Sir Henry Maximilian “Max” Beerbohm was, like his friend Oscar Wilde, such an acclaimed wit (and essayist, caricaturist, and parodist) that George Bernard Shaw dubbed him “the incomparable Max.” But Beerbohm’s comic masterpiece Zuleika Dobson—one of the Modern Library’s top 100 English-language novels of the twentieth century—is the only novel he ever wrote.
Strangely out of print in the United States for years, this crackling farce is nonetheless as piercing and fresh as when it first appeared in 1911: a hilarious dismantling of academia and privilege, and a swashbuckling lampooning of class systems and notions of masculine virtue.
The all-male campus of Oxford—Beerbohm’s alma mater—is a place where aesthetics holds sway above all else, and where witty intellectuals reign. Things haven’t changed for its privileged student body for years . . . until the beguiling music-hall prestidigitator Zuleika Dobson shows up.
The book’s marvelous prose dances along the line between reality and the absurd as students and dons alike fall at Zuleika’s feet, and she cuts a wide swath across the campus—until she encounters one young aristocrat for whom she is astonished to find she has feelings.
As Zuleika, and her creator, zero in on their targets, the book takes some surprising and dark twists on its way to a truly startling ending—an ending so striking that readers will understand why Virginia Woolf said that “Mr. Beerbohm in his way is perfect.”
About the Author
Max Beerbohm (1872-1956) was an English essayist, parodist, and caricaturist best known today for his 1911 novel Zuleika Dobson.
Sara Lodge is Lecturer in English, specializing in 19th-Century Literature, at the University of St. Andrews.
Praise for Zuleika Dobson and Max Beerbohm
“Mr. Beerbohm in his way is perfect . . . He has brought personality into literature, not unconsciously and impurely, but so consciously and purely that we do not know whether there is any relation between Max the essayist and Mr. Beerbohm the man. We only know that the spirit of personality permeates every word that he writes . . . He is without doubt the prince of his profession.”
“Beerbohm was a genius of the purest kind. He stands at the summit of his art.”
“Zuleika Dobson is a highly accomplished and superbly written book whose spirit is farcical. It is a great work—the most consistent achievement of fantasy in our time . . . So funny and charming, so iridescent yet so profound.”
—E. M. Forster
“Perfectly delightful . . . All style and wit, a pretty fantasy served up in exquisite, ornamented prose.”
“I read Zuleika Dobson with pleasure. It represents the Oxford that the two World Wars have destroyed with a charm that is not likely to be reproduced anywhere in the world for the next thousand years.”
“Of comic novels that have quaffed the elixir of ‘classic’: Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm.”
“Among the masked dandies of Edwardian comedy, Max Beerbohm is the most happily armored by a deep and almost innocent love of himself as a work of art.”
—V. S. Pritchett
“In his best stories there is more than a whisper of magic realism—a murmur, however distant, of questions about the nature of reality.”
“Elegantly stylized satire.”
—The New Yorker
“Erudite and lively.”
—The Village Voice
“Graceful, witty, and charming.”
“Max Beerbohm, I dare say (and I believe it has been said before), is the most subtly gifted English essayist since Charles Lamb. It is not surprising that he has (now for many years) been referred to as ‘the incomparable Max,’ for what other contemporary has never once missed fire, never failed to achieve perfection in the field of his choice? Whether in caricature, short story, fable, parody, or essay, he has always been consummate in grace, tact, insouciant airy precision.”
“The greatest of English comic artists.”
—The Times (London)
“A perfect fantasy.”
—The New York Review of Books
“There is no doubt about the cool irony of the style, or the fact that it’s unlike any other book that’s ever been written.”
—The New York Times
“If Zuleika Dobson is too frivolous to be certified as ‘canonical,’ it is clearly a perennially revivable minor classic, uniquely redolent of a particular time and place.”