Reconsidering Catholicism in The Young Duke and Sybil: Edmund Spenser, Alexander Pope, Benjamin Disraeli and the British Donna Angelica

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In several Disraeli novels, the best of traditional English morals and, indeed, of a bygone England itself are associated with the spirituality (although not the ecclesiology) of Catholicism. Disraeli suggests that, within Catholic communities of the present day, are nurtured ways of viewing the world, ways of being in the world, at once quintessentially and valuably English. He does not of course advocate the return of his country to its Old Religion but, rather, implies that the merits of Catholicism should be acknowledged, that political disempowerment of Catholics should be ended, and that the Old Religion should be allowed peacefully to co-exist with the Established Church. Central to his staging of that argument is the donna angelica topos. Disraeli fashions a number of his major, female characterizations—who are devoutly Catholic—in accord with its conventions, which had been most influentially iterated in Dante’s portrayal of Beatrice and Petrarch’s of Laura. Their likenesses had been often and notably recreated in English texts: by Edmund Spenser (to name but one notable example), and also thereafter by quite different poets, such as Alexander Pope. Writing consciously and innovatively within that various tradition, Disraeli uses the donna angelica topos for contemporaneously political ends.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDisraeli and the politics of fiction
Subtitle of host publicationsome reconsiderations
EditorsA. D. Cousins, Dani Napton
Place of PublicationLeiden ; Boston
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9789004505674
ISBN (Print)9789004505650
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameDQR Studies in Literature
ISSN (Print)0921-2507
ISSN (Electronic)1875-7278


  • Benjamin Disraeli
  • Catholicism
  • donna angelica
  • Dante
  • Petrarch
  • Edmund Spenser
  • Alexander Pope


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