Conversation with Max

S N Berhman

An American journalist befriends Max Beerbohm in the last years of his life and drops in on him in his villa at Rapallo for a series of what would sound like implausibly charming and reminiscence-filled chats if they were not being held with Max Beerbohm, who seems to have been destined to reminisce charmingly. They were originally published in the New Yorker.

My favourite part: the genuine guilt he seems to have felt over his feud with Kipling, who he believed to have betrayed his talents in the service of jingoism. He doesn’t feel remorse for his attacks, but for not having attempted to explain the reason for his attacks to Kipling in person when he had the opportunity.

The attacks were delicious. Berhman quotes from Beerbohm’s review of a dramatisation of Kipling’s The Light That Failed: the adaptation was by a woman under a male pseudonym:

‘George Fleming’ is, as we know, a lady. Should the name Rudyard Kipling, too, be put between inverted commas? Is it, too, the veil of a feminine identity? If of Mr. Kipling we knew nothing except his work, we should assuredly make that conjecture. […] in Mr. Kipling’s short stories, especially in The Light That Failed, […] men are portrayed […] from an essentially feminine point of view. They are men seen from the outside, or rather, not seen at all, but feverishly imagined […]

Until I read Behrman’s book I wasn’t aware that Beerbohm made radio broadcasts for the BBC during World War II. I sincerely hope that they were recorded and are available somewhere: a few web searches have turned up nothing.

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