The W. Somerset Maugham Thread

  1. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    Extollager and Gollum have been doing a great job setting up about about a million literary fiction threads, so I thought I'd shoulder some of the burden by setting up one. This is for discussion of a 20th century author who I think gets a little less attention as one of the great authors of last century than they should, namely W. Somerset Maugham. I've been a fan of Maugham since I first read the Moon and Sixpence as a young man about 30 years ago.

    Maugham (1874 - 1965) was I believe the most successful author of the 1930's (financially) and so was clearly very popular in his day. He wrote many great works, most notably novels such as "Of Human Bondage" and many excellent short stories. Orwell considered him the greatest influence on his own work and writing style.

    I have read and very much enjoyed the following works by Maugham:
    The Moon and Sixpence
    The Magician
    The Narrow Corner
    The Razor's Edge
    The Painted Veil


    I intend to read more whenever I get time. Anyone else here a fan? And what do you particularly recommend that I've not read (outside of Human Bondage, which clearly sticks out as an omission on my part)?
     
  2. HareBrain

    HareBrain Bunny of Wonder Staff Member

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    I've only read The Magician, which I enjoyed, at least the first half. The initial portrayal of Haddo and his seedy world and his possible abilities was very well done, but I thought the novel got weaker as Maugham came off the fence about the reality of Haddo's abilities and turned it into a fairly straightforward adventure.
     
  3. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    Funnily enough, The Magician (a novel loosely based on the life of Aleister Crowley, for those who don't know) is the one I recall least well, which might tell us something. I think I did enjoy it, though perhaps not as much as The Moon and Sixpence, which is of course also semi-biographical (Paul Gaugin) and is fantastic.
     
  4. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Well, at a library book sale I bought a jacketless hardcover of The Razor's Edge on 29 Oct. 1975 for 25c and still haven't read it....
     
  5. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    You "should" read it though - its a good book! Too many books, too little time...
     
  6. The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    I've only read a book of his short stories, which I must have picked up second hand at a charity stall or equivalent. Checking, I see it's labelled as "Volume One Collected Short Stories" published by Pan in 1975. It's been a while since I read them, but from memory the stories were mostly set in the far East, and I have vague recollections of tropical heat and rain, and seedy characters drinking a good deal. I might have a re-read.
     
  7. Ursa major

    Ursa major Bearly Believable Staff Member

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    I have a two volume set** of Maugham's shorter stories, inherited from my parents, with the title The World Over. I'm pretty sure that I read through both of them three or four decades ago. I can't recall much about most of the stories, though two have stuck, at least in a general sense: The Facts of Life and (in particular) The Verger.


    ** - The edition published in 1954 by the The Reprint Society, London.
     
  8. GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    I have several of Maugham's novels as well as an excellent collection of his short stories. Whilst I like his novels (Of Human Bondage is a great novel) I think he was a real master of the short form.

    Maugham was also a literary critic and any collection of his essays is also worth seeking out.
     
  9. Allegra

    Allegra Well-Known Member

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    Maugham was briefly mentioned in English literature classes in my college days. I remember the titles The Moon And Sixpence and Of Human Bondage but never read them. I really should discover his works, maybe start from a short story collection.

    Doesn't that ring a bell! You guys keep doing this I'm going to start taking anti-anxiety pills soon.
     
  10. GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    No need. I've already bought the entire Chrons supply out....:) OH....and my prices are actually very reasonable.
     
  11. Allegra

    Allegra Well-Known Member

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    That's good to know, GOLLUM. Only I'll be broke after all the buying... :( Looks like I also must get The Moon And Sixpence.
     
  12. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    I On Human Bondage . Phillip Carey's infatuation with Mildred is rather curious given what an absolutely vile human being she was. But then again, It took him a while to grow up and find himself .
     
  13. galanx

    galanx Well-Known Member

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    Of Human Bondage, Cakes and Ale, plus a lot of his short stories. I remeber reading an essay on him by Gore Vidal, when, before being introduced to members of the Bloomsbury set, he was heard nervously repeating to himself "You're just as good as they are, you're just as good as they are...."
     
  14. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    Ha! He was of course better than they were. I find humility an attractive characteristic though.
     
  15. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    Yes, his characters were rounded, real and flawed, weren't they. It's good to see so many members here have read some Maugham. Have you read any others, Baylor?
     
  16. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    So far that's the only book I've read by him,. The Razor's Edge is in my books to read pile. :)
     
  17. The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    After re-reading the Collected Short Stories I mentioned in my earlier post here (full of intriguing, nuanced characters, with plenty of atmosphere and pace), I actually picked up a couple of Maugham's books last year on the strength of the comments in this thread, but then forgot to post my thoughts about them.

    I read The Magician in tandem with Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan, and though Maugham's setting of c1900 Paris was very different from the Peake, I was amused at having chosen two books with a small group of people whose lives are destroyed by a man who -- as it appeared at the start -- might or might not be a real adept at magic, but definitely was a psychopath. But where I became more involved in the Peake as it went on, I found the Maugham disappointing, and agree with HB's assessment. Although I was never sympathetic to the young lovers, and I wasn't at all bothered when the beautiful bride-to-be was seduced and manipulated by the evil magician, I found the psychological underpinnings of the seduction interesting. But the ending
    with its descent into accepting the black magic as real, and the wholly gothic-novelish lonely unservanted mansion, murdered bride, mad not-scientist's laboratory, and terrible monsters in jars
    was far too OTT for my taste.

    Although it was a slim volume, it took me a while to read The Magician as I could only bear to read a few pages at a time, but a few months later I raced through The Painted Veil. I found the book a delight as far as writing and description was concerned, though the plot was a little thin. I'm not sure I believe in the abrupt redemption of the main female character from petty, shallow, vulgar and immoral to clear-eyed, honest and spiritually aware, but it was interesting to see he had the good taste not to turn it into a maudlin love story at the end.

    I'll try and find a couple more of his books this year and drop them into my TBR basket.
     
  18. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    I've gone back to Maugham; I'm currently reading his Collected Short Stories, Volume 1. These stories are excellent, and the volume starts very well with Rain, as well as other famous stories. I could easily find myself going on a Maugham bender from here.
     
  19. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    I finished Maugham's Collected Short Stories, Volume 1. What a fantastic collection of stories. All 30 or so stories contained in volume 1 are enjoyable, and many are terrific. There's a lot of death, suicide, adultery and drunkenness. I had many favourites, but a few perhaps stand out as particularly good:

    Rain - A great story set in Pago Pago - full of pathos, this is a well managed tragedy
    The Fall of Edward Bernard - Another south seas based story, I loved it.
    Mackintosh - A third south seas story, which is where Maugham seemed to base a number of his best stories, this is tragic too.
    The Mother - Set in Spain, this is a good example of Maugham ending a story with a bang (which he does a lot)
    A Man from Glasgow - This was an interesting one. Another story set in Spain, but featuring a man from Scotland recounting a tale. The tale would appeal to Chrons members, as it's a 'wierd tale' or ghost story. Very good. A bit Lovecraftian in some ways.
     
  20. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    It's probably a good thing I didn't see this while I was in southern Oregon booklands or I might have gone hunting for that book.
     
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