Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Oxford. City that is home to one of England’s great universities. Max Beerbohm was educated at public school and Oxford University, and his familiarity with the city and the establishment of which it was a part is clearly shown in Zuleika Dobson. As a city, Oxford is not described in much detail in the novel. General references to “the Corn” (Cornmarket Street), “the Broad” (Broad Street), and other landmarks assume that the reader is familiar with the city and satirize assumptions made in other novels about Oxford. Beerbohm exploits this vagueness when he inserts a fictional college into the genuine layout of the city and moves two streets without unduly disturbing its geography. However, even the “real” Oxford of his novel is somehow unreal, as the omniscient narrator recognizes when he describes the warden’s landau moving “through those slums which connect Oxford with the world.”

There is a constant emphasis on the world within the world: the university as a second city within the city; the college within the university; and, finally, at Judas College, the hidden quadrangle, the Salt Cellar, within the college itself. There is no world portrayed outside the city: The closest the reader comes to that is at Oxford railway station, which acts as a symbol of arrival and departure, or the river, which flows out of Oxford. All this is embedded within an iconic vision of Oxford, the “city of dreaming spires.” This provides a neat geographical metaphor for the self-absorption shown in various ways by the primary characters, each of whom is too self-contained to be able to engage properly with the world at large.

Judas College

Judas College....

(The entire section is 712 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Behrman, S. N. Portrait of Max: An Intimate Memoir of Sir Max Beerbohm. New York: Random House, 1960. Written by an old friend of Beerbohm, the book sheds light on the characters in Zuleika Dobson that were modeled on acquaintances.

Felstiner, John. The Lies of Art: Max Beerbohm’s Parody and Caricature. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972. Examines Beerbohm’s extravagance, wit, and style, all of which culminate in Zuleika Dobson. Draws comparisons between Zuleika Dobson and James Joyce’s Ulysses in their extravagant use of language. Traces other literary influences on Beerbohm.

Lynch, Bohun. Max Beerbohm in Perspective. New York: Haskell House, 1974. A critical look at Beerbohm’s work, which takes issue with the form and execution of Zuleika Dobson. Examines the satirical aspects of Beerbohm’s depiction of Oxford.

McElderry, Bruce R. Max Beerbohm. New York: Twayne, 1972. The best book with which to begin a study of Max Beerbohm. Gives close scrutiny to the role of Oxford in Zuleika Dobson and examines the episodic form of the novel and the interludes that punctuate the action of the story.

Riewald, J. G. Sir Max Beerbohm, Man and Writer: A Critical Analysis with a Brief Life and Bibliography. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1953. The first and perhaps the best longer critical study of Beerbohm. In an extended criticism of Zuleika Dobson, Riewald examines distortions of space and time in the work and makes a case for its being a fantasy rather than a novel.