Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Zukeika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Wit, critic and caricaturist Max Beerbohm wrote only one novel. Zuleika Dobson is a perfect minor comedy, written in Beerbohm's deliciously witty prose.

Max Beerbohm was a famous literary critic and caricaturist. Born in 1872, he had built up quite a reputation by the early years of the twentieth century and was dubbed 'the incomparable Max'. In 1911 he published his only novel, Zuleika Dobson.

Mr Beerbohm is not read that much nowadays, and his high, artificial style would make him somewhat of an acquired taste. But if you like absolutely faultless, chiseled prose, then Beerbohm is just right for you. His lapidary style recalls such masters as E. F. Benson, Oscar Wilde and G. K. Chesterton.

Zuleika Dobson is, of course, a comedy. Moreover it's a merciless satire on undergraduate life at Oxford. The plot is impossibly silly: Zuleika Dobson visits Oxford for a short period because her grandfather is warden of Judas College. When she meets the Duke of Dorset, a snobbish dandy, the two conduct a love affair that takes place more in the head than in the heart. This is a love that is more conceptual than real. Of course such an affair cannot have a traditional happy ending, yet Zuleika Dobson being a comedy, both parties end quite satisfied with themselves in their own peculiar ways.

This is a fabulous literary curio that I'd recommend to anyone who likes classic English comedies. Much of the humour doesn't derive so much from the action or characters, but rather from Beerbohm's witty commentary. He is never at a loss for the perfect word or metaphor. He arranges his sentences so they shimmer and glisten. The effect is to keep the reading buzzing with aesthetic pleasure.

Zuleika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm. Published by Collector's Library. ISBN: 9781907360220 RRP: $16.99