By Charles Matthews

Saturday, September 18, 2010

3. Zuleika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm, pp. 63-96

Zuleika Dobson (Modern Library Paperbacks)V-VI
Zuleika and the lovesick Duke have lunch, at which he tries to persuade her of the material benefits of becoming his wife: "I offer you, Miss Dobson, a refuge more glorious and more augustly gilded than you, in your airiest flights of fancy, can ever have hoped for or imagined." He even enumerates the ghosts on his estate: "There are five ghosts permanently residing in the right wing of the house, two in the left, and eleven in the park. But all are quite noiseless and quite harmless." And he ends by declaring, "I am young. I am handsome. My temper is sweet, and my character without blemish. In fine, Miss Dobson, I am a most desirable parti."

But after reiterating the fact that she doesn't love him, she adds, "My reply is that I think you are an awful snob." He is wounded by the word, and after telling her about the dairymaid his great-great-grandfather married, for whom he built an elegant dairy of her own, he offers to build for her "a neat hall wherein you would perform your conjuring tricks." Zuleika responds by calling him "the most insolent person I have ever met," and telling him that she has rejected "a score of suitors quite as eligible as you."

At an impasse, they decide to go to the boat races on the Thames together. She pleads the necessity of changing clothes: "You yourself told me that this tartan was perfectly hideous. There was no need to tell me that.... I chose this frock in the deliberate fear that you, if I made myself presentable, might succumb at second sight of me."

In the interim, Beerbohm explains that Judas College had been given its name by its founder, "Christopher Whitrid, Knight, in the reign of Henry VI ... because he felt that in a Christian community not even the meanest and basest of men should be accounted beneath contempt, beyond redemption." And among the statutes of the college is that the bursar should "distribute in Passion Week thirty pieces of silver among the neediest scholars 'for saike of atonynge.'"

As the Duke is pacing, waiting for Zuleika to change her clothes, he meets two other undergraduates who are also in love with her, having met her at breakfast at the Warden's. She took no notice of them -- she was then under the impression that the Duke didn't love her, so she was still infatuated with him. But he tells them that they have no chance with her, because if she doesn't love him, "What chance would there be for you?" And then the Duke meditates on his quandary: "There seemed to be two courses. One was to pine slowly and painfully away. The other.... Academically, the Duke had often reasoned that a man for whom life holds no chance of happiness cannot too quickly shake life off. Now, of a sudden, there was for that theory a vivid application.... Death was the one true bridal." So when Zuleika appears, "a vision in vaporous white," he runs to her joyfully, mistaking her for death: "To him, wildly expressing in his movement the thought within him, she appeared as his awful bride." He explains to her that he had mistaken her for someone else, which only makes her angry.

Then, as they leave the college, Zuleika, although she dislikes dogs, stoops to pet the porter's bulldog because "coquetry" had taught "her to caress any dog in the presence of a man enslaved to her." But the dog "covered away from her, horrifically grimacing.... Seldom is even a fierce bulldog heard to growl. Yet Corker growled at Zuleika."

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