Max Beerbohm—A Kind of a Life

N. John Hall

View Inside Price: $65.00


October 11, 2002
304 pages, 6 x 9
18 b/w + 10 color illus.
ISBN: 9780300097054
Cloth

Max Beerbohm was widely celebrated as the wittiest mind of his age. And it was a very long age indeed: he became famous in the mid-1890s and remained so until his death in 1956. His wit manifested itself in both prose and caricature, and his writings and drawings are keenly interesting. Max’s life, however, was relatively uneventful, and of interest, he said, only to himself. This biography of Beerbohm, the first in forty years, enlivens his story by quoting him whenever possible, and the result—thanks to Max himself—is a scintillating and entertaining book.

John Hall moves quickly through Max’s history: schoolboy; college undergraduate; London caricaturist, journalist, and critic; Edwardian social butterfly; married man and self-exile to Italy in 1910, where he produced numerous books, essays, and caricatures; and, from 1935 to 1956, occasional BBC radio broadcaster. Hall notes that although all Max’s work during his fifteen early years on the London scene concerned contemporary art and life, after his “retirement” in 1910 his writings and drawings harkened back to the late-Victorian/Edwardian era and even to the Pre-Raphaelites; he became, he said, an “interesting link with the past.”

This book, like Beerbohm’s work, highlights his connection with various eminences over three eras: Algernon Swinburne, J.A.M. Whistler, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, George Bernard Shaw, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, and many others. Written in an idiosyncratic, opinionated, lively, quirky style, it is just the kind of biography of which Max might have (for the most part) approved.

N. John Hall is Distinguished Professor of English, Bronx Community College and the Graduate School, City University of New York.

"This is a delightful book. . . . It contains many of Max Beerbohm’s best cartoons. . . . Hall provides a careful and well-judged assessment of Max’s written work."—Paul Johnson, Sunday Telegraph
"A delightful book."—Paul Johnson, The Sunday Telegraph

"[Hall] has an unaffectedly casual, impromptu-sounding style that fits his subject beautifully."—Peter Heinegg, America

"This intriguingly conceived biography reads like a familiar letter, i.e., it will be referenced often for its facts, observations, charm, inviting style, sense of fun and whimsy, and contagious affection for its subject. . . . Hall has written a perceptive and winning biography that should not be overlooked."—Library Journal

"A fine, evenhanded picture of a fascinating figure who, while in no way dominating his age, represented his time as few others ever have."—James Polk, Philadelphia Inquirer

"In the first biography of Beerbohm in 40 years, Hall’s sound research and well-marshaled quotes bring his subject back to life: the ’ex-Arcadian’ and exquisite personality whose work, if minor, still pays reading."—J. Y. Yeh, Village Voice

"Over the past 20 years, Hall and his publisher, Yale University Press, have brought out new, extra-illustrated editions of A Christmas Garland and Zuleika Dobson, as well as Rossetti and His Circle, amplified with related drawings and much expert commentary, and a carefully reproduced selection from all the caricatures. Hall’s biography, Max Beerbohm: A Kind of Life, draws, then, on a devoted scholar’s knowledge and authority. . . . If you have never read any Max Beerbohm, now is certainly an apt time to begin. N. John Hall’s ’kind of a life’ provides an ideal introduction."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

"[An] attractively spry romp around Beerbohm’s life and repute. . . . To his great credit—and to our undoubted entertainment—Hall gives Beerbohm every possible chance to prove himself. Here he is given rope, allowed to let rip, in his own words."—Valentine Cunningham, New York Times Book Review

"In Hall . . . Beerbohm has been put in the hands of someone who clearly has had a long and intimate familiarity with his man, and who has done a thorough job here in presenting all the relevant information."—Sanford Schwartz, New York Review of Books

"Hall’s biography of Beerbohm is a gem, bringing to life one of England’s most colorful yet neglected artistic figures of roughly a century ago. . . . Highly recommended. All academic and public collections."—Choice

"Max Beerbohm: A Kind of Life is an eccentric study of an eccentric man. N John Hall eschews the linear chronological narrative of more conventional biographies and darts, butterfly-like, from one topic to the next. The chapters are often composed as essays in the Maximilian style, discussing in an amusing, erudite and, most importantly of all, relaxed manner (to be too involved is just not on) the mild controversies of Beerbohm’s life. . . . This unusual biography arrives punctually, says the right things, and leaves without overstaying its welcome."—Thomas Hodgkinson, Literary Review
"An eccentric study of an eccentric man. . . . The chapters are often composed as essays in the Maximilian style, discussing in an amusing, erudite and, most importantly of all, relaxed manner. . . . This unusual biography arrives punctually, says the right things, and leaves without overstaying its welcome."—Thomas Hodgkinson, Literary Review

"Prof Hall gives us something different, a most entertaining ’kind of life’ in which he is a character as well as Max. His perspective tour of the writings leaves one eager to reread them."—Huon Mallalieu, Country Life

"Max Beerbohm’s essays, fictions and characters never stun or stagger us; they simply give great pleasure in their odd verbal felicity and individuality, they charm and amuse, they prod with nostalgia, wit, irony and a feint of the rapier. . . . N. John Hall has written a biographical study of Beerbohm that can only be called lovely. Writing with curiosity and sympathy finely woven with discretion and delight, Hall . . . guides us through the life and work of this rare bird of the Edwardian age. . . . Hall has done a wonderful thing; he has made an accessory figure seem indispensable and convinced us that one of the gravest regrets we can bear in our lives is never having known the lovable, the incomparable Max."—Fredric Koeppel, Commercial Appeal

"This entertaining, ’some would say quirky’ book is the perfect Maximilian hommage."—Victoria Glendinning, The Spectator