So-called microhistory – examining a tightly defined area of the past – is currently all the rage. Rosemary Ashton’s study of the stifling summer of 1858 demonstrates its attractions. The formula does not prove overly constricting because events took place during these few months the importance of which long outlasted the summer itself. Confining her scrutiny to a narrow time frame enables Ashton to uncover ‘connections, patterns, and structures’ that might have been overlooked in broader-brushed depictions.
For Disraeli, Darwin and Dickens, Ashton’s three main subjects, 1858 proved a significant year. In February Benjamin Disraeli became chancellor of the exchequer in Lord Derby’s Tory government. With the prime minister in the Lords, he was responsible for piloting legislation such as the controversial India Bill through the House