THE PRINCE OF MINOR WRITERS by Max Beerbohm

THE PRINCE OF MINOR WRITERS

The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Elegant essays by a self-described dilettante.

Known for “his light ironic touch,” deft parodies and caricatures, and sly observations about literature, art, and, simply, taste, Max Beerbohm (1872-1956) was among the most prominent English essayists. Though praised as a gifted stylist, he considered himself a minor figure, “what obituary notices call ‘an interesting link with the past.’ ” Editor Lopate (Director, Nonfiction Writing/Columbia Univ.; Portrait Inside My Head, 2013, etc.), however, sees in the precision and cadence of Beerbohm’s prose much to be admired, amply exemplified by the pieces he gathers, representing Beerbohm’s observations of British character and culture from 1896 to 1946. In an essay on the disappointing quality of oratory at the House of Commons, for example, Beerbohm remarks laconically that among 670 men elected by the British public, no one should expect “a very high average of mental capacity.” He recalls his contemporaries: Aubrey Beardsley; the “legendary” Swinburne, “sole kin to the phoenix”; and his older half brother, Herbert, a flamboyant actor. Accompanying him on an American tour, he noted that Herbert loved traveling, “instantly responsive” to “the magic of New York….He was not the kind of tourist who takes a homemade tuning-fork about with him and condemns the discords.” Beerbohm was not as social, never a perfect guest, but “slightly to the churlish side….And, though I always liked to be invited anywhere, I very often preferred to stay at home.” Overcome with envy of another writer, he threw her novel into “the yawning crimson jaws” of a fireplace, frustrated by how slowly it burned. He also comments dryly on hero worship: “It is a wholesome exercise which we ought to all take, now and again. Only, let us not strain ourselves by overdoing it.”

Urbane, witty pieces by a writer worth reviving.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59017-828-7
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: New York Review Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2015




MORE BY PHILLIP LOPATE

NonfictionPORTRAIT INSIDE MY HEAD by Phillip Lopate
by Phillip Lopate
NonfictionTO SHOW AND TO TELL by Phillip Lopate
by Phillip Lopate
FictionTWO MARRIAGES by Phillip Lopate
by Phillip Lopate
NonfictionWATERFRONT by Phillip Lopate
by Phillip Lopate

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionLONDON IN THE 1890s by Karl Beckson
by Karl Beckson
NonfictionOSCAR WILDE by Barbara Belford
by Barbara Belford
NonfictionEDWARDIAN OCCASIONS by Samuel Hynes
by Samuel Hynes