Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Beerbohm, Max

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(1872-1956) UK author, essayist, dramatic critic and caricaturist. His skill at Parody and pastiche shaped his fantasy excursions: thus The Happy Hypocrite (1896 The Yellow Book as "The Happy Hypocrite: A Fairy Tale for Tired Men"; 1896 chap) imitates the sophisticated Fairytales of Oscar Wilde, with a sideswipe at The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). Wicked Lord George Hell conceals his debauched features behind a saintly wax Mask, ultimately to find that virtuous living has changed his real face to match the false one. This seems a conventionally moral fable, but MB's tongue-in-cheek narration undermines the sentimentality – as when Lord George marries "according to the simple rites of a dear little registry-office in Covent Garden".

MB's acclaimed prose parodies in A Christmas Garland (coll 1912) dip into fantasy when mocking Rudyard Kipling (Santa Claus is arrested by a brutish policeman while a sycophantic Kipling-narrator shouts encouragement) and the spiritual chorus of Thomas Hardy's The Dynasts (1904-1908). In his classic if flawed humorous fantasia of Oxford, Zuleika Dobson, or An Oxford Love Story (1911), MB used various fantasy elements: a special dispensation from Clio, Muse of history, allowing him to report characters' thoughts; pearls which change colour to signify their wearers' love or otherwise; and Portents like the black owls foreshadowing the Duke of Dorset's end. The climax sees virtually all the undergraduates of Oxford, hearts broken by vapid heroine Zuleika's beauty, fling themselves after the Duke into the river Isis ... leading to the black humour of a High Table dinner at which unconcerned dons fail to notice the students' absence. This was grimly (albeit unwittingly) prophetic: similar scenes shortly occurred during World War I.

Seven Men (coll 1919; exp vt Seven Men and Two Others 1950) contains the fine Pact with the Devil story "Enoch Soames", whose eponymous would-be writer is the shabbiest of figures in the lovingly pictured 1890s literary scene, but has faith that his name will endure. The Devil arranges Time Travel to 1997, where Soames puzzles out the future's phonetic spelling to find himself known only as protagonist of a "sumwot labud sattire" by MB. Other stories in Seven Men include Slick Fantasies playing with psychic projection and predestination; though the latter tale, "A.V. Laider", is ultimately a Rationalized Fantasy, its story of imminent multiple death predicted through palmistry has the compelling quality of Urban Legend – reflecting Laider's compulsion to invent and tell it.

As a writer MB was a fine miniaturist who pretended to world-weariness and dilettantism. The pose is deceptive; his polished prose and wit retain an enduring toughness beneath the glitter. [DRL]

other works: The Dreadful Dragon of Hay Hill (1928 chap); "Yai and the Moon" in A Variety of Things (coll 1928); "Ten Years Ago ..." in A Peep into the Past (coll 1972).

further reading: Max: A Biography (1964) by David Cecil.

Henry Maximilian Beerbohm


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.