I’ve a new author to add to my ‘must read more of’ list and his name is Sir Max Beerbohm. I would bow before this genius whose masterful skills I am in awe of yet I suppose he’d laugh and tell me to stop with such nonsense. He’s the real deal, the whole enchilada, the write stuff, etc. Enough gushing, on with the review.
Imagine the vainglorious woman so self-involved as to be blinded to reality. Add an arrogant and intentionally unavailable young man, a splash of humor and impeccably timed story-telling. The result; a satirical masterpiece that sometimes reads as a fairy-tale.
The arrival of a femme-fatale who is spurned by a revered duke results in mass tragedy for the young men of Oxford. With great wit and ingenuity, Beerbohm weaves a fabulous tale that includes Greek gods, great poets and the ever so proper Edwardian lifestyle.
The novels namesake, Zuleika Dobson is an orphaned, former governess turned inept, yet beloved magician. She travels to Oxford to visit her estranged grandfather, a college warden where she quickly draws the attentions of every man encountered with the brief exception of one.
The Duke of Dorset, also orphaned is Zuleika’s temporary love interest. His snobbery and elitism have placed him securely on a pedestal among his fellow scholars. Resigned to a life without female companionship, he is taken aback by the allure of the beautiful prestidigitator. Once disenchanted by Miss Dobson, he remains a man of his word, true to a most ridiculous and obligatory fault.
The Duke’s one confidante, Noaks, is ironically his antithesis. He lacks grace, beauty and position, yet falls under the same spell of the enchantress, Zuleika. He does so, however, rather begrudgingly and while seemingly brave, is disappointingly, not a man of much courage or true to his word. Fate pays him a visit to settle the matter.
“Yet often you talk as though you had read rather much. Your way of speech has what is called ‘the literary flavour’.”
“At, that is an unfortunate trick which I caught from a writer, a Mr. Beerbohm, who once sat next to me ad dinner somewhere. I can’t break myself of it. I assure you I hardly ever open a book…”
(The above self-reference by the author would seem egotistical and something likely to find the reader in disdain, but please believe me, it is most certainly not self-serving.)
You know how, at a concert, a prima donna who has just sung insists on shaking hands with the accompanist, and dragging him forward, to show how beautiful her nature is, into the applause that is for herself alone. And your heart, like mine, has gone out to the wretched victim.
In the lives of most of us is some one thing that we wold not after the lapse of how many years soever confess to our most understanding friend; the thing that does not bear thinking of; the one thing to be forgotten; the unforgettable thing…The unforgettable thing in his life is usually not a thing he has done or left undone, but a thing done to him–some insolence or cruelty for which he could not, or did not, avenge himself…
“How deep, how perfect, the effect made here by refusal to make any effect whatsoever!”
After I’d pick up my dignity and dust myself off, I’d be in heaven in the company of Max. I’d love to ask how he was able to time so perfectly the transitions throughout Zuleika Dobson, and with such great wit and deftness.
My rating for Zuleika Dobson is a 10 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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