observations: Disraeli said ‘when I want to read a book I write one’, but probably he should have read a few more first – as a novel the best you can say of Sybil is that it has its heart in the right place. He was a man with a message, and one that he put over firmly and clearly: Sybil is about poverty and deprivation, and about stupid people running the country based on nothing but a sense of entitlement (so no modern applications there then), and he has clear ideas on tackling the problems. So – for right-thinking sentiments he gets a 9 (one point docked because the poor people still need kindly-hearted higher classes to help them organize). As a novel – about a 3. At one point a character needs to find someone: a complete stranger for no reason drops a letter in front of him, which happens to be for the right person, so he gets the address from the envelope.
But there are better moments – a splendid story about the democratization of the railways has a Lady Vanilla sitting with two men and chatting friendlily to them. She does not realizing they are criminals until she asks to change seats with one, and both have to move because they are chained together.
Disraeli always sounds like a nice man who liked women (including his wife), so it’s a shame that all the female characters in this book are created at a level very fairly represented by the passage above. This is our introduction to Sybil herself, and she IS the worst, she apparently has no human characteristics whatsoever, it is quite tormenting to read the scenes she features in.
Links on the blog: Sybil wears religious garb but is not a nun: Sister Agnes is the opposite in her attractive little skirt.
The picture, Hope, is by the French artist Pierre de Puvis Chavannes, and is from the Walters Museum in Baltimore: the museum has generously released its images under a creative commons licence.