Book Review: Disraeli: A Picture of the Victorian Age - #7 In My Modern Library Classics Challenge


Disraeli: A Picture of the Victorian Age by André Maurois

“Life is to short to be little.” Disraeli, as quoted in the epigraph to Disraeli: A Picture of the Victorian Age

The Book Review

After reading any book, and before writing my own review, I often check out other reviews as a way of comparing notes. I like to see how my impressions line up with other readers. Generally I find that my reaction to a book is roughly in line with what others have to say. 

That is not the case with my latest Modern Library challenge read, Disraeli: A Picture of the Victorian Age. The book gets 4 stars on Amazon and 3.8 on Goodreads. Sixty-three percent of readers on Goodreads give it 4 or 5 stars. I see folks who say they don’t usually like biographies but loved the book, and others who find it “fascinating”.  I’m sorry to say I am not of the same opinion.

Maurois’ biography of Disraeli was first published in French in 1927, then quickly translated into English and published in London in 1928 by John Lane’s The Bodley Head publishing house. Hamish Miles did the translation, and the result is definitely a 1928 British English rendition. That is to say it’s given to overlong sentences delivered in a manner that sounds to my modern ear as if it’s trying too much. Or maybe it’s just me.

At random from page 177 of my edition (Part II, Chapter 5) here is a sample sentence: “Like all intelligent men who are not in any way creative, Sir Robert was dangerously sympathetic towards the creations of others.” 

And it’s not just the language. Disraeli is known as a key British prime minister, one who helped steer the course of the Conservative party onto a more modern path and ensured its relevance. While you get some of that from this book, much of it was alluded to rather than discussed. The politics that were discussed had more to do with Disraeli’s personal success against rivals in the House of Commons. 

At the time this book was written people were likely much more knowledgeable about the events and the political personalities of the Victorian era. But almost 100 years later Maurois’ political discussions really didn’t mean much at all to me. I just didn’t get a feel for why they were important or why they contributed to Disraeli’s growing popularity and success.

I will say that Maurois paints a clear picture of Disraeli the man, of what motivated and moved him. I think this picture is what other reviewers are reacting to. But what was missing for me was any reason why I should care. 

I’ve not read any other books on Disraeli, nor am I steeped in any depth of knowledge on the workings of the government of the British Empire during the Victorian era. Perhaps if I were I would have appreciated this book more.  So in that way I guess I reacted to this book almost as if I had started out to read a sequel first, and one that depended too much on your understanding of what had happened in the first book.

Unless you have a specific interest and understanding of Victorian Britain, and prior knowledge of Disraeli’s career, I cannot recommend this one. 

Classics Challenge

This is the seventh book in my 2022 Modern Library Classics Challenge. I’m challenging myself to read at least one of my Modern Library classics each month this year, though I’m a bit late in finishing this one. It’s part of my overall goal to read 100 books for the year. 

I own over 40 Modern Library editions that I collected in my first years out of college. At the time I was buying them, I admired them more as “art” than as books. I just liked the idea of pocket sized hardcovers, which is interesting since at the time most of the books I was buying to read were trade-sized paperbacks. Treated as art on my shelf, I haven’t ever read my Modern Library editions. So, it’s about time to do so now that I’m retired.

Book 1: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Book 2: A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man by James Joyce

Book 3: The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells

Book 4: Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

Book 5: The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze by William Saroyan

Book 6: The African Queen by C.S. Forester

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Borrow or Purchase Disraeli: A Picture of the Victorian Age here:

📙  Normally in this section I post links for you to buy this book at various booksellers. However, this book is basically out of print.

There does appear to be at least one book publisher keeping a supply available to the major online booksellers, so if you go to your favorite book buying website you likely can find and buy a copy.

My recommendation for this book is that you view or check it out from the Internet Archive.

Title: Disraeli: A Picture of the Victorian Age

Author: André Maurois

Publisher: Simon Publications

Reprint Edition Date: June 1, 2001 (Paperback)

Disraeli: A Picture of the Victorian Age was originally published in France by Gallimard in 1927. It was translated into English and published in London in 1928 by John Lane’s The Bodley Head publishing house. 

My Modern Library edition was printed sometime between 1942 and 1970. This estimate is based on the research on

Modern Library is now an imprint of Penguin Random House (PRH). Random House doesn’t list an edition of Disraeli: A Picture of the Victorian Age on their website. (As of April 2020, PRH is a subsidiary of the privately held German conglomerate Bertelsmann.)