Sybil or The Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli

published 1845 book 2 chapter 6

Lord Marney, followed somewhat reluctantly by his brother, advanced to the other end of the drawing-room, where his wife was employed with her embroidery-frame, and seated next to her young friend, Miss Poinsett, who was playing chess with Captain Grouse, a member of the chess club, and one of the most capital performers extant…

Lord Marney, who was fond of chess, turned out Captain Grouse, and very gallantly proposed to finish his game with Miss Poinsett, which Miss Poinsett, who understood Lord Marney as well as he understood chess, took care speedily to lose, so that his lordship might encounter a champion worthy of him. Egremont seated by his sister-in-law, and anxious by kind words to soothe the irritation which he had observed with pain his brother create, entered into easy talk…

"And do you really mean to go on Thursday?" said Egremont: "I think we had better put it off."

"We must go," said Lady Marney, with a sort of sigh, and shaking her head… “We must go. I am annoyed about this dear little Poinsett: she has been to stay with me so very often, and she has only been here three days. When she comes in again, I wish you would ask her to sing, Charles."

Soon the dear little Poinsett was singing, much gratified by being invited to the instrument by Mr Egremont.

observations: A second entry from this book, showing a certain lack of attention by Disraeli. The book has scenes among the nobs, and scenes among the lower classes, and he seems to be more interested in the poor people, because the smart parties don’t quite come off. Here, it’s not clear what the purpose of Miss Poinsett is, and is she a good thing or not? Lady Marney’s remark about her feels as though it should read ‘She has been to stay with me so LITTLE’ – while the bit about the chess doesn’t read well either. Lord Marney likes chess, but is he good at it? If so, why does Miss P have to make an effort to lose? Again, the sentence might have read something like: ‘Miss P understood Lord M better than he understood chess.’ Just a thought.

And yet, there are flashes in the book suggesting wittier and more interesting possibilities. During a discussion of heiresses, Lady Marney says ‘I would just as soon be married for my money as my face’ – a revolutionary idea in a 19th century novel, and one that could be investigated to good effect.

It’s not a novel that would have survived if the author hadn’t also been Prime Minister, but it does still have curiosity value – and although the political parts are exaggerated for satirical effect, presumably he knew whereof he wrote.

Links on the blog: The book has featured before. Lucy plays chess with Reepicheep on the Dawn Treader.

The picture by George Goodwin Kilbourne comes from the Athenaeum website.


  1. Moira - How interesting to get a look at some of Disraeli's fiction. As you say, perhaps per se it's not exactly an enduring book, but such an interesting piece anyway. And another perspective on its author...


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