In light of the fact that Max Beerbohm wrote "Diminuendo" at the age of twenty-four, one can easily notice the satiric nature of this work. Beerbohm satirizes sage-writing via his first person portrayal of himself as somewhat of a Socratic philosopher. This self-image first becomes apparent when Beerbohm concedes his desire to reject worldly pleasures: "The quest of emotions must be no less keen, certainly but the manner of it must be changed forthwith. Unswitched myself from surroundings, to guard my soul from contact with the unlovely things that compassed it about, therein lay my hope." Furthermore, he goes on to declare that "now, it was to thought that my life should be dedicated. Action, apart from its absorption of time, would war otherwise against the pleasures of intellect, which, for me, meant mainly the pleasure of imagination.

Beerbohm ultimately criticizes a lifestyle of "'sensations', 'pulsations' and 'exquisite moments' that were not purely intellectual" as a newfound trend of decadence. He separates himself from society both in his views and by his intent to physically isolate himself, aiming to become "master of some small area of physical life, a life of quiet, monotonous simplicity, exempt from all outer disturbance."

The definition of diminuendo becomes apparent by the end when Beerbohm reveals that he feels outmoded and wishes to "stand aside with no regret" for a younger generation, attributing himself to the earlier Beardsley period. He gives the impression that he will diminish in his seclusion, however "Diminuendo" is not without irony. Aside from Beerbohm's age when he wrote it, he writes,

Humanity will range itself in the column of my morning paper. No pulse of life will escape me. The strife of politics, the intriguing of courts, the wreck of great vessels, wars, dramas, earthquakes, national griefs or joys; the strange sequel to divorces, even, and the mysterious suicides of land-agents at Ipswich-in all such phenomena I shall steep my exhaurient mind.

Beerbohm previously rejected a life of physical pleasures and wished to live one of isolation and contemplation, yet here it seems that in his isolation he will try to live vicariously through the stories and articles about others. Ultimately, Beerbohm's satire shows how ridiculous such a life would be to only extract experience from reading and thought rather than indulging in the experience itself. In the end, "Diminuendo" advocates the hedonistic lifestyle that Beerbohm deems decadent.

Questions

1. Although "Diminuendo" can be considered a satire, does Beerbohm express any serious concerns in the piece?

2. Beerbohm makes reference to a variety of literature including the Spectator, The Yellow Book, and the Times in addition to discussing Oxford. Did Beerbohm intend for "Diminuendo" to have common people for an audience, or was it intended more for writers? During this time was satire intended to be read mostly by other writers, especially since it often was about other writers and their styles?

3. Throughout most of "Diminuendo" the tone is critical and serious. Not until the end does the satire and irony of the piece reveal itself. How does the language and style of the first parts of "Diminuendo" compare to Carlyle's "Signs of the Times?"

4. Beerbohm writes "Diminuendo" in the first person while Oscar Wilde conveys satire in "The Decay of Lying" by means of a dialogue. Does the efficacy of satire change based upon the use of narrative or dialogue? What are the advantages or disadvantages to using either?


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Last modified 26 April 2009