Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Mr. Max Beerbohm

Oliver Kamm writes about Max Beerbohm in his European culture and humor article (published today at The Times Online):
[Beerbohm's] caricatures were affectionate but not obsequious representations of the great and the good. He was, said The Times, the greatest of English comic artists. His genius can be seen in, among many others, his cartoon of H. G. Wells, with whom he was friendly but whose utopianism he was repelled by. The cartoon shows a wide-eyed Wells conjuring up “the darling future”, a severe-looking bespectacled lady clutching a scientific instrument in one arm and an even more severe-looking baby in the other.

Beerbohm had little interest in politics but he had a social conscience. While strongly supporting the war effort in two world wars, he was opposed to the Boer War and drew a series of cartoons about it. He lent his name shortly before his death to a petition opposing atomic weapons.

Above all, Beerbohm’s sparkling Zuleika Dobson shows the devastating effects of single-mindedness. Beauty, in the form of the eponymous heroine, descends on Oxford and wreaks havoc among the aesthetes of the undergraduate population, who collectively commit suicide. The satire here is most particularly on a Romanticism represented by a brooding young aristocrat. It might have foreshadowed the selfabsorbed European culture that two decades later could not perceive till too late the deadliness of movements that seemed to promise a real historical dynamic.
You can find some of Beerbohm's drawings online here and here.

G.K. Chesterton wrote in All Things Considered that Max Beerbohm "has every merit except democracy".

No comments: