Zuleika Dobson Summary
by Max Beerbohm

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Zuleika Dobson Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Left an orphan, lovely Zuleika Dobson becomes a governess. Because the older brothers of her charges always fall in love with her, however, she loses one position after another. She moves unhappily from job to job until one enamored elder son teaches her a few simple magic tricks. She then becomes an entertainer at children’s parties, where she interests older men if not the children. Before long, she receives an offer to go on the stage, and during a lengthy European stage tour, she crowns success with success. Paris raves over her. Grand dukes ask her to marry them. The pope issues a bull against her. A Russian prince has some of her magic devices, such as the demon egg cup, cast in pure gold. Later, she travels to the United States and is pursued by a fabulous millionaire. Zuleika, however, ignores her admirers. She wants to find a man who is impervious to her charms, feeling that with someone like that she could be happy.

Between theatrical seasons, Zuleika visits her grandfather, the Warden of Judas College at Oxford, where, as usual, every man who sees her falls in love with her. One night, joining Zuleika and her grandfather at dinner is the wealthy, proud, handsome duke of Dorset. He, too, falls in love with Zuleika at first sight, but his pride and good manners keep him from showing his true feelings. During dinner, he is only casually attentive and on one occasion actually rude. Zuleika is captivated. Thinking that the duke does not love her, she falls in love for the first time in her life. Later that evening, the duke discovers that his shirt studs have turned the same colors as Zuleika’s earrings—one black, the other pink. Abashed, the duke flees.

The next morning, Zuleika pays a visit to his flat, where she is let in by his landlady’s daughter, Katie Batch. When the duke, unable to restrain himself, confesses his love, Zuleika is disappointed. On her arrival, she had envied Katie the chance to be near him; now she can never feel the same toward him again. The Duke is astounded by her strange attitude and tries to induce her to marry him by reciting his titles and listing his estates, houses, and servants. He tells her of the ghosts that haunt his ancestral home and of the mysterious birds that always appear the day before one of his family is to die. His recital fails to impress Zuleika; in fact, she calls him a snob. The Duke is chagrined when he realizes that Zuleika does not want him as a husband. He is cheered, however, by the fact that she expects him to take her to the boat races that afternoon.

On their way to the races, the duke and Zuleika meet many people. The men immediately fall in love with Zuleika, and the duke, whose good looks have always attracted attention, passes unnoticed. Piqued by his inability to keep Zuleika to himself, the duke threatens to commit suicide. The idea charms Zuleika; no man has ever killed himself for her. As the duke climbs the railing of the barge, however, she changes her mind. Catching his arm, she begs him to wait until the next day. If he will spend the day with her, she will try to make up her mind and give him an answer to his proposal.

The Duke cannot see her that night, for he is to preside at a dinner held by an ancient Oxford club called the Junta, which is so exclusive that for almost two years the duke has been the only member. Each year, he has faithfully nominated and seconded prospective members, only to find each time a blackball in the ballot box. To keep the club from becoming extinct, he has finally voted in two more members. That night, the club is having guests, and the duke does not feel that he can miss the dinner.

The Junta was founded by a man named Greddon, whose lovely mistress was named Nellie O’Mora. At each meeting, Nellie is toasted as the most bewitching person who ever lived or ever will. Rising to propose the toast at that night’s dinner, the duke is overcome by confusion. Unwilling to break with tradition or to slight his opinion...

(The entire section is 1,164 words.)