View Full Version : William Somerset Maugham

11-07-2004, 06:33 AM
The first time I read his book(it was the novel Cakes and Ale) I found it rather boring.But now after quite some time when I have already read most of his works I can say that he is great author,but also very experienced and mentally matured man.Maugham has unique style and there is a great feeling in his novels and short stories.I'll be glad to meet other connoisseuрs of him here.

11-07-2004, 08:50 AM
Cakes and Ale is good as far as I'm concerned. It was a true representation of his iconoclastic sense of irony and his wicked sarcasm and supposedly the book he wanted to be remembered for the most.

However Of Human Bondage is his most known work, it has many autobiographical details of his own life. I've read it many times.

The Moon and Sixpence, another great work of his which was also re-written for the screen, is an interesting (fictionalised) look into the life of artist Gauguin.

There are many short story collections of his I'm aiming to get my hands on, he is one of the few authors that I like enough to want a copy of all their books.

I have a first edition printing of his little known Narrow Corner, yet another take on his view to the perpetual search for individual freedom and the necessity for it.

11-07-2004, 02:38 PM
I much prefer The Razor's Edge to Of Human Bondage. The first book was more profound and compelling, while the second lacked a bit of charisma( but then charisma doesn't make a novel good, but it does keep the reader enthralled inorder to better grasp the underlying concepts on display).

11-10-2004, 04:13 PM
I have mainly read his short stories but I read Of Human Bondage and loved it. I enjoy his work very much and I am going to read more in the next few months....

11-11-2004, 06:56 AM
Of Human Bondage is a wonderful book. It's magnificent. He was very talented writer indeed.
I'm going to read most of his books. Such a pleasure.

JA Prufrock
11-16-2004, 10:57 PM
nice to see Willie getting good reviews...perhaps time is kind to him...i love hsi good books but detest the rest...he is the most frustratingly inconsistent writer i have known...

12-11-2004, 12:39 PM
Several years ago someone suggested that I read Somerset Maugham's novel "The Razor's Edge" because they felt that the novel's protagonist was in many ways very similar to me.

Shortly thereafter, the movie version of "The Razor's Edge" aired on Public Television.

Of course, I made a special point to watch the movie because I had become very curious as to what it might possibly be about, and whether I would see myself at all in the character.

The story is about a young man of modest means (from a small inheritance, $3000 per year, but in the early 1900's that was a lot.... even in the 1950's families could live on that sum). He became engaged to a young woman who associated with a wealthy upper class, but was not herself wealthy.

His main goal was to travel the world in search of wisdom and knowledge regarding the fundamental philosophical questions of life. His young fiancee wanted him to settle down at a practical career so that they might become prosperous and enjoy the finer material things of life.

He realizes that they are not suited to each other, so they break off their engagement. She marries a man who is more career/investments oriented, and who also has some considerable wealth. Our hero leaves America to live in Paris, study, contemplate, and have a variety of adventures with more earthy and 'down to earth' people.

He seems to take jobs as a laborer, or at least to socialize with laborers and longshoremen. He spends several weeks playing cards with a flamboyant, rough and tumble man who is rumored to cheat at the game.

One night, during a card game, the this card-shark tells our hero that he once went to India to visit a "holy man". He describes this holy man as most remarkable because it is not by anything he says or teaches that he helps people, but merely by his presence.

Of course, this "holy man", who remains unnamed in the movie, was in real life Ramana Maharshi, whom Somerset Maugham actually visited for a week or two.

When our hero asks the card shark why he was moved to visit India, he answers that he is always travelling about, trying to escape someone whom he has wronged. In every port and city, he constantly expects at any moment to feel a hand on his shoulder and find that he has been tracked down and discovered.

Our hero asks the card shark "Wouldn't it be better to stop running and face your punishment?"

"Oh, no.", he answers, "it is not punishment I would have to face, for I could easily face execution or imprisonment. It is love and forgiveness which I must face, and which I cannot endure. For, you see, it is no person whom I have wronged, but it is God. God is the one who relentlessly pursues me and whom I forever flee. For I am a de-frocked priest."

Now, getting back to the real life pilgrimage of Somerset Maugham to Ramana Maharshi:

On Maugham 's first day at the Ashram, he wandered by the room where Ramana Maharshi was seated with his devotees. Maugham did not enter the room, for he was wearing big klunky boots, which he did not feel like removing (and he would not be allowed in with boots or shoes on). So Maugham simply peeked in the room to observe the scene, and then went up to his room. Maharshi Ramana was aware of his shy visitor, and the next day went to Maugham's room for a private meeting. As was Ramana's practice, he simply sat in silence gazing at Maugham. Maugham became slightly uneasy and nervous after the first minute or two, and asked "Is there anything that I should be doing now. Is something supposed to happen?" (an understandable western apprehension and expectation). Appearantly, at some point during the visit, Maugham became quite overcome for some reason and fainted briefly. Maugham returned to England, but before leaving, requested that any books or literature available from the Ashram be forwarded to him in England.

Of course the scene in the novel/movie, "The Razor's Edge", depicts the "holy man", not as Ramana Maharshi looked and acted, but as a more "western" and verbal and intellectual holy man with a long flowing beard and a library of books.

The holy man sends our hero up to a hut in the mountains to meditate for some weeks, hinting that "sometimes strange things happen when alone in those mountains", and adding "but what happens depends on YOU."

Some weeks later, the Holy Man goes to visit him in the mountain hut, and our hero relates his experience: "at the moment of dawn, when night turns to day, I experienced a oneness with God." The holy man tells him to return to his country and his people, and that this experience of oneness will remain with him for the rest of his life.

Well I could tell you more about the movie, but this post is sufficiently long. I did see an incredible similarity between the character in the book and myself, although the book's character had fewer flaws and shortcoming than I have.

Emil Miller
07-27-2008, 12:07 PM
The first time I read his book(it was the novel Cakes and Ale) I found it rather boring.But now after quite some time when I have already read most of his works I can say that he is great author,but also very experienced and mentally matured man.Maugham has unique style and there is a great feeling in his novels and short stories.I'll be glad to meet other connoisseuрs of him here.

Hullo Bennet,

I was interested to read that you have read most of Maugham's work.
Over many years I have also read and re-read him both in the original and also French and German into which he translates very well.
I have been to see his villa in the South of France and although it is difficult to choose any single work as his best, my own favourite is The Moon and Sixpence. Although he spent most of his life in France, he is buried here in England in the grounds of Kings School Canterbury which he attended as a boy.
He was perhaps one of the greatest travellers of the twentieth century which enabled him to get the material for his stories from all over the world, including America ( e.g. The Razors Edge, which I have read six times ) and particularly the Far East where many of his short stories are set.
He had an acute knowledge of human nature which caused his critics to label him a cynic and although, by all accounts, he wasn't a very nice man to know, he was a brilliant, if not great, writer. I defy anyone of intelligence not to gripped by his wonderfully crafted stories.
Perhaps the writer nearest to his style is Guy de Maupassant whose writing influenced Maugham as a boy living in Paris where he was born in the British embassy in the Rue St Honore.
Whatever people may say about him, Somerset Maugham's writing has given me countless hours of sheer pleasure and if ever I am at a loose end, I need only pick up one of his books to become completely engrossed.
I wish you many happy hours reading his stories that you may not yet of read.

Sebas. Melmoth
04-20-2010, 08:10 PM
I've been a Maugham fan for nearly three decades over which time I've read (and re-read) his complete works.
To this day I still return to his Complete Short Stories which never fail to please with perfect English (interesting syntax, excellent punctuation, large vocabulary, etc.).
Not to mention the fact that he tells a damned good story--frequently with a thrilling dénouement.
Maugham has a fine sense of humour, but most importantly he possesses a deep empathy for the human condition.
Indeed, his main project is the observation and critique of human nature.

Of his novels my favourite is undoubtedly The Narrow Corner, which is rather like one of his South Sea short stories greatly expanded.

Also, The Magician is an hoot!

Any Maugham takers here?

06-22-2010, 11:01 AM
a new biography... http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-ca-selina-hastings-20100530,0,288696.story

Emil Miller
07-10-2010, 12:27 PM
I agree that The Magician is a hoot and one wonders whether Maugham didn't think so too. Melodramatic and in the tradition of Grand Guignol it is an early novel that bears little comparison to his later work except in the short stories Lord Mountdrago and The Taipan which are excellent examples of the genre. Overall, the short stories are among the best ever written and those such as The Outstation and The Bookbag are brilliant observations of the human psyche.
Selina Hastings biography of Maugham is the best that I have read although I particularly enjoyed Ted Morgan's among others. Maugham's rampant homosexuality is thoroughly documented as are his affairs with the women in his life. I tried to get some of his neighbours on Cap Ferat to talk about him when I visited his villa some years ago but, although they were very friendly, it was obvious that they didn't want to speak about what had gone on at the villa.