chapter  7
13 Pages

The Shady Side of the Sword: Bulwer Lytton, Disraeli and Byron’s Homosexuality *

WithAndrew Elfenbein

This chapter explores the ways in which two well-known Members of Parliament, Edward Bulwer Lytton and Benjamin Disraeli, enhanced their social standing by performing a homosexual Byronic role. The association between a personality type and particular sexual action created a potential for ambiguity that Byron's career made available to Bulwer Lytton and Disraeli as a source of symbolic capital. For young men aspiring to enter the fashionable world, performing Byronic effeminacy was a dangerous but certain way to attract attention. Their novels, particularly Bulwer Lytton's Pelham and Disraeli's Venetia, narrate transitions from characters associated with Byron's sexual and political precedents to ones that manifest a more 'mature' sexual and political state. Bulwer Lytton and Disraeli developed myths of historical succession in which the sexual, literary, and political shortcomings of Romanticism were corrected by what these novels represented as a compromise between 'bourgeois' and 'aristocratic' systems of value.