Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson

Zuleika Dobson Zuleika Dobson

Zuleika Dobson, written in 1911 by Max Beerbohm, is a wickedly funny satire of undergraduate life at Oxford. The beautiful Zuleika, a femme fatale, is a conjurer by profession. She manages to gain entrance to Oxford when she visits her grandfather, the Warden of fictional Judas College. There she entices the young men; however, she feels she can only fall in love with a man who is impervious to her charms. Unfortunately, Zuleika’s rejection drives her suitors to suicide.

Beerbohm was known to be a fanatic about the details of his books. He required Heinemann, the original publisher of Zuleika Dobson, to conform to his wishes in the printing and binding of the book. His taste ran to a squat boxy shape (7 ¾ by 5 ½ inches) with wide-margined pages. The book was issued without illustrations.

Furthermore, he loved to tamper with books. During the two months following Zuleika’s publication, he illustrated the entire book, pasting in pencil sketches, some with watercolor washes; photographs; and newspaper and magazine clippings. Beerbohm attached his additions in margins, in page breaks, and loosely over text, pasting one side of the illustration to the page to form a liftable flap. The effect is whimsical and utterly charming.

In the introduction to The Illustrated Zuleika Dobson, published by Yale University Press in 1985, N. John Hall writes, “This illustrated book he kept always, and it remained in his family after his death in 1956.”

Special Collections is proud to acknowledge that it has in its possession Beerbohm’s own copy of Zuleika Dobson, playfully modified with the author’s adornments.

Sir Rupert Hart-Davis, Beerbohm’s literary executor, writes, Beerbohm was “without equal among British caricaturists.” In a letter to Sid Huttner at the University of Tulsa, Sir Rupert writes: “On 14 November I wrote to Pascal Twyman telling him that I had been given Max’s own copy of his self-illustrated Zuleika Dobson . . . I asked Pascal whether he would like to add it to our agreement . . . I had been given the book by Max’s dear old sister-in-law .” Sometime later, Robert Patterson of TU tells Sir Rupert, “Zuleika traveled well . . . Cradled in a soft shirt in my briefcase, it [made] the trip to Tulsa safe and sound.”

— Kay Calkins

Zuleika Dobson

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