Other Literary Forms
Max Beerbohm’s eclectic published work includes biography, caricatures and cartoons (with captions), dramatic and literary criticism, essays, letters, plays, radio broadcasts, and verse. Although critics often see Beerbohm as a many-sided figure, dabbling superficially in myriad literary forms, he nevertheless has a consistent comic development and outlook. The reader will find this special style of invention, exaggeration, and parody displayed in all his works, especially in his short fiction.
Labeled by George Bernard Shaw as “the incomparable Max,” Max Beerbohm was a major figure in describing and parodying late Victorian and Edwardian society. Artist, critic, and fiction writer, Beerbohm is best known for the sharp wit and biting satire of his caricatures, fiction, and critical essays, which expose the pretentions of the literary and social world. Beerbohm was awarded honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh universities, was made an honorary fellow of Merton College, and was finally knighted in 1939. Perhaps the greatest testament to his literary legacy is the enduring Maximilian Society, founded in 1942. Beerbohm influenced many artists and writers; the popularity of his work in magazines such as The Yellow Book, Strand, and Saturday Review contributed to the success of such publications and generated an audience for more of their kind. The influence of his style on The New Yorker has often been acknowledged. Only Oscar Wilde is equally responsible for giving modern readers the vivid image of the Victorian dandy. Beerbohm’s influence can be detected in the works of Thornton Wilder, W. Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, Kingsley Amis, and many others.
Behrman, S. N. Portrait of Max: An Intimate Memoir of Sir Max Beerbohm. New York: Random House, 1960. Behrman sentimentally recounts his personal friendship with Beerbohm during the last four years of the author’s life.
Bonaparte, Felicia. “Reading the Deadly Text of Modernism: Vico’s Philosophy of History and Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson.” Clio 27 (Spring, 1998): 335-361. Discusses the connection between Beerbohm and Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico in an effort to show that Vico’s influence on nineteenth century thought has been underestimated. Argues for a reading of Beerbohm from the perspective of Vico’s philosophy of history.
Cecil, David. Max: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965. A more complete, objective biography than S. N. Behrman’s (above), drawing heavily on quotations from people who knew Beerbohm and from his personal papers.
Epstein, Joseph. “Portraits by Max.” The New Yorker 73 (December 8, 1997): 108-110. In this biographical sketch, the relationship between Beerbohm’s prose and his drawings is discussed; asserts that his draftsman’s line is the perfect visual equivalent of his prose and his prose the perfect verbal match of his line; notes that both his drawings and his writing exhibit painstaking attention to detail, energized by parody and inspired by merry malice.
Felstiner, John. The Lies of Art: Max Beerbohm’s Parody and Caricature. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972. Rejecting the superficial studies of the dandy image that belie Beerbohm’s depth, Felstiner traces the evolution of Beerbohm’s comic art which culminates in parody. Illustrations, bibliography.
(The entire section is 763 words.)