Friday, 22 January 1999

Caryl Brahms & S.J. Simon: Don't Mr Disraeli (1940)

Edition: Hogarth, 1987
Review number: 192

This book is extremely like No Bed for Bacon, which was in fact written following the success of Don't Mr Disraeli. Indeed, the two have been printed in a single volume, under the title A Mutual Pair. The major difference is of course, that one is set in the Victorian age, the other in the Elizabethan.

Despite its greater success at the time, I think that Don't Mr Disraeli is less well-done than No Bed for Bacon. It has aged rather less well. This is because Don't Mr Disraeli, published almost sixty years ago, was written only forty years after the end of the period in which it was set, so that many of its readers would have been alive at the time; none of No Bed for Bacon's readers could possibly remember the sixteenth century. Compared to the average person living in 1940, our knowledge of the Victorian period will be much more sketchy, while our knowledge of the Elizabethan period will be reasonably similar. This means that references in Don't Mr Disraeli are more likely to be missed by or incomprehensible to modern readers (or, at least, take enough time to work out that the joke is spoiled), while those in No Bed for Bacon are more immediately funny.

Such plot as there is in Don't Mr Disraeli is a melodramatic version of the Romeo and Juliet theme, with the addition of a stage villain, all twirling moustachios. But the main point of the book is the series of silly anecdotes scattered through it, with no reference to their chronological order or connection to the main story (so, for example, scenes of the widowed queen precede others of her coronation). Disraeli keeps on making - or nearly making - errors, and is constantly corrected with the words of the novel's title. Just about everyone associated with Victorian England appears somewhere in the book, along with others who barely fit in (the Marx brothers, for example).

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