position in society. But that position nonetheless remained ambiguous: she was dependent on her husband’s standing, her conversation teetered on the brink of parody and her taste in clothes turned her ‘into ridicule’. She was all feathers, jewels and bows.
Benjamin, in turn, created for himself a fictional ancestry of aristocratic Jews, noble in the face of persecution. Famously, as a young man, he was obsessed with the cult of Lord Byron, following the poet’s footsteps in southern Europe and taking