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Literature / Zuleika Dobson

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Zuleika Dobson is a 1911 novel by Max Beerbohm.

Zuleika Dobson has risen from humble beginnings as a governess to become a famous conjurer, not so much because her performances are brilliant (they aren't), but because any young man who sees her can't help but fall head over heels in love with her. For the first time in many years, she is visiting her grandfather, the Warden of Judas College, Oxford. At dinner, she meets the young Duke of Dorset.


Within twenty-four hours of their meeting, they have fallen in love, fallen out of love, quarrelled, and the Duke has resolved to kill himself for love of her. At her pleading, he delays his suicide for another day. He warns his friends to keep away from her, for his infatuation with her has driven him to this pass. This advice doesn't have quite the effect he hopes.

The novel can be found online here.


Zuleika Dobson provides examples of:

  • Empathic Environment: Played with. The Duke's suicide is accompanied by thunder and lightning, but they turn up before he's really ready for them.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Subverted — Zuleika falls in love with the Duke because she thinks he's not impressed by her charms, but it turns out he was just kind of bad at showing it. She falls out of love with him as soon as she realizes that he really is in love with her... and when he falls out of love, she falls in love again.
  • It's All About Me: Reflecting on the fatal events of the novel, Zuleika's chief regret is that it won't be possible to prove that each and every death was for love of her. She decides that she'll have to do better next time: Cambridge, here she comes.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": The introduction to the 1922 edition is clear on this point — Zu-leek-a, not Zu-like-a.
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  • "Jump Off a Bridge" Rebuttal: If the most admired undergraduate at the university committed suicide, would others follow? Oh yes.
  • Kill 'Em All: Every single undergraduate in Oxford, dead.
  • Parody Sue: The Duke is a parody of contemporary romance novel heroes — he's appointed to the incredibly prestigious Order of the Garter while still an undergraduate and is elected to an even more exclusive Oxford club (and becomes the only member and refuses to admit anyone else because he doesn't think anyone else is worthy of the honor — he admits a couple of other members in his last year, solely to prevent the club from going extinct; he doesn't think they are really worthy either.)
  • Serious Business: Drowning yourself for love of a Femme Fatale is all very well, but it can't be allowed to interrupt a boat race.
  • Sole Survivor: Noaks backs out of killing himself when all the other undergraduates do — but still doesn't make it to the end of the book.
  • So Beautiful It's a Curse: Zuleika has never loved, because she cannot love anyone who adores her. And everyone adores her.
  • Terminally Exclusive Club: The Junta dining club was reduced only to the Duke of Dorset, because he had to approve all new members and found himself doubting whether any of the candidates, even the ones he picked himself, would measure up. In his last year at Oxford he did admit two more, but given the book's Kill 'Em All ending it doesn't help.
  • "Too Young to Die" Lamentation: When the whole university decides to commit suicide for love of the eponymous lady, Noaks keeps saying that he's too young to die, despite the fact that half of the suicides-to-be are in fact younger than him.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: By the time the Duke thinks better of his plan of suicide, it's too late: the traditional omens of a death in his family have already taken place.


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