Victoria Glendinning

The incomparable and inexplicable

by Max Beerbohm, with an introduction by N. John Hall
Yale, £9.99, pp. 432, ISBN 0300097328

Max Beerbohm wrote a tale called The Happy Hypocrite, a reversal of his friend Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. It’s about a rake who puts on a saintly mask in order to win the love of a pure girl. When his mask is torn off, his former, dissolute face has become saintly underneath. The man has become his mask. One is reminded of this story while reading N. John Hall’s Max Beerbohm: A Kind of a Life because readers of N. John Hall’s previous work will find him revealed here in a completely new aspect. Which is the real N. John Hall? Happily and unhypocritically, the answer has to be: both.

Professor N. John Hall of New York is the author of a distinguished biography of Trollope, and has edited, superbly, Trollope’s letters in two volumes. His other special interest has long been Max Beerbohm, and in 1997 he published a big anthology of Beerbohm’s best caricatures, finely reproduced and with an analytical commentary. Professor Hall is, in short, a serious academic player with a complete command of scholarly discourse and practice.

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But in this new book he is writing, perhaps, as Jack Hall (which is how he is known to his friends, among whom your reviewer counts herself).

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