|Penguin Number 895|
I chose this book because my friend Karyn of apenguinaweek suggested it would be a good book to read as one of my tasks for my October challenge of reading a book whose title begins with Z. I don't have many books with Z titles on my shelves. It sounded more interesting to me at the time than Zorro.
Zuleika was written in 1911 so it also meets the Century of Books challenge. Penguin published it on 24th August 1952 in honour of the author's 80th birthday.
I began this book thinking, "Oh boy, this is going to be tedious." Yes there were many parts of it that were but having just read Before the Bombardment this one moved along much quicker so I did get into it quickly. Zuleika is a young woman in Edwardian England, who visits her grandfather, the Warden of Judas at Oxford.
As she stepped off the train; "A hundred eyes were fixed on her, and half as many hearts lost to her. The Warden of Judas himself had mounted on his nose a pair of black-rimmed glasses. Him espying, the nymph darted in his direction. The throng made way for her. She was at his side. "Grandpapa! she cried, and kissed the old man on either cheek. (Not a youth there but would have bartered fifty years of his future for that salute.)"
|Max Beerbohm 1872-1956|
The story then becomes quite fantastical in that all of the young men at Oxford fall in love with her, completely in vain and they all decide they must follow the Duke,who has decided he must die for her by calling out Zuleika's name and killing themselves by throwing themselves into the river during the festival of boat races.
|One of M. Beerbohm's|
I didn't think any of the characters were very likeable or convincing and the humour is quite black. However I did find myself thinking about the characters. I think more so for the 'over the top' story. It is just so unbelievable it became funny.
The description of Zuleika sums her up quite well I think. The duke asks her, "Have any of your lovers ceased to love you?" 'Ah no, no; not in retrospect. I remain their ideal, and all that, of course. They cherish the thought of me. They see the world in terms of me. But I am an inspiration, not an obsession; a glow, not a blight."
As all of the young men at Oxford jump into the river to drown she barely seems moved by any of it, however I must stop here as I don't want to give away the ending which makes the book worth continuing.
Is it possible to enjoy a book, finish it and then think, "Well that was silly?" I am glad I read it and yes, I did enjoy it.
|Another caricature drawn by|
Max Beerbohm. The way he used colours
changed as he aged.
The Encyclopaedia Britannia describe Beerbohm as an "English caricaturist, writer, dandy, and wit whose sophisticated drawings and parodies were unique in capturing, usually without malice, whatever was pretentious, affected, or absurd in his famous and fashionable contemporaries. "
One can certainly see that description in his drawings and very much in his novel. I have not read any of his essays he was also known for but I think that may be quite an interesting task.
Upon further digging through on line searches it sounds like the author's personal life is far more interesting than the book he wrote. His caricatures are great fun, evidently he was an extremely secretive man, with many believing he was a homosexual or asexual, thus hiding his sexuality and much of his personality in his three marriages. His third marriage only weeks before he died. He also supposedly had an interesting if not controversial friendship with Oscar Wilde and other artists of his time.
I think it would be most interesting to read a really comprehensive biography of the man. From the point of view of learning more about this man, this dandy, I am happy to have read the book that led me to look up more information about him.
|Oops ...Travellin' Penguin accidentally bursts|
into another caricature. We both like this one.
I am also happy to have finished goal Z - to read a book I own whose title begins with Z. However if I do this again I may read Zorro next time.