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By Max Beerbohm
Narrated by Graham Scott
Acclaimed as one of the finest satirical novels in the English language, Max Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson is a glittering tour de force that mocks the foibles of Edwardian Oxford, taht still resonates with modern "celebrity" culture.
Zuleika Dobson, internationally famous prestidigitator visits her grandfather, the Warden of Judas College, Oxford. But Zuleika, "though not strictly beautiful" is a devastatingly attractive young woman, and proves utterly irresistible among the all-male undergraduate body - including the snobbish and trend-setting young Duke of Dorset. Thus begins a chain of events that culminates in a very watery end to the Eights Week boat races...
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- David C.
A foreshadowing of lemmings to come
I must admit that I initially hated this book. Not familiar with #maxbeerbohm and having never heard of #zuleikadobson or #anoxfordlovestory , my first few chapters came with quite a bit of tedious suffering as I was quick to dismiss it as merely more then of the century, English drawing room tripe that too densely occupies space on the #modernlibrarytop100novels . I'm glad I hung in.
As the story advances, it becomes so absurd that it finally reveals itself for the intentional farce it is. Warning, there might be spoilers.
The title character is a moderately intelligent, reasonably beautiful young women with little more that charm, charisma, and a fourth rate magic act who visits her uncle who is a warden at one of Oxford's six colleges. Immediately upon arrival on campus, every man is smitten by her presence, particularly all of the underclassmen of Judas College, the fictional house under her uncle's charge. It's most illustrious member is the young Duke of Dorset, auch titled, much traveled, overly privileged young man for who all women swoon and all men desire to be. For the first time ever he is smitten by a woman yet, unexpectedly, though first drawn to him, informs his that the affection is unrequited . As an icon for all men, his decision to make a grand gesture of extreme chivalry to deal with this denial of reciprocation is taken as a sign for all to emulate, first among the underclassmen of Judas and ultimately all of the student of the four classes of Oxford. What should be received with horror by the object of their devotion instead only fuels her narcissism, particularly as she discovers the nature of her power.
Later scholars of the work see Zuleika Dobson as prescient as it farcically predicted the power of minor celebrity, in essence people who become famous not for any thing they do that is particularly extraordinary but strictly being famous for being famous and their ability quite often to ride that fame to extraordinary heights and their ability for people to hang on their every word and action. Not only do we see this in the modern context of reality show celebrities and internet influencers but all the way to the utmost reaches of power where a third tier, former slum lord real estate developer can fail his way through multiple enterprises and yet achieve higher levels of fame, not because of extraordinary talent of knowledge attainment, but by playing to the lowest instincts of his audience who will follow him like like lemmings to any cliff and take his prompt to plunge en masse for him but, certainly, not with him, because he has bigger lemmings to herd.
While I don't usually chose to get political in this forum, the knowledge that the last five years with such a person rising to the heights of the U.S. presidency not next he is extraordinarily smart or gifted but because he expertly tapped a pulsing vein of anger that has given him a cult like status to his followers made the last chapter feel rather chilling and ominous. I conversed with my retired librarian of a Mother-in-law to see if she had ever read the book, which she hadn't, but she was very familiar with Beerbohm's other work as an essayist and illustrator. She now feels compelled to read Zuleika. A latter day treat as she can now catch it on Audible.
#englishliterature #readtheworld #readtheworldchallenge #globalreadingchallenge