Zuleika Dobson

Zuleika Dobson

Read FREE!

Zuleika Dobson

Zuleika Dobson

Read FREE!

Excerpt

THE promise of a full-length novel by the author of “The Happy Hypocrite” had an intense effect on Beerbohm “addicts” in 1911. Those who did not share in the excitement at the time may be bored now by being told how keen it was, yet it was indisputably keen, all the more so for being narrow and literary. A first play by H. G. Wells, a book of lyrics by Bernard Shaw, a comedy by Theodore Roosevelt, a volume of lullabies by Herbert Asquith—the announcement of such unexpected works might whet the simple and greedy curiosity of the large public, but the large public would never have a titillation that would exceed the Beerbohmites’ titillation with “Zuleika Dobson.” Only a few hundred in all the Americas may have felt it, because only a few hundred could have been reading his Works and his Saturday Review criticisms. It was not the less a delicious excitement, and it was one which he amply gratified.

But not, I think, as we supposed he would. So much of his criticism was admiration of sober realism that we might easily have hoped for, or feared for, a realistic novel; or, if not that, a tenuous analysis in the mode of Henry James. What the Beerbohmite forgot when he heard that his author had written a novel was his author’s eminence as a caricaturist.

How “great” is Max Beerbohm’s eminence as a caricaturist I do not know. Somewhere, I suppose, there is an aesthetic Lloyds where the sure-enough rating of all the poets, painters, architects, sculptors, novelists and interior decorators is to be found, determined by spiritual insurance agents; and there one may find written down the exact percentage of importance to be given to Max’s cartoons. In ignorance of this rating it is rash to call anyone eminent, but the memory of Max’s drawings is so persistent, the means he employs so telling and the end so achieved, that no Englishman of his day seems to come near him. Is this because we who write about a caricature are literary? Is it because Max Beerbohm is caricaturing Yeats and Moore and Shaw and Bennett and Tennyson, instead of the war cabinets and the secret-treaty statesmen and the humors of Zionism? Perhaps. But no one who has felt a sore spot respond to the caustic of his pencil can be persuaded that it is familiarity of subject-matter which makes him seem a genius in caricature. There is something else, a precious sense of human proportion as well as literary proportion. This permits one to insist on him beyond the literary reservation, to say that he stands high and alone. The curious thing, however, is to read the man who revealed for the eye the discrepancy between Queen Victoria and her regal furnitures. Curious, because you find in his verbal domain precisely the same kind of inclination and the same kind of power. “Zuleika Dobson” is many sorts of a novel, but first and foremost it is the emanation of a most subtle and deadly caricaturist, a “shrewd and knavish sprite” amongst mortal men.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.