Disraeli, Arendt, and the Fascist Novel

Lecture: English Department and Affiliated | March 6 | 4 p.m. | 306 Wheeler Hall

 Rachel Teukolsky, Associate Professor, Vanderbilt English

 Department of English, Townsend British Studies working group, C19 Colloquium

The Townsend British Studies working group and the C19 colloquium are happy to announce a visit from Rachel Teukolsky (Vanderbilt), who will be workshopping her paper "Disraeli, Arendt, and the Fascist Novel" (abstract below!).

If you would like to participate in the workshop--which will take place at 4pm on 3/6 in Wheeler 306--please email eceisenberg@berkeley.edu or vvm@berkeley.edu for a copy of the paper (to be sent round next week.)

There will also be a casual coffee event for interested grad students at 2 pm (location TBD). The loose theme is "professionalization," with tips from a former Berkeley grad student (Rachel!).

What is the relationship between literature and power, and how did some nineteenth-century novels or artforms develop authoritarian values? My lens on the question is Hannah Arendt’s study The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), which devotes a short, ten-page chapter to Benjamin Disraeli, the Prime Minister of Britain in 1868 and again from 1874 to 1880. I take Arendt’s brief insights as the starting point for investigating Disraeli’s aesthetics of the far right. The fact that a Prime Minister was also a novelist captures our attention, especially since his novels are thinly disguised political manifestoes. I argue that Disraeli’s novels Coningsby (1845) and Tancred (1847) belonged to a long Romanticism, opposing moves toward democracy, reason, and utilitarianism, and espousing values of beauty, passion, and eroticism toward authoritarian ends. The essay follows Arendt in observing a long durée of conservatism whose trajectory moves from the nineteenth century into the twentieth. (I also acknowledge and discuss the anachronism of using “fascism” as a concept by which to study a nineteenth-century writer). The essay concludes with a turn to the conservative German theorist Carl Schmitt, who reputedly had a picture of Disraeli hanging over his desk, and whose authoritarian political philosophy shows striking echoes of Disraeli, linking both in a long Romanticism.