Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Death Cancels All Engagements

Does that quote sound familiar? It's wry enough to be Oscar Wilde, but "google" it and you find it comes from Max Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson (1911). Who, you may ask, is Max Beerbohm and what is a Zuleika Dobson? As if in answer to those questions, Amazon reviewer C. Brandt writes:
"The fact that I am the first person to review this book on Amazon is unsurprising. Beerbohm is not exactly a household name in this country (or, perhaps, any country), and this book is so quaint and point-specific that contemporary readers might not have the patience to reach the finish-line. "
Yes, indeed, that finish-line seems so very far away to a reader even after reading one hundred pages, a measly third of the book.
Brandt goes on to point out that Zuleika Dobson is number fifty-nine on the Modern Library's 1998 list of the 100 Best Novels. This list has probably haunted book groups and other literary self-improvers ever since and if they happen to choose to read ZD in their quest for excellence, they might begin to doubt the credibility of the list.
The BHPL Second Tuesday of the Month evening book group will be discussing Zuleika Dobson on November 13 at 7:30 in the Meeting Room. To read the book without actually leaving the comfort of your computer chair, click here to read the full-text online.
What will the Book Group's members, those who have braved the twisted prose that passed for humor in 1911, think of Zuleika Dobson, the self-centered, vain, beautiful magician who visits her uncle, a Warden at Judas College of Oxford University, only to cause every callow youth to fall in unrequited love for her, who can never love anyone who loves her, and thus causing a (spoiler coming up here) mass suicide of every single Oxford student, and is last seen heading to Cambridge University. (Zuleika, that is, heads for Cambridge at the end.) If that sentence gave you, dear readers, vertigo, my advice is to forgo Beerbohm's story of before-the-wars, idyllic upper-class England and head straight for P.G. Wodehouse's stories of Jeeves and Wooster, Lord Emsworth and his pig, the Empress of Blandings and the other denizens of Plum's universe.

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