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Quotes from Zuleika Dobson

I’m reading Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson right now. I’ve been hearing about it since I first applied to Oxford (yes, that was 9 years ago), so I’m a bit shocked that I hadn’t read it before now. I bought it because it was alluded to in something or other I was reading recently. Anyway, I don’t particularly like it. I find the writing overwrought and the plot too histrionic.

One bit of it that I do find interesting is that it was published in 1911 (i.e. 100 years ago). I know a lot has changed in the past century, but I am deeply suspicious of one thing: Beerbohm’s portrayal of the entire undergraduate population of Oxford as straight. E M Forster started writing Maurice just two years later, and if Miss Dobson showed up at Oxford today, I suspect she’d find a substantial minority of Oxford men immune to her charms.

I also find the novel rather haunting in its anticipation of the huge numbers of Oxford undergraduates, would be students, and recent alumni who would die in the decade that followed, either in the war or from the flu. Zuleika as symbol for bloodlust is more convincing than Zuleika as object of unrequited love.

In any case, there were several quotes about Rhodes Scholars in the novel that I found interesting, so I thought I’d share them:

  • ‎”Altogether, the American Rhodes Scholars, with their splendid native gift of oratory, and their modest desire to pelase, and their not less evident feeling that they ought merely to edify, and their constant delight in all that of Oxford their English brethren don’t notice, and their constant fear that they are being corrupted, are a noble, rather than comfortable, element of the social life of the University.”
  • “To all Rhodes Scholars, indeed, his courtesy was invariable. He went out of his way to cultivate them…He found these Scholars, good fellows though they were, rather oppressive. They had not–how could they have?–the undergraduate’s virtue of taking Oxford as a matter of course. The Germans loved it too little, the Colonials too much.”
  • “He held, too, in his enlightened way, that Americans have a perfect right to exist. But he did often find himself wishing Mr Rhodes had not enabled them to exercise that right in Oxford.”
  • “They were so awfully afraid of having their strenuous native characters undermined by their delight in the place.”
  • “They held that the future was theirs, a glorious asset, far more glorious than the past…It is so much easier to covet what one hasn’t than to revel in what one has.”
  • “Also, if he be selected by his country as a specimen of the best moral, physical, and intellectual type that she can produce for the astounding of the effete foreigner, and incidentally for the purpose of raising that foreigner’s tone, he must–mustn’t he?–do his best to astound, to exalt.”

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