Max Beerbohm was widely celebrated as the wittiest mind of his age. And it was a very long age indeed: he became famous in the mid-1890s and remained so until his death in 1956. His wit manifested itself in both prose and caricature, and his writings and drawings are keenly interesting. Max's life, however, was relatively uneventful, and of interest, he said, only to himself. This biography of Beerbohm, the first in forty years, enlivens his story by quoting him whenever possible, and the result-thanks to Max himself-is a scintillating and entertaining book.
John Hall moves quickly through Max's history: schoolboy; college undergraduate; London caricaturist, journalist, and critic; Edwardian social butterfly; married man and self-exile to Italy in 1910, where he produced numerous books, essays, and caricatures; and, from 1935 to 1956, occasional BBC radio broadcaster. Hall notes that although all Max's work during his fifteen early years on the London scene concerned contemporary art and life, after his "retirement" in 1910 his writings and drawings harkened back to the late-Victorian/Edwardian era and even to the Pre-Raphaelites; he became, he said, an "interesting link with the past."
This book, like Beerbohm's work, highlights his connection with various eminences over three eras: Algernon Swinburne, J.A.M. Whistler, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, George Bernard Shaw, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, and many others. Written in an idiosyncratic, opinionated, lively, quirky style, it is just the kind of biography of which Max might have (for the most part) approved.