I'm afraid limited reading time this week has sent me in search of a short essay to read. The nice thing about essays is they seem to come in all shapes and sizes, and lengths. It looks as though Max Beerbohm is going to oblige me, a known author who is yet new to me. I've got a copy of Zuleika Dobson on my shelves, which Philip Lopate calls Beerbohm's "zany novel", as yet unread I'm afraid. Lopate notes that he was an accomplished essayist and helped revive the form in England after it had fallen out of favor for several generations.
"As Beerbohm's writing evolved, he abandoned the Edwardian contortions and formal mannerisms that he had so deftly practiced earlier for a more direct, streamlined, modern prose style. In other respects he shunned the modern, tweaking the solemn speed and spirit of the age. Beerbohm often took the role of the curmudgeon (a role he took on for this particular essay). He exercised stunning control of a persona that veered between modesty and impudence, tenderness and spite. He was above all a master of scale, not making any piece bigger or louder than it needed to be. His concise writing style achieved comic effects with the spin he put on individual words, with sudden shifts in diction and the puncturing of sentimentality. Underneath his light, playful manner there is at times considerable thoughtfulness and wisdom."
Sorry, that's a longish quote, but I like getting an idea of an author's style, and Phillip Lopate always offers such great brief introductions. I have to say I've been feeling rather curmudgeonly lately, too, so think I have an at least momentary affinity with Beerbohm. His essay "Out for a Walk" was written while he was out for a walk--very fitting. The thing is he's not really much of a walker, which is where the curmudgeonly part comes in.
"It is a fact that not once in all my life have I gone out for a walk. I have been out for walks; but that is another matter."
Living in London, he writes, gives one the assurance no one will want to come out for a walk. The noise, the smoky air, the bustle and squalor all detract from any possible enjoyment. Now, visiting the country is another matter.
"People seem to think there is something noble and virtuous in the desire to go for a walk."
Excuses must be carefully thought out. Usually "I have some letters to write" works well in most situations, but it isn't entirely satisfactory. People tend not to believe you, you must then get out of your comfy armchair to get your paper and pen and start writing, and the excuse falls through on a Sunday, when there is no post until evening. (Imagine getting mail on a Sunday!). So then when you are dragged out for a walk you have to put up with the "walkmonger's" (as Beerbohm calls them) inanities, and Beerbohm is sure his companion must think him the dullest man to go on a walk with.
The thing is he doesn't actually have anything against walking in theory.
"I am not one of those extremists who must have a vehicle to every destination. I never go out of my way, as it were, to avoid exercise. I take it as it comes, and take it in good part."
He just doesn't want to be forced into it. I think I like Beerbohm's style and he isn't really all that curmudgeonly, just a touch. This was a nice, light-hearted essay, entertaining enough, though I think I'd like to seek out Zuleika Dobson next. Has anyone read it?