In his essay "The Pervasion of Rouge," Max Beerbohm relishes mimicking serious writers — both wisdom speakers like Johnson and sages like Carlyle and Ruskin — while ostensibly discussing artifice's role in his society. Though Beerbohm does seriously question traditional ways of thinking about art and nature, he entertains readers by keeping them on their toes; we're never quite sure if Beerbohm is serious or not. Beerbohm sustains his exuberant parody to the essay's end, but he makes his point even in its first few lines:
NAY, but it is useless to protest. Artifice must queen it once more in the town, and so, if there be any whose hearts chafe at her return, let them not say, "We have come into evil times and be all for resistance, reformation, or angry cavilling. For did the king's sceptre send the sea retrograde --, or the wand of the sorcerer avail to turn the sun from its old course? And what man or what number of men ever stayed that inexorable process by which the cities of this world grow, are very strong, fail, and grow again? Indeed, indeed, there is charm in every period, and only fools and flutterpates do not seek reverently for what is charming in their own day. No martyrdom, however fine, nor satire, however splendidly bitter, has changed by a little tittle the known tendency of things. It is the times that can perfect us, not we the times, and so let all of us wisely acquiesce. Like the little wired marionettes, let us acquiesce in the dance.
How do we know we can't lump Beerbohm into the Johnson-Ruskin-Carlyle axis? His techniques mimic theirs so well -- too well. No serious sage-writer would deliberately pack so many techniques into one paragraph. Beerbohm makes those techniques, which sound fine when used temperately, look absolutely ridiculous in aggregate. He recreates voice to the same effect that Tom Wolfe will decades later in "The Pump House Gang," and does it better than any of the sage-writers. Ruskin's direct and emphatic language in "Traffic" merits a comparison to Wolfe, but Beerbohm more forcefully takes advantage of sharp, punchy language. He, like Wolfe, seems truly to enjoy snickering under his breath at the objects of his literary attack.
1. Beerbohm begins his paragraph with "let them not say," but ends up saying "let us acquiesce." What effect does switching from the third person to the first person have? Have sage-writers used this switch, and to what effect?
2. Beerbohm specifically references the power of satire in one sentence (see "No martyrdom, however fine, nor satire, however splendidly bitter, has changed by a little tittle the known tendency of things"). Why?
3. Beerbohm seems to deliberately repeat some words, such as "charm," "times," and "acquiesce." Why? Beerbohm specifically references the power of satire in one sentence (see "No martyrdom, however fine, nor satire, however splendidly bitter, has changed by a little tittle the known tendency of things"). Why?
4.Compare this passage to one from Wolfe's "The Pump-House Gang." How do the passages satirize their subjects differently? Which is more scathing?
"Something will pan out. It's a magic economy -- yes! -- all up and down the coast from Los Angeles to Baja California kids can go to one of these beach towns and live the complete surfing life. They take off from home and get to the beach, and if they need a place to stay, well, somebody rents a garage for a month and everybody moves in, girls and boys. Furniture -- it's like, one means, you know, one appropriates furniture from here and there ... There must be a few nice old black panthers around wondering why their nice hubby-mommy VW's don't run so good anymore -- but -- then -- they -- are -- probably -- puzzled -- about -- a -- lot of things. Yes."
- Salvation and Sincerity: Satire in Beerbohm's "A Defense of Cosmetics"
- Cosmetics: Artifice or Art?
- A Defence of Cosmetics and the Age of Reproduction
- The Role of Satirist and Aesthete in Beerbohm's "The Pervasion of Rouge"
Last modified 23 October 2007