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According to S. N. Behrman's delightful memoir of Beerbohm,

Max's great enthusiasms in literature were for Jane Austen, Trollope, Turgenev, George Meredith, Charles Lamb, Henry James, E. M. Forster. He adored Meredith's early manner — The Adventures of Harry Richmond particularly — and Henry James's later. The Golden Bowl and The Wings of the Dove were, Max thought, James's greatest achievements. These writers had no chalets on Mont Blanc, but they took him into realms where he did want to live. Max was on especially good terms with Trollope. "He reminds us," said Max, "that sanity need not be Philistine." Max told me he thought The Warden a perfect novel, and the cello-playing Mr. Harding was one of his favorite musicians, especially when he was playing a cello he didn't have with him. [283]

On the other hand, Behrman says, "The literature of epilepsy, of cosmic soul-searching, of uncontrollable violence simply had no appeal for him. About the Elizabethans he felt something of what he felt about the Russians. . . .To Max, that far-off world, where murders, sudden decapitations, rushings off to the Tower were part of the climate, as natural as April showers, was incomprehensible and unseizable" (283).

Not surprisngly, this great caricaturist, who had a clear vision of human folly, remained deeply sceptical about big ideas, or as Behrman puts it, "Max shied away from lunacy not only in its violent forms but also in its milder forms, one of these being utopianism." For this reason he found himsekf bored by the works of George Bernard Shaw because he considered them "impressments into what he called 'the strait jacket of panacea.' The effort to force men into this strait jacket had caused untold misery and suffering to the human race, he thought" (283).

Similarly, although he recognized D. H. Lawrence's great talents, particularly in Sons and Lovers, he saw the flaws that often reduced his works to political nonsense, even dangrous nonsense:

"Oh, Lawrence," he said. 'Poor D. H. Lawrence!' The adjective was not uttered in condescension but in true sympathy for the afflicted. 'Poor D. H. Lawrence. He never realized, don't you know — he never suspected that to be stark, staring mad is somewhat of a handicap to a writer." . . . He became afflicted with Messiahdom, don't you know. Now, what equipment had poor D. H. Lawrence for Messiahdom? He was, in so many ways, a foolish man. He was one of those unfortunate men who think that merely because they have done something, it is at once first-rate. Simply because they have done it. He had a glowing gift for nature, a real feeling for nature, and in this he was at his best. But through his landscapes cantered hallucinations. [218]

Another author whose talents he admired while loathing his politics was Rudyard Kipling, someone against whom he repeatedly directed his fiercest satire.


Behrman, S. N. Portrait of Max: An Intimate Memoir of Sir Max Beerbohm. New York: Random House, 1960.

Max Beerbohm

Last modified 9 May 2008