The Lion and the Unicorn
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The Lion and the Unicorn

By (author) Richard Aldous

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Gladstone and Disraeli were the fiercest political rivals of the modern age. Their intense hatred was ideological and deeply personal. Victorian Britain ruled the oceans and vast territories 'on which the sun never set'. The vitriolic duel between Gladstone and Disraeli was nothing less than a battle to lead the richest and most powerful nation on earth. To Disraeli, his antagonist was an 'unprincipled maniac' characterised by an 'extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy and superstition'. For Gladstone, his rival was 'The Grand Corrupter' whose destruction he plotted 'day and night, week by week, month by month'. Victorians were electrified by the confrontation. No wonder that when Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass" appeared in 1871, so many readers recognised the great adversaries as the warring lion and unicorn 'fighting for the crown'. Richard Aldous gives us the first modern telling of this dramatic story of an intense and momentous rivalry. His vivid narrative style - at turns powerful, witty, stirring and theatrical - breathes new life into a familiar, half-remembered tale that is pivotal in Britain's island history. "The Lion and the Unicorn" is a brilliant rethinking of the Gladstone and Disraeli story for a new generation. Richard Aldous confirms a perennial truth: in politics, everything is personal.

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  • Paperback | 384 pages
  • 152 x 232 x 32mm | 521.63g
  • 25 Oct 2007
  • VINTAGE
  • PIMLICO
  • London
  • English
  • 16pp b/w illustrations
  • 1844133125
  • 9781844133123
  • 296,701

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Author Information

Richard Aldous is Head of History & Archives at University College, Dublin. He writes for the Irish Times and is a political analyst for RTE Television. This is his third book.

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Review quote

"A first-class historical drama, expertly told." Literary Review "Engaging and highly entertaining." Sunday Times "A hugely enjoyable joint biography." Independent "Aldous does a splendid job of gleaning the ears of corn from earlier studies." Daily Telegraph "A romp... a startling reworking of traditional views... Aldous has written an entertaining and thought-provoking book that reads like a novel." Spectator

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Review text

Aldous (School of History & Archives/University College Dublin) chronicles the engrossing political chess match between two vastly different British prime ministers in lively prose that delivers the pacing and plot twists of a novel. Aristocratic William Gladstone (1809 - 98) was a stern moralist, Jewish outsider Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 81) an affable orator whose ascendancy to power was hailed as a breath of fresh air by many among his colleagues and the public. Disraeli's foppish charm won him the steadfast loyalty of Queen Victoria, whose admiration was such that she even elevated him to the peerage, an act that only intensified Gladstone's intense dislike for his enemy, who heartily reciprocated his sentiments. Whispers about Gladstone's penchant for prostitutes hurt his reputation less than it might have in today's political arena: Even after he insisted that he sought to "save" these women from their lot in life, opponents and supporters alike merely laughed about his "benevolent nocturnal rambles." The author offers an entertaining look at Disraeli's quirky habits, explaining that the confirmed dandy "was also a parvenu who unnerved his aristocratic colleagues with his unusual ideas (not least in dress) about how a country gentleman lived and behaved." After all the vitriol that passed between the two great leaders, it's oddly touching to know that upon hearing the news of Disraeli's death Gladstone noted in his diary, "There is no more extraordinary man surviving him in England, perhaps none in Europe." Underneath the motherlode of distaste for each other, Aldous suggests, ran a hidden vein of respect.No stunning new information here, but a rousing portrait of 19th-century England's most venomous political rivalry, featuring a highly readable exploration into the dueling natures of two powerful men. (Kirkus Reviews)

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