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Zuleika Dobson or An Oxford Love Story ()

Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Novels

I have to admit that when the Top 100 list came out, I had never heard of this book or it's author.  And yet, by itself, the revelation of this satirical baroque masterpiece justifies all the wretched dreck I've waded through on the List.

Zuleika Dobson is the beautiful young granddaughter of the Warden of Judas College at Oxford.  She's been earning a living as a conjurer and is the toast of France and America.  But Zuleika has never loved a man.  She has determined that a woman of her superior beauty can only love a man who is so superior as to be oblivious to her charms.  Thus far, there has been no such man.

Immediately on her arrival on campus, the entire student body falls madly in love with her.  However, at dinner her first night the young Duke of Dorset seems indifferent.  Could he be the man?  Alas, it turns out that he too is smitten and when she discovers this she spurns him.  Unused to such a dismissal, the Duke decides that he must kill himself & soon the whole College is ready to follow his example.

The book is a shrieking hoot from start to finish & the whole thing is rendered in an ornate prose that is wholly unique.  Take this description of the Duke & his troll like flat mate Noaks:

                        Sensitive reader, start not at the apparition!  Oxford is a plexus of anomalies.
                        These two youths were (odd as it may seem to you) subject to the same Statutes,
                        affiliated to the same College, reading for the same School; aye! and though the
                        one had inherited half a score of noble and castellated roofs, whose mere
                        repairs cost him annually thousands and thousands of pounds, and the other's
                        people had but one mean little square of lead, from which the fireworks of the
                        Crystal Palace were clearly visible every Thursday evening, in Oxford one roof
                        sheltered both of them.  Furthermore, there was even some measure of intimacy
                        between them  It was the Duke's whim to condescend further in the direction of
                        Noaks than in any other.  He saw in Noaks his own foil and antithesis, and made
                        a point of walking up the High with him at least once in every term.  Noaks, for
                        his part, regarded the Duke with feelings mingled of idolatry and disapproval.
                        The Duke's First in Mods oppressed him (who, by dint of dogged industry, had
                       scraped a Second) more than all the other differences between them.  But the
                        dullard's envy of brilliant men is always assuaged by the suspicion that they
                        will come to a bad end.   Noaks may have regarded the Duke as a rather pathetic
                        figure, on the whole.

Or this passage describing the suicidal yearnings of the student body:

                        You cannot make a man by standing a sheep on its hindlegs.  But by standing a
                        flock of sheep in that position you can make a crowd of men.  If man were not a
                        gregarious animal, the world might have achieved, by this time, some real
                        progress towards civilization.  Segregate him, and he is no fool. But let him
                        loose among his fellows, and he is lost--he becomes just a unit in unreason.  If
                        any one of the undergraduates had met Miss Dobson in the desert of Sahara, he
                        would have fallen in love with her; but not one in a thousand of them would have
                        wished to die because she did not love him.  The Duke's was a peculiar case.
                        For him to fall in love was itself a violent peripety, bound to produce a
                        violent upheaval; and such was his pride that for his love to be unrequited
                        would naturally enamour him of death.  these other, these quite ordinary, young
                        men were the victims less of Zuleika than of the Duke's example, and of one
                        another.  A crowd, proportionately to its size, magnifies all that in its units
                        pertains to the emotions, and diminishes all that in them pertains to thought.
                        It was because these undergraduates were a crowd that their passion for Zuleika
                        was so intense; and it was because they were a crowd that they followed so
                        blindly the lead given to them.  To die for Miss Dobson was 'the thing to do'.
                        The Duke was going to do it.  The Junta was going to do it.  It is a hateful
                        fact, but we must face the fact, that snobbishness was one of the springs to the
                        tragedy here chronicled.

I can't recommend this one highly enough.  Buy it & read it, or check out the etext link below.


Grade: (A)


Max Beerbohm Links:

    -ESSAY: The Crime (Max Beerbohm, August 25, 1920, New Republic)
-REVIEW: of Max Beerbohm’s Christmas Garland (1912) (Public Domain Review)
    -REVIEW: of Max Beerbohm: A Kind of a Life by N. John Hall (Paul Johnson, Daily Telegraph)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Merton College Max Beerbohm Project
    -1890S LINKS:  ARTISTS :  MAX BEERBOHM (1872-1956)
    -Rosetti and His Circle (etext)
    -Zuleika Dobson (etext)
    -Review from New York Review of Books (V.S. Pritchett)
    -Review from New York Times (Michiko Kakutani)
    -THINGS TO REMEMBER THE CENTURY BY: 'Zuleika Dobson' (NandO)
    -Malcolm Muggeridge: A Survivor  REVIEWS: of  Max by David Cecil, Max Beerbohm's Letters to Reggie Turner edited by Rupert Hart-Davis, Reggie by Stanley Weintraub (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of MaxBeerbohm: a Kind of Life by N. John Hall (J. Y. Yeh, Village Voice)