Sunday, 10 January 2010

Zuleika Dobson

There are a great many books that have been written that use Oxford as a centrepiece. Colin Dexter is the most obvious choice and in latter years Philip Pullman's trilogy have shown us the Oxford that is known and the one that lives just beyond reach in that other world.

There is another novel that has the backdrop of Oxford, and that is Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm. It tells the story of a young woman (not strictly beautiful 'Her eyes were a trifle large ... The mouth was a mere replica of Cupid's bow ... she had no waist to speak of') who manages to capture the hearts of the entire host of undergraduates. Zuleika inspire affection in all but one, The Duke, and seeing this she instantly falls in love. However, the Duke realises this, declares his love and is promptly rejected by his amour. This causes him to declare he will throw himself in the river for love of her.
Now - this is all very well, one man dying for love, and you'd hope the woman being 'honoured' in such a way would immediately recant, or persuade him to change his mind. Not Zuleika. She sees it as the highest compliment, and The Duke accidentally manages to incite all the undergraduates to drowning with him. Thus ends Zuleika's brief spell in Oxford, and what does she feel at this this calamity? Remorse? Sadness? The need to sequester herself in a nunnery? None of these, I am afraid, rather an overwhelming desire to go to Cambridge ....... oh dear.

It has been a long running conversation over on Justine Picardie's blog about who would be the best person to play this inscrutable Miss Dobson should the book ever be filmed. I've been casting my mind over this problem, and feel that the following people would be great.

Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis: If this film had been done in the 40s, then these two wonderful actresses could have swept off with any number of undergraduates they chose. Bette Davis would probably been harder hearted at the mass drowning.

Helena Bonham-Carter: Can't you just see her inspiring adoration everywhere she went? It's also a very eccentric role, which she would do to perfection.

Carey Mulligan - although perhaps to conventionally beautiful

Anna Maxwell-Martin

Anne-Marie Duff

There was a general thought that Lily Cole could do it very well, but personally I think she is too frail, a quality Zuleika definitely doesn't have! It's an interesting book, mad in places, but I love it. Has anyone else out there read it, and if so - who do you think could play the fascinating Zuleika?


harriet said...

I read it many many years ago and loved it. Not sure about casting! But I think she is meant to be beautiful, extremely so -- large eyes, a cupid's bow mouth, a tiny tiny waist? Beerbohm is being ironic here, I'm sure.

Bloomsbury Bell said...

I have never heard of this book and it sounds fascinating! I love reading books set in Oxford so I will look out for this on my secondhand bookshop travels!