The Merry-Go-Round. All aboard!

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The Merry-Go-Round. All aboard!

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1Waldstein
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 2, 2010, 1:04pm

So I have the pleasure to start our first group reading thread. May it not be the last one.

Well, I have just read the first three chapters, a mere twenty pages or so out of some 340 in my (Vintage Classics) edition.

The first thing thing that stikes me immediately is of course the style. Elaborate, florid, sometimes clumsy, sometimes shoddy, tongue-in-cheek all the time. Save, to some extent, the last quality, the style is thoroughly un-Maugham. But it's more or less enjoyable. Biting sarcasm and especially extraordinary descriptions of physical appeareance and mental characters foreshadow the mature Maugham.

The atmosphere reminds me of some of Maugham's early plays, my favourite Lady Frederick in particular which was written in 1903 but set in the 1890s. Socially completely obsolete, absurd and artificial but also with certain charm and some very amusing and very stimulating observations.

Finally, I am happy to announce the presence of Miss Ley, the spinster with the sharpest tongue in the world, which is expected to be the common character between the three parts of the book. Devastatingly frank and stupendously cynical, Miss Ley is supposed to be the earliest incarnation of what is later to become Maugham's famous first person narrator, a detached observer rather than participant in the story who is always willing to share his/her reflections with the reader. It is fascinating to observe that of the four novels which are generally considered by the finest critical minds as Maugham's best, three were indeed written in first person singular - but that's quite another story.

For those who are interested, Miss Ley appears also in Mrs Craddock (1902) where, unfortunately, she is just a minor character. When I read that unusually tedious for Maugham novel some time ago, I intended to continue with The Merry-Go-Round but Berta Craddock's inner world left me so exhausted that I had to give up The-Merry-Go-Round plans.

But now there's no turning back. On the whole, not an especially auspicious beginning, but still promising. Maugham rarely wrote gripping first chapters anyway, Cakes and Ale being one notable exception. I am out until Sunday when I hope to see many new postings in the thread.

PS For some obscure reason, the novel cannot be made into one of these charming touchstones; at least I don't see anything by Maugham in the many Merry-Go-Rounds on the right.

2sholofsky
marraskuu 6, 2010, 10:41am

Thanks, Waldstein, for an auspicious beginning! Will start my read in a few days.

3suaby
marraskuu 6, 2010, 8:04pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

4danielx
marraskuu 6, 2010, 9:32pm

thanks for your comments, ss4 and waldstein. I haven't received my copy as yet, so I've just skimmed your comments for now. :-)

5sholofsky
marraskuu 6, 2010, 9:50pm

Ditto. Great start. You've left us a lot to measure up to.

6urania1
marraskuu 7, 2010, 3:11pm

I have just joined the group and will begin reading The Merry-Go-Round this evening. I am delighted to hear this novel has a sharp-tongued spinster. Maugham does them so well.

7suaby
marraskuu 7, 2010, 6:27pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

8sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 7, 2010, 10:04pm

Ditto: welcome again, urania! So much enthusiasm for the read and especially the ambitious summaries of our contributors thusfar has led me to do something I seldom do: read two novels at once (a task for my brain, alas, like eating lunch and dinner together) so I can start MERRY-GO-ROUND at once while finishing KAVALIER AND CLAY. Indeed, like s4sando, I have found it impulsive reading and managed to polish off the first three chapters without serious interruption. Right off, both the physicality of the book and its dedication formed an impression that contradicted what I had assumed about the novel beforehand--that like the novels directly before and after its publication it was intended to be a trifle, a money-maker for Maugham primarily, and a serious work only secondarily (something like THE MAGICIAN with its outlandish, if superficially entertaining, supernatural melodramatics). Instead, I find a novel longer than anything Maugham has thusfar written (or will write until OF HUMAN BONDAGE) and an affecting dedicatory stanza ("I bring not only all I wrought/into the faltering words of speech/I dedicate the song I sought/yet could not reach.") suggestive not only of high ambition for this work, but of a fleeting regret for an effort that, when realized, fell short of his artistic goal. In short, from both Maugham's perspective at the time and an examination of his fiction up until BONDAGE, this appears to me to be a much more important work than I imagined. BTW I put it to our resident Maugham scholar Waldstein to perhaps weigh in on the subjects of Maugham's dedication, Herbert and Marguerite Bunning: any idea as to their bearing in his life at the time? Sounds like it might be of interest: already we have a major character named Herbert.

9suaby
marraskuu 8, 2010, 8:28am

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

10Waldstein
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 8, 2010, 2:11pm

I am happy to see such a great progress in the parallel reading with a number of interesting points. I don't exactly know which chapter I have reached, seventh or eight I guess, but the novels seems to be growing on me. The style didn't take long to get quite used to and reading now is big fun limited only by the irksome necessity for sleep.

Just like s4sando, I too am often struck by how aposite for the stage the dialogue is. Small wonder that Maugham ''recycled'' the plot of A Man on Honour; it is indeed strange that he never wrote plays on the other two plots. (Well, he might well have done so but the plays didn't survive.) Indeed, the dialog often makes me laughing out loud, as in the cases quoted by s4sando; tomorrow I will supply few examples more. The same goes for the character descriptions; they are uniformly powerful and those of Basil and Frank make me identify easily with both of them: frightening but compelling business.

The only complaint I have so far is but a minor one, namely that the jumping from one plot to another is somewhat abrupt and, perhaps, the number of characters is a bit too great. As it seems, my initial expectation that the three plots will occupy the three parts of the book will not be realised: still in the middle of the first part two of them are already quite developed. So in terms of both plots and characters the novel certainly seems an ambitious task for somebody who has just turned thirty.

sholofsky has made a pretty perceptive point about the place of the novel among Maugham's early creations. It may well be his best work of fiction until Of Human Bondage, published more than a decade later. Even from reading less than one third, it is already obvious that the novel is way superior than either The Explorer or The Magician; so only The Bishop's Apron remains, which I haven't read but which is probably a strong candidate for it deals with satire of the clergy, something Maugham was particularly adept at doing. (Of course The Land of the Blessed Virgin was published in 1905, one year after The Merry-Go-Round, but it is a travel book, and it was written earlier anyway.) Then there was this strange gap of five years or so (1907-1912) during which Maugham apparently wrote almost no fiction at all, drama and drama for drama's was the name of the game, but that's quite another story.

Finally, the ''resident Maugham scholar'' faield miserably to find anything substantial about Herbert and Marguerite Bunning. The only reference about them in the literature about Maugham I have is that Herbert was a composer and together with his wife, Marguerite, attended the party after A Man of Honour was first staged in 1903. Clearly, something more must have connected Maugham with these people but it still remains a mystery what it was. Here is a short reference to Herbert Bunning:

http://www.musicweb-international.com/garlands/45.htm

Any ideas where is the stanza from?

11sholofsky
marraskuu 8, 2010, 3:50pm

#10 that would have been my next query for the group (and forgive me if it veers into areas a little off-topic): is it possible Maugham wrote the dedicatory stanza? If so, it would be my first encounter with poetry from Maugham--a dearth I have always found unusual in a writer who explored so many literary genres.

12Waldstein
marraskuu 8, 2010, 4:14pm

As I always repeat myself, if a topic doesn't give a scope for off-topic, it's just not a great topic (a bit like like re-reading books).

I guess Maugham might have written some stanzas in his youth, though the only example of his poetry apparently dates from 1929 (published in A Writer's Notebook, 1949), but that seems not to be the case here, at least if Internet can be trusted:

http://allpoetry.com/opoem/printall/Robert+Laurence+Binyon/7

The stanza seems to be the second one of The Offering by Robert Laurence Binyon:

O love, in whose heart--murmured name
Is charm against life's endless wrong,
Since all the untuned world became
In you a song!

I bring not only all I wrought
Into the faltering words of speech,
I dedicate the song I sought
Yet could not reach,

Nay, all that passionately fired
My heart with hope for ever new
Of unattained, but deep--desired
Beauty, to you.

13sholofsky
marraskuu 8, 2010, 4:24pm

W. thanks for coming through again--also for the info on WRITER'S NOTEBOOK; I have a new reason to check it out.

14urania1
marraskuu 8, 2010, 5:13pm

>10 Waldstein:

The only complaint I have so far is but a minor one, namely that the jumping from one plot to another is somewhat abrupt and, perhaps, the number of characters is a bit too great.

Maugham wrote The Merry-Go-Round relatively early in his career (1904). I wonder how much he is influenced by the Victorian novel with its multiple plotting and often quite abrupt shifts. I am reminded a bit of Anthony Trollope's technique in this regard. Thoughts? Responses?

15suaby
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 8, 2010, 9:23pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

16Waldstein
marraskuu 9, 2010, 7:30am

I don't know about the Victorian novels, as I have read none, but I have just realised that it was rather stupid of me to expect that the three plots would fall exactly into the three parts of the book, for that would have ruined exactly the effect of verisimilitude Maugham was looking for. Perhaps because I am not used to the method it seems odd to me. Certainly, it's no big deal and hardly detracts from the novel's value, but nevertheless I am glad Maugham didn't use it in his later works.

17suaby
marraskuu 9, 2010, 12:35pm

Everyone,
I am interested to find out if there are any particular themes and/or motifs emerging as we are well into the beginning section of Merry-go-Round.
What stands out so far? s4sando

18urania1
marraskuu 9, 2010, 2:06pm

Critique of Edwardian class structure
Critique of social mores particularly those driving marriage and/or courtship between men and women
The moral compass

19sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 10, 2010, 9:37am

#17, 18 So far I don't see so much a critique of the social structure as the usual Maugham critique of character: he usually gravitates toward males as exemplars (Basil Kent, Frank Hurley) and, regretably, females as villians, or at the very least, people you don't want to know (Miss Dwarris, Lady Vizard). For the true social critic of this era--Theodore Dreiser, say--male and female protagonists were neutral--neither good nor bad, they existed to be victims, casualties of the true villian: society. In my experience of Maugham, I have always found his view of society to be remarkably simple: any non-dictatorial society can work if only men and women will behave graciously. Where he is a crusader at all--and, of course, the world knows him primarily as a great storyteller--it is in this effort to provide men and women with the positive behavioral paradigms--using positive and negative examples--necessary for that poignant if improbable goal: a gracious society.

What really interests me is how experimental this work is among Maugham's pre-BONDAGE oeuvre. MRS. CRADDOCK, as I recall, released just prior to MERRY-GO-ROUND, was strictly Edwardian, all of a piece and jettisoning the floridness of Victorian description to more readily get to the point--the same with the only novel I've read following this and preceding BONDAGE, THE MAGICIAN. In MERRY-GO-ROUND, I've already detected a whole smorgasbord of styles and influences, as if Maugham were really trying out all his literary paints and brushes in order to seriously define himself as an artist: sometimes we see the florid description of Victorian prose; sometimes he just cuts through that and the Edwardian takes over. With diologue as well we see the unbeliveably prose-like utterances of Mary Ley side by side with the down to earth piffle of the young sensualist Reggie. Of especial interest is his chief literary influence: I would bet Maugham had been reading a lot of James at the time, for nowhere in his fiction have I seen such incisive and complex analysis of character as I'm finding in MERRY-GO-ROUND. If I closed my eyes and heard it read, some parts would make me think I were listening to PORTRAIT OF A LADY. A very interesting read so far.

20urania1
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 9, 2010, 11:28pm

WARNING: COMMENT MAY INVOLVE SPOILERS

>19 sholofsky: While I agree that Maugham often engages in sexual stereotyping, it strikes me that he distributes blame in a fairly even-handed fashion in this novel (I am 75% of the way through). Moreover, while I would agree that Maugham's critique of social class lacks the complexity of Dreiser's, Maugham doles out a heavy dose of class critique as well as didactic melodrama in The Merry-Go-Round

I would offer the following examples of social criticism in the novel:

1. In the final analysis Jenny can never be anything more than a bar maid to Basil. He has sex with her because she is of a lower class. And he marries her only out of a sense of moral duty. He does not take Jenny to parties because he finds her an embarrassment. His notions of dress, literary tastes, and entertainment are all products of his social class. He disapproves of the clothes Jenny wears, the tawdry romances she reads, and the people she finds entertaining. After a brief period, he makes no attempt to disguise his distaste of the class differences.

2. Maugham's presentation of social climbers is devastating. They invariably come across as crass.

3. He is equally disdainful of those who have too much pride of place.

4. While early in the novel Miss Ley claims that the ultimate goal of life should be to live gracefully, her actions, advice, and judgment demonstrate otherwise. She has strong opinions that extend way beyond the merely "graceful."

On a completely unrelated topic, this novel reminds me of the frequency with which Maugham writes about men who fall in love with much older women, especially women who function as surrogate mother figures. Comments anyone?

21sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 9, 2010, 11:01pm

#20 Not that far into the novel yet, urania (may even involve some spoilers for me) but I'll definitely speed up my reading so I can get back to your interesting points. Thanks, and for your patience.

22urania1
marraskuu 9, 2010, 11:27pm

>21 sholofsky:,

Oops, many apologies. I didn't mean to spoil the novel for you. I will go back and put a warning note.

23cammykitty
marraskuu 9, 2010, 11:32pm

I'm going to cover my eyes and not read any posts until my book arrives. After all, until it arrives I can't say much of worth anyway. :)

24sholofsky
marraskuu 9, 2010, 11:47pm

#22 No real problem. I'd pretty much been expecting those developments. Thanks for the consideration, however.

25sholofsky
marraskuu 9, 2010, 11:47pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

26cammykitty
marraskuu 10, 2010, 12:12am

My message isn't a reference to any spoilers! I just assume you're going to say something that will give stuff away. I just popped by to say I'll catch up with you.

27urania1
marraskuu 10, 2010, 12:25am

>26 cammykitty: cammykitty,

Nice to have you pop by. Keep popping by.

28sholofsky
marraskuu 10, 2010, 12:56am

#26 I second urania, cammy: nice to hear from you. I hope your copy arrives soon.

29Waldstein
marraskuu 10, 2010, 6:07am

I have finished the first part of the book, 13 chapters altogether, and am looking forward to the other two. Interestingly, the problem so far is not the one which Maugham expected - that the plots would not be of equal interest - but that they are somewhat unequally developed. But, honestly, I really don't know how this could be helped. Anyway, it's a very minor defect, and by the end of the first part Maugham is already capable of weaving two of the narratives in a single chapter giving a substantial amount of detail for both of them. Of course Miss Ley is a bit too conspicuously in the right place and at right time, but who cares?

I find all three stories quite absorbing. There is actually something like a fourth story, but since it came to me as a complete surprise (and I have no idea if there'll be any development), I won't say anything about it as not to spoil the pleasure of those who have yet to reach it. The other three subplots are all concerned with relations between the sexes of course, but otherwise could hardly have been more different. The variety of characters is refreshing and delightful. The book certainly lacks the incisiveness and the compassion of the mature Maugham, but it does have subtlety, diversity and power one is right not to expect in the early Maugham. The occasional and highly untypical pathos and rethoric are rather fascinating as a period curiosity.

If Maugham ever was a social critic, I certainly have never been aware of that. To my mind he was always far more concerned with individuals than with societies. I guess that's why politics occupies so minor a space in his works - something for which I am grateful. When some of his biographers describe - as Selina recently has - a novel like Christmas Holiday as first and foremost a political allegory, they simply don't know what they're writing about and, to my mind at least, grossly misrepresent Maugham.

Favourite passage from the first part of The Merry-Go-Round, the character sketch of Frank Hurrell:

An extremely reserved man, few knew that Frank Hurrell's deliberate placidity of expression masked a very emotional temperament. In this he recognised a weakness and had schooled his face carefully to betray no feeling; but the feeling all the same was there, turbulent and overwhelming, and he profoundly mistrusted his judgement, which could be drawn so easily from the narrow path of reason. He kept over himself an unceasing watch, as though a dangerous prisoner were in his heart ever on the alert to break his chains. He felt himself a slave of a vivid imagination, and realised it stood again the enjoyment of life which his philosophy told him was the only end of existence. Yet his passions were of the mind rather than of the body, and his spirit urged his flesh constantly to courses wherein it found nothing but disillusion. His chief endeavour was the search for truth, and ... he strove after certaintly with an eagerness which other men reserve for love or fame or opulence. But all his studies were directed at last to another end; convinced that the present life is final, he sought to make the complete use of its every moment; and yet it seemed preposterous that so much effort, such vast time and strange concurrence of events, the world and man, should tend toward nothing. He could not but think that somewhere a meaning must be discernible, and to find this examined science and philosophy with an anxious passion that to his colleagues in St Luke's, worthy craftsmen who saw no further than the slide on their microscopes, would have seemed extraordinary and almost insane.

The passage is also fascinatingly autobiographical. Indeed, the remark of Frank that, when he sees all the misery of the world, he is glad he doesn't believe in God is taken almost word for word from Maugham's early notes and cam be found in A Writer's Notebook as well. Also when Frank cries that suffering is far from ennobling the character, he echoes one of Maugham's favourite notions which remained constant all his life. There are other interesting autobiographical touches. For example, it's hardly a coincidence that Basil is writing a novel of Renaissance Italy for that's precisely what Maugham himself had done (The Making of a Saint, 1899). It's also interesting to note that Bertha Craddock (nee Ley, niece of Miss Ley) is also mentioned several times, sometimes together with her unfortunate husband, Mr Craddock.

All in all, surprisingly entertaining and even more surprisingly moving read.

30danielx
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 10, 2010, 12:05pm

you folks are ahead of me, so I will have to play tortoise to your hares (so I'm with cammykitty on this one). However, the book arrived today and I hope to begin it this weekend.

31Waldstein
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 10, 2010, 1:00pm

I thought it might be a good idea to have Maugham's opinion quoted in full. Here it is, written in 1934 if I may remind you:

Then I wrote a novel called The Merry-go-round. I am not reprinting it, but I look upon it, nevertheless, with indulgence. It was a failure, but the experiment was interesting and I have sometimes thought that it would be worth repeating. It had struck me for some time that the novelist's usual practice of taking two or three persons and treating them as though the world moved round them, bringing in others only in so far as the protagonists were concerned with them, gave a very false impression of the multifariousness of life. I am not alone in the world with the girl I love and the rival who is disturbing the course of my passion. All sorts of thrilling adventures are occurring to the people all round me, and to them they are just as important as mine are to me. But the novelist writes as though his hero and heroine dwelt in a vacuum. I thought I could give a much fuller effect of life by taking a number of people, loosely connected as people are who live in the same world, and giving all their stories with equal fullness, and telling all I knew about all of them. I chose the necessary number of persons and devised four (my emphasis - A.) series of events that occurred simultaneously. I saw my novel like one of those huge frescoes in an Italian cloister in which all manner of people are engaged in all manner of activities, but which the eye embraces in a single look. The scheme was too ambitious for my powers. I had not realised that one set of characters would prove more interesting than the rest and that the reader, wanting to know about them, would be impatient of the others. The book suffered also from the pernicious influence on me at the time of the writings of the aesthetes. The men were inanely handsome and the women peerlessly lovely. I wrote with affectation. My attitude was precious. I was afraid to let myself go. But still I think there was something in the idea. Perhaps it could be carried out successfully if the intertwined stories and the persons who acted them were seen rigidly through the eyes of one of the characters in the book. The interest of this character in the various events he was concerned in might give them unity, and the dramatic value of his reactions towards the other persons of the novel hold the reader's attention by giving him the illusion of a single theme.

32sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 12, 2010, 9:38am

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS (for those shy of chap. 10, part 1)

First off, thank you, Waldstein for taking the time to share Maugham's own opinion with us. It confirms many of my suspicions about the nature of the book as an ambitious experiment, Maugham's feeling that it fell short of the mark, and the presence of outside literary influences (though he obviously considers them unprofitable and, regretably, fails to name names).

#20 Getting back to some of your points, urania (thanks for your patience and the idea to put up spoiler notices) I'm afraid I still remain unconvinced about Maugham as social critic. Though indeed you'd assume it would be, very little about the relationship between Basil and Jenny seems related to class disparities--in fact, Maugham threatens credibility in his effort to draw our attention away from class. Contrary to what we'd expect, Jenny is not drawn to Basil for the class advantages he might bring her (social prestige, material enhancement); it is made quite clear that she loves the man for who he is, his kindness, gentility, etc. On Basil's part, he is not drawn to her because her lower class makes her "easy", but entirely because of her beauty. He does not even see her as a sexual opportunity and is so reticent when it comes to love-making that it's Jenny who has to take the initiative, Jenny who has to ask why he's not kissing her, and, ultimately, Jenny whose sexual passion is so consuming "an unquiet emotion, which she had never known, made her heart throb with indescribable yearning" that it is plainly she, and not Basil, who really signals sex. As to why their relationship cannot work, again I don't see class as the villian. They are quite simply two people with nothing really in common other than gratitude and physical attraction. Basil would seek culture if he were born in a slum; Jenny would be all about baubles and pretty dresses if she were born in a palace. It is not society that's keeping them apart--Maugham makes it clear that, as people, they were never really together.

As for issues of social climbing, to tell you the truth so far I haven't seen any. Everyone (Lady Vizard, Mary Ley, Mrs. Castillyon) seem to have already done their climbing long before and seem rather content with their position on the mountain. They are crass, true, but no moreso than certain characters with no interest in social advancement (Reggie, Jenny's brother).

Finally, if I were to position Maugham's sympathies regarding his society--based solely on little hints gathered in my reading of him over the years--I very much fear we would not find him on the side of labor, but very much with the powers-that-be. One small hint of that in MERRY-GO-ROUND occurs on the first page of chapter 7, part 1 wherein Maugham is describing the blowhard Mr. Castillyon's conversation as "the opportunity to air opinions which should more properly have found utterance in that last refuge of dullards and bores, the House of Commons." I would just bet that if someone like George Bernard Shaw were writing this, the negative comparison would be to the House of Lords.

Anyway, it's stimulating discussing this with you, urania. You're a real asset to the group.

33TheTortoise
marraskuu 14, 2010, 5:10am

Personal Impressions

Maugham’s description of Miss Elizabeth Dwarris as a tyrannical evangelical, with harsh tongue and bitter gibe who ruled over her impecunious relations has echos of Maugham’s own upbringing under his religious but uncompromising uncle, which Maugham delineates in his novel On Human Bondage.

I was reminded also of Mr. Murdstone in David Copperfield, who made young David’s l ife such a misery. It is such a pity that Maugham did not have a better role model of a Christian, one who is characterised by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, humility and self-control. Christian’s like Miss Elizabeth Dwarris give the real spirit of Christianity a bad name by substituting self-righteous arrogance which the unsuspecting recipients of such scorn perceive as being what real Christianity is all about.

I enjoyed the witty interplay between Miss Ley and Miss Dwarris. In Miss Ley , Miss Dwarris had met her match. Miss Ley was as determined to have her own way as Miss Dwarris was stubborn to have hers. What I found surprising on first reading it was that two days after the clash of wills between the two women, Miss Dwarris changed her will in favour of Miss Ley. On subsequently thinking about this I now realise that there were two reasons for this apparent volte face. Miss Dwarris despised her sycophantic relatives and had already decided to disinherit them. She left her money to Miss Ley because in spite of being crossed by her, she harboured a secret admiration for her. This reminded me of the two episodes in Pride and Prejudice in which Lady Catherine De Bourgh is crossed by Elizabeth Bennett. Lady Catherine De Bourg has an aristocratic feeling of superiority which brooks no contradiction. But Elizabeth will not bow to her will and it is through Lady Catherine that Darcy hears of Elizabeth’s regard for him. This is a pivotal moment which comes about because of Lady Catherine’s admiration for Elizabeth. So Maugham was right is springing this surprise on us, which is requirement of the novel’s progress.

I was amused by Miss Ley’s getting rid of all her possessions. I have done this twice in my life, five year’s apart, and in some ways it is a liberating experience. It enables one to have a fresh start. I don’t think I could do it now!

I was also amused by the inducement that Herbert Field offered to Bella to visit him: “Do come”, he said, “I want to show you my books.” How romantic!

I wonder if Maugham meant to apply the following remark to himself when he wrote at the end of chapter five: “You know, to achieve great success in literature you must have a certain coarseness in your composition...Really to move and influence men you must have complete understanding, and you can only get that if you have something of the common clay of humanity...” Wise words from the master. Maugham was one of us and that is why is writing is so appealing.

- TT

34suaby
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 15, 2010, 11:28am

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

35sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 15, 2010, 12:21pm

#33 Welcome, tortoise! I enjoyed your comparison of Miss Dwarris with a few other such parsimonious (emotionally and otherwise) shrews in literature. I agree that the conference of her property on Miss Ley is a perfect Maugham touch, not only furthering the plot, as you say, but humanizing Miss Dwarris, a character who sorely needs it. The first chapter is so well-crafted, in fact, I had the feeling it could stand alone as a short story in its own right, one of those skillful Maugham exercises in irony.

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS (FOR THOSE SHORT OF PART 2)

It was the first and a few subsequent chapters of MERRY GO ROUND, in fact, that led me to expect a better crafted novel. Two thirds of the way through I still think it ambitious, entertaining, and important in Maugham's development--I have grown less impressed with it overall, however, particularly in the area of characterization. Three women strike me as frankly unbelievable: Jenny Bush, Miss Ley, and Mrs. Castillyon. Though I differ with urania as to whether or not Jenny was intended as a vehicle for social criticism, I can certainly see her point: Jenny SHOULD be; it is not credible that she is not. A barmaid so otherwise empty culturally and vapid morally (failing, for instance, to see the crime in her brother's embezzlement) SHOULD have been drawn to Basil for the class advantages he could bring her; instead it is made clear time and time again that her attachment is spiritually pure, has substance, and is, in fact, honest love for Basil--whose interests and values she comes into conflict with over and over; it just doesn't jibe with everything else about her. Miss Ley, on the other hand, isn't a human being so much as a walking volume of Bartlett's quotations. This woman has an aphorism for everything--seldom sensible, often inane, but always something that would come out of a book rather than a human mouth engaged in impromptu talk. Mrs. Castillyon I find to be a character who would fit admirably in Stevenson's sexless DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. At one moment so cynical and self possessed that she can play with the empty Reggie as if he were a mere pup--the next moment she's weeping in remorse and sending him pitiful notes of apology and proclaiming undying love. Undying love for the vacuous Reggie? I don't care how pretty his face, pointless, facile Reggie might conquer a dog's heart, but a woman shown to be as cynical and experienced as Mrs. Castillyon? Sorry, can't buy it. Be extremely interested to hear the opinions of all of you.

36suaby
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 16, 2010, 9:10am

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

37TheTortoise
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 17, 2010, 10:22am

Personal Impressions 2

Chapter Six.

I was surprised to read Maugham’s opinion that “London, (is) the most beautiful of all cities”. I would have expected him to say Paris. But, then, he hasn’t seen all the high rise buildings of the late twentieth and early 21st centurys!

One of the pleasures of reading Maugham for me is the way he often expresses my experience, for example when Mrs Murray touched Basil Kent “the touch of her fingers on his arm burnt him like a fire.” Brings back happy memories!

I have noticed how visual Maugham’s writing is, he quotes impressions from Claude Lorraine, Sandro Botticelli, a picture of Catherine Cornaro. Previously he mentioned Pietro Perugino. I feel that I am losing something by not immediately being able to visualise these images.

The exchange between Lady Vizard and Basil Kent on the day after her sensational and scandalous divorce is highly amusing. Basil is expecting her to be in a state of mourning but she confounds his expectations and instead she is throwing a party and is having a wonderfully happy time.
“I suppose you want to congratulate me on my victory,” she states gaily. On the contrary Basil is scandalised and horrified by his mother’s infidelities. Which is what happens when a self-righteous prig is confronted by shameless behaviour. Basil’s outraged sense of decorum reminds me of the handbag scene from Oscar Wilde’s, The Importance of Being Earnest, especially the film versioin with Edith Evans when she indignantly asks “a haaaand baaaag?” (See UTube). Of course, Maugham is setting him up for a fall later on.

I liked this observation: “Freedom is all very well, but there are moments when a man yearns for someone to whom his comings and goings, his health or illness are not matters of complete indifference.” Very true!

I thought Maugham gave a devastatingly penetrating analysis of an unequal passionate liaison in Basil and Jenny. There is inequality of feeling as well as of social position. As she is an uneducated barmaid and he the son of a Lord it is obvious that nothing good can come of it.

Chapter Eight

I thought this was an interesting observation: “ Only the wicked should sin, for experience teaches them moderation, and little hurt befalls. But when the virtuous slip from the narrow path they flounder hopelessly, committing one error after another in the effort to right themselves by the methods of virtue.” Of course, Miss Ley is speaking about Basil Kent, so we know that he is going to get even more tangled in a hopelessly confused state.

Maugham made a very interesting observation when he stated: “Society makes its own Decalogue (rules to live by), a code just fit for middling people, who are neither very good nor very bad..” which reminds me of this in Ecclesiastes: “Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: why should you die before your time?” It seems that Basil Kent exemplifies the first attitude of being overly righteous and of course he will pay the price.

Chapter Nine

I thought this was a witty observation: “You are trying to reconcile two contradictory things – love and economy. “ Reggie is disconcerted by the cost of entertaining Miss Castillyon. This episode reminds me of Casanova. In his memoirs he relates how he lavished his money on the women he pursued; always leaving them better off financially.

I was amused to read Maugham using the hackneyed Victorian phrase: “She is no better than she should be” referring to Lady Vizard. This is a phrase which has no meaning if you examine the actual words but which means someone who is morally suspect but who puts on a front, which indeed Lady Vizard does. I have never read this phrase in conjunction with an upper class person before. It is usually used of someone like a scullery maid who has “ got herself into trouble.”

I loved the way Maugham showed Reggie battling with his honour while fingering the “crisp and clean” ten pound note. Finally, avarice wins and Maugham in his concise way says: “He pocketed the note.”

Chapter Ten

Basil, having married Jenny, “feared that the task he had confidently undertaken was beyond his strength.” This reminds me of what A. C. Benson says in his essay on Ambition, in From a College Window: he warns against “light-heartedly to shoulder a burden which they may be able to lift but not to carry.”

I thought it extraordinary the way Mrs Kent (senior) fairly leaps out of the page, like a character from Dickens, especially when she says: “I do expect to be treated like a lady, and I don’t think Jenny ought to ‘ave given me my tea out of a sixpenny ‘alfpenny teapot – and you can’t deny that’s what they cost, my dear, because I know as well as you do.” Superb!

-TT

38sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 17, 2010, 11:03am

WARNING--SPOILERS (for those short of chap. 7, pt. 1)

Tortoise reminds me of a question I had concerning chap. 6, pt. 1 in the dialogue between Basil and Lady Vizard (pg. 54 in my Penguin paperback) wherein she states "But you talk as if I'd been divorced." I was completely confused. Hadn't she been divorced? Was this an annulment, or what? Is there something else besides divorce in British custom that this colonial isn't picking up on? Anyone in the group please weigh in.

Tortoise also brings up an interesting point about the visual nature of MERRY-GO-ROUND particularly in reference to the fine arts. I find in it some of the most painterly description and comparisons to actual paintings that I have ever encountered in Maugham. Clearly a result, as Maugham states, of his being influenced by the "writings of the aesthetes."

39suaby
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 17, 2010, 1:26pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

40suaby
marraskuu 17, 2010, 1:58pm

I think Tortoise's comments on chapters 6--10 hit several themes I have seen emerging throughout this novel: Freedom vs. Constraint, Virtue, Respectibility, Love and Money but the one that I have had before me constantly, the theme of " consciousness of rectitude"---those high-minded, morally upright, strictly principled characters and how these principles play out in the course of events. The 'overly righteous, overly wise, wicked, foolish" quote from Ecclestices is a great quote. (SPOLIER) Already the Dean has been enlightened to the dangers of the "consciousness of rectitude".
What's Maugham's message?

41sholofsky
marraskuu 17, 2010, 3:01pm

SPOILER (those short of chap. 5, pt. 1)

#39, Thanks s4sando, your explanation for Lady Vizard's statement appears to be the correct one. Doing some back reading at the end of chap. 5, I found Mary Ley does explain that Lord Vizard failed to make his case. Though she also states that Lady Vizard initiated a competing case, it can be assumed this was not pursued after her victory.

42sholofsky
marraskuu 17, 2010, 7:28pm

#39 I think Maugham agrees with you, s4, about painting comparisons in literature. He does call the influence of the aesthetes on this book "pernicious" and seems to have ended the habit here. I think it is pretentious if the writer's reference is to relatively obscure works of art (such as it seems to be, unfortunately, in MERRY GO ROUND); I think it less so if the works are well-known.

43Waldstein
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 18, 2010, 1:54pm

Perhaps I should start by addressing two points from the above posts.

TheTortoise,
Very interesting point about Maugham applying to himself the passage in the end of chapter five (the one about the coarseness in the composition). I guess the passage is likely to represent Maugham's own views. In the preface to Six Stories in the First Person Singular (1931) he wrote something very similar (the last but one sentence is the significant one, but I give the two previous ones because they are an excellent example of Maugham's sense of humour and lack of false modesty):

...I have at one time or another been charged with portraying certain persons so exactly that it was impossible not to know them. I have been accused of bad taste. This has disturbed me, not so much for my own sake (since I am used to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune) as for the sake of criticism in general. We authors of course try to be gentlemen, but we often fail and we must console ourselves by reflecting that few writers of any consequence have been devoid of certain streak of vulgarity. Life is vulgar.

Interestingly enough, still following TheTortoise, Maugham seemed to have thought the opposite: that he was not one of us and that was one of the reasons for his being second rate. He all but said so in one of the most self-revealing passages of The Summing Up:

Though I have been in love a good many times I have never experienced the bliss of requited love. I know that this is the best thing that life can offer and it is a thing that almost all men, though perhaps only for a short time, have enjoyed. I have most loved people who cared little or nothing for me and when people have loved me I have been embarrassed. It has been a predicament that I have not quite known how to deal with. In order not to hurt their feelings I have often acted a passion that I did not feel. I have tried, with gentleness when possible, and if not, with irritation, to escape from the trammels with which their love bound me. I have been jealous of my independence. I am incapable of complete surrender. And so, never having felt some of the fundamental emotions of normal men, it is impossible that my work should have the intimacy, the broad human touch and the animal serenity which the greatest writers alone can give.

Well, I agree with TheTortoise, I disagree with Maugham. Viewing the life from a different point of view is no disadvantage, in my opinion. Quite on the contrary, that's what makes the work of an artist truly compelling. It's the same life after all. And I have never had any patience with claims about objectivity, especially in fiction.

Regarding the fascinating issue about pretentiousness and comparisons with works of art, I rather agree that it is indeed pretentious, and I think Maugham would have agreed. In his mature works there are few such references, and they often are not very specific: like a peasant in an old Dutch painting for instance or something like that (usually coming with the beautiful adjective ''rubicund'').

sholofsky, as usual, made a very shrewd point about the how well-known the work in question is. I agree completely, but I am rather troubled what is considered well-known nowadays. Once I had a colleague who didn't know who Mozart was, let alone any of his works or anything about him. Really, what can Mozart do for you in the hectic world of today? Trying to make the most of my current German colleagues is only slightly less discouraging business. They all know Goethe's ''Erlkönig'' and they all hate it because they had to learn in school. To read this for pleasure - as I am trying - seems to them an utter form of lunacy, even more so listening to a song by one Franz Schubert (Franz who?!).

Anyway, that's too much offtopic, but I am contemplating a thread about Maugham and music where we can hopefully continue. Let's get back to The Merry-Go-Round and some totally disordered reflections on it.

Last night I have finished the novel. There is no third part as I thought, but somewhere in the middle of the second the book did become compulsively readable. Were it not for lack of time I would have finished it sooner.

Anyway, I now have no hesitation to rank The Merry-Go-Round - together with The Hero (1901) - as my favourite early Maugham, which simply means that I would re-read these books with a great deal of pleasure; all other of Maugham's early novels I would re-read more for studying his development as a writer rather than for pleasure (the early short stories and the early travel book are another story altogether: they fall in the first category). Interestingly, The Hero (1901) is actually Maugham's previous novel: Mrs Craddock (1902) was of course published in between but written before either of them. In comparison, The Merry-Go-Round is certainly an improvement, florid style, melodrama, pathos and all.

Certainly, the novel does not have that peculiar quality of the mature Maugham - it's difficult to put this into words, the usual cliche is like a conversation with an old friend but it does not convey that singular intimacy of his mature works. Yet, though this may be due to my lack of experience with such multiplot novels, I was surprised by the considerable skill of Maugham in weaving all stories with the supreme observervation of Miss Ley and Frank Hurrell.

But since it's difficult to speak about it without spoilers, let's have a warning:

SPOILERS AHEAD (don't read before finishing the book; also be aware that the finale of The Hero is made explicit - not that it's hard to predict)

First I have to say what was the fourth plot which I meant in one of my previous posts: it was of course the relationship between Frank and Miss Ley. Well, nothing happened there. Nothing could have happened indeed: he is thirty, she is sixty. But the development of the other three plots, if largely predictable, was executed masterly. Sometimes I thought one of the plots obsessed the narrative for a bit too long but I guess that's inevitable, at any rate it is nothing terrible.

But, as usual with Maugham, the characters are those that count. All major ones have delightful complexity: Miss Ley may be a cynical spinster, but she also has a good deal of compassion and, surprisingly perhaps, a lot sadness inside herself; Frank seems a tough guy but in the end he also seems to be a horrible sentimentalist; Basil is the proverbial man of honour and yet he too can be fed up with duty and doing the right thing, and so on.

The minor characters are also remarkably vivid. My favourite is Jenny's avaricious brother: the final scene between him and Frank is brilliant. I am most curious now to read A Man of Honour and see how Maugham treats the Jenny-Basil plot in a play. TheTortoise has already remarked about Mrs Kent's leaping out of the page, and I should like to add Mrs Barlow-Bassett to this list too (the trick didn't work with Lady Vizard though; perhaps her presence was too limited for that).

There are a great deal of improbabilities of course. Like sholofsky, I found it hard to believe in Grace's overwhelming passion for Reggie, and of this passion's speedy demise as well. Perhaps Maugham tried to depict his favourite bundle-of-incongruities view of human nature but didn't succeed completely. Likewise, Paul's forgiving his wife and the Dean forgiving her daughter are not especially convincing, though I suppose the idiotic behaivour of these gentlemen before was typical in those times; perhaps because of that such change of heart seems a bit too fanciful to me. But none of this is so terrible after all. On the whole, all three plots are finished in more convincing a manner than the single plot of The Hero, including the common element (suicide) they share.

As regards to the writing style, it's tantalising to reflect what kind of writer Maugham would have become if he had chosen to stay with the florid vocabulary. For my part I am happy he didn't, but even here his masterful choice of words is conspicuous and he seldom has any problems with lucidity (nor with the euphony, for that matter; simplicity is of course out of question). Also, some of the most purple passages are extremely amusing indeed; the very thought about Maugham writing such an ornate prose is enough to make me smile. If Maugham ever read the novel later in his life, I should like to believe that he laughed his head off at his youthful exuberance.

Sometimes, indeed, Maugham can get carried away, intoxicated by melodious words and poetic impressions. The death of Herbert is a case in point: it is unduly extented, yet it is strangely moving, that episode with the nightingale especially. It's perhaps interesting to note Herbert's longing for Greece. If my memory serves me well, Larry from The Razor's Edge had a very similar experience. I wonder if Maugham did. I am not sure when he visited Greece for the first time but I think it was later in his life, so in his youth he might have had a kind of crush on it.

Last but certainly not least, there is a good deal of fun in the book, although in none of the plots is there any comedy, let alone farce. Miss Ley and her inexhaustible fund of gems is the chief source of amusement in this respect, but Frank is also always ready to offer few hilarious bits. Apart from them, there are few comic episodes but they are gems. My personal favourite is Reggie's reciting Hamlet's famous monologue and then, with a sigh, remarking that they no longer write such parts. There are some nice satiric touches in Mr Farley's character which makes me even more eager to read The Bishop's Apron but the book is totally unobtainable, except at an exorbitant price. Interestingly enough, there is not a single hint of contempt on Maugham's side during the detailed description of the Holy Sacrament; on the contrary, Frank reflects that he actually envy the believers; it's a fair guess that this is one of those moments when Maugham spoke through his characters; there are more examples of that in both Frank's and Miss Ley's words which from to time quote Maugham's early notes verbatim.

END OF THE SPOILERS SECTION

In conclusion, I am surprised that late in his life Maugham changed his mind about The Magician, but he never agreed The Merry-Go-Round to be reprinted in The Collected Edition. For once, Heinemann were right to overrule him after his death.

Four stars from me. Time to attempt a review and compile a pretty long list of quotes. Will give link for the latter in the quotes thread for those who are interested.

44cammykitty
marraskuu 18, 2010, 10:33pm

tHROUGH CHAPTER 5
My book arrived today and I'm only up to chapter 5, so I've just glanced over the comments. I did love Lady Vizard's comment "But you talk as if I'd been divorced." I don't know much about Edwardian and Victorian history, but apparently Edward himself led the fashion in having affairs. It wasn't that uncommon, and to many fashionable people, it wasn't even shocking. As for Victorian marriage law, I remember reading a torrid little book about famous Victorian relationships. If my memory serves me, George Elliot and George Lewes were lovers but unable to marry because Lewes couldn't get a divorce. George Lewes' wife was having an affair with his business partner, and she had even had children from this relationship. Lewes turned a blind eye to it until he fell in love with George Elliot, but by that time he was unable to divorce her because he hadn't challenged the affair right away. Since she had had more than one child from the affair, it was deemed that he had given her permission. So... LOL, I can see grounds for Lady Vizard's triumphant continued marriage.

45sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 19, 2010, 6:02am

Edited to welcome Cammykitty! Thanks for your illuminating comments concerning Victorian marriage customs, of which I was pretty unaware. So nice to know George Elliot had a life afterall.

WARNING--SPOILERS (for those who have not finished the book).

Thank you, Waldstein, for such a thoughtful summation and for putting MERRY GO ROUND so firmly in the context of Maugham's earlier efforts. Though of Maugham's pre-BONDAGE work I've only read MRS. CRADDOCK and THE MAGICIAN, even on that limited basis I'm inclined to agree that this is the best among the pre-1915 bunch. Where Maugham most reveals the common touch necessary in the successful author (discussed to great effect at the beginning of Waldstein's entry) is, I feel, in his attitude toward the lower classes. Whatever the going prejudice--be it against a race, a religion, or a class--there are always those among us who, while retaining a general prejudice privately, are nevertheless willing to give any individual in the group or groups thus tainted a fair chance and number them among our friends (the old "some of my best friends are blacks, or Jews, or"...fill-in-the-blank). This is the subtle hypocrisy--the common touch--I see Maugham expressing in this novel. He derides the prejudices of Basil's upper-class acquaintances concerning Jenny's origins specifically, yet goes on to completely justify those prejudices generally by presenting Jenny's entire family--and, by implication, her entire class--as avaricious, amoral crooks. Even Jenny's sole saving grace--her selfless love of Basil--is placed at the expense of credibility in the same common soil simply to advance the plot. Likewise, there is a marked disparity in flexibility of character among the upper and lower classes; only among the upper classes does one find a basic generosity of character that allows these gentry to overcome entrenched prejudices and amoral habits and blossom from lowly caterpillars to butterflies of redemption (Grace and Paul Castillyon, Bella's father, even vacuous Reggie and his mother, for heaven's sake). Any bets on whether Jenny's brother will ever change for the better, or her imperious drunk of a mother, or even Jenny herself, had she lived? The lower class as a whole in MERRY-GO-ROUND (and no doubt in the minds of most of the Edwardian upper class) form a lower class for a reason, and that reason is only partially economic. Again, if Maugham were a social critic, I think a lot of us would have serious misgivings about which side he was working for. Be interested to hear all your comments.

I have just completed the novel as well and find myself in total agreement with Waldstein--from about the death of Herbert an engine kicks in and the novel becomes compulsively readable to the end. I agree also that Maugham ties up the various storylines into a neat and tidy bow, bringing a satisfaction to the reader that belies, temporarily at least, any doubts that may linger concerning attitudes and improbabilities. If I have one nagging problem with the multi-dimensional plot premise it is that all the stories seem to fit except for that of Herbert and Bella--for some reason their tale seems to stand outside of the book, almost like a separate novella Maugham grafted onto the whole to meet a page quota. Otherwise a fascinating and rewarding read made all the moreso by the thorough and intelligent analysis of all the members of our group. I look foward to the continuing contributions of those still reading and those who have just begun. I think Maugham would be gratified--we have made THE MERRY-GO-ROUND a gift that keeps on giving, as Herbert might have said or written.

46Waldstein
marraskuu 19, 2010, 12:57pm

I would venture a bet that there might have a chance for Jenny to improve had she lived. From time to time she seemed to me a bit too sophisticated in comparison with her brother or her mother - for whom no chance whatsoever exists.

For those interested in Maugham's early short stories and his development in the genre, it should be mentioned that Miss Ley and Frank Hurrell appear also in the early version of The Happy Couple, first published in magazine in 1908 and in book form mora than 60 years later: Seventeen Lost Stories (1969). Oddly enough, Miss Ley is entirely different character than the one in The Merry-Go-Round or Mrs Craddock. She is an old spinster again, but she is also terribly sentimental, at least as far one can judge from one very short story; Frank is indeed too sketchy to be analysed.

Decades later Maugham revised the story which then appeared again in magazine (1943) and finally in his final collection of short stories, Creatures of Circumstance (1947). It is one of the most fascinating opportunities to appreciate the amazing development of Maugham as a writer. The basic plot is pretty much the same, but the later version in infinitely superior: Miss Ley and Frank were kicked away and replaced by the first person narrator (Maugham, that is), a shrewd judge and, again, the inevitable old spinster. This later version has depth, complexity and power that the earlier one does not in the least possess.

47cammykitty
marraskuu 19, 2010, 11:00pm

#31 Waldstein> Thanks for the quote. It's interesting to see what Maugham was attempting to do/experimenting with. Also interesting to see his criticism of the work: "The men were inanely handsome and the women peerlessly lovely. I wrote with affectation. My attitude was precious. I was afraid to let myself go." Yes, I agree with him. I'm also forgiving him for it and continuing to read.

48cammykitty
marraskuu 20, 2010, 12:13am

I'M AT CHAPTER 13 OR SO
sholofsky #32 said "As to why their relationship cannot work, again I don't see class as the villain. They are quite simply two people with nothing really in common other than gratitude and physical attraction."

Yes, and I think that is exactly why Maugham's work is a critique on class. A reader at the time would be focused on the class difference and expect that to be the insurmountable problem, but it isn't.

I'm seeing most of Maugham's characters as social types. I know others of you aren't though. So far Reggie, Reggie's mother, Mrs. Castyllion, Lady Vizard, Basil all read more as social types than as well-rounded characters to me. Even Miss Ley and the crotchety Miss Dwarris are social types, women who through money and connections wield power that perhaps they haven't really earned. I'm almost through Part I and Basil is beginning to approach rounded character status through his troubles but the others are not. They are detailed, but they fall into a type.

Jenny, however, is not a social type. She is a character with qualities all her own, rather than a stereotype and I see her as a deliberate contrast to Mrs. Castyllion who is freed by her status to act like a gold-digging barmaid. I'm seeing his social critique as a constant contrasting of values that were in flux at the time. We see the Victorian purity, the Edwardian conspicuous display of wealth, Edwardian promiscuity, the freer roles of women (Mary Wollstonecraft was this time period) all mixed up together, and often times those who are less caught up in class roles tend to have a clearer picture of what their personal values are.

As for social climbing, I agree with sholofsky here. I'm not seeing it. This is more a society where the status has already been bought and paid for. Other than marrying well or buying a title, there isn't much space for climbing. Instead, it's a game of maintaining, and maintaining isn't done by being virtuous.

#33 Tortoise> "You know, to achieve great success in literature you must have a certain coarseness in your composition." I loved that quote too. I'm sure it was tongue in cheek, sarcastic, and even a back-handed compliment. I think Maugham believed it though. He certainly has illustrated it in his writing.

#34 S4sando Yi yi yi yi I'm covering my eyes. I want to jump in with this thought, but saw that spoiler warning. Bella marry??? Bella??? Little miss Hester Prynn old maid?

S4sando & Tortoise> I have to say Miss Dwarris reminds me of my own Grandmother who was constantly going through her jewelry and promising various pieces to each of her grandchildren. She promised the same piece to several, and always used it as a power tool. I believe Dwarris's actions, but perhaps not quite the way Maugham stated. I see her leaving it all to Ley simply because Ley was the only one who wasn't swayed by the promise of the inheritance. In other words, she was the only one who was always genuine in her behavior towards Miss Dwarris. As for how Miss Ley is characterized later, I'm having trouble fitting it all together too.

37Tortoise> “ Only the wicked should sin, for experience teaches them moderation, and little hurt befalls. But when the virtuous slip from the narrow path they flounder hopelessly, committing one error after another in the effort to right themselves by the methods of virtue.” You hit a great quote again, and on some level, I saw Miss Ley's point. At least the people playing with the "wicked" know what the rules of the game are. Anyone having an affair with Lady Vizard or Reggie knows what to expect.

Tortoise again>"I was amused to read Maugham using the hackneyed Victorian phrase: “She is no better than she should be” referring to Lady Vizard. This is a phrase which has no meaning if you examine the actual words but which means someone who is morally suspect but who puts on a front, which indeed Lady Vizard does. I have never read this phrase in conjunction with an upper class person before. It is usually used of someone like a scullery maid who has “ got herself into trouble.” " --- And yes again. This is another reason I feel he's trying to a value by class comparison. :)

38 Sholofsky> I wrote my note on Victorian marriage law before I saw your question about Lady Vizard's "victory." Yes, she won big time!!! Since the court didn't find either partner to have broken the marriage contract in a way that had not tacitly been approved by the other, she won. She keeps her title. She keeps access to Lord Vizard's money. She keeps the ability to go around and have affairs. She didn't win the court case by "proving" she had been faithful. She won it by proving fidelity wasn't part of their particular marriage contract. Huge victory. As a historical note, George Henry Lewes continued to support his wife and all of the children his wife had with his business partner because that was what he was legally required to do. Smart business partner. Free family.

sholofsky again> "(the old "some of my best friends are blacks, or Jews, or"...fill-in-the-blank)." Yes, LOL. That is exactly what he's doing.

49sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 20, 2010, 8:39am

#48 Thank you, Cammy, for such an interesting array of opinions. I found your notion that Maugham is commenting on class by making it a non-issue initially perplexing till I tied it in to your own illuminating analysis of the transitional nature of Edwardian class structure. Yes, things are a' changin' here, and while I still feel with Waldstein that Maugham is primarily concerned with character, commentary on a society moving from the group-think of Victorian mores to the slow Edwardian consideration of individuals is inevitable. Clearly, twenty or thirty years earlier, Lady Vizard would have still been cut dead for publically flaunting her infidelities, Mrs. Castillyon would have feared a far greater uproar than from her husband alone, Mary Ley would have been considered in league with the devil, and Basil would have thought twice before toying with a bar maid. I agree with you also (entry #35) that characterization is a major weakness here, though we seem to differ over whether or not Jenny is a fully-rounded character. I still feel she is not, that her selfless love for Basil indicates a sophistication and yearning for cultural advancement with which Maugham just does not endow her. Fortunately, he perfected this element of his craft eventually.

Thanks for expanding your comments on Victorian/Edwardian marriage and divorce procedures. I think you've helped us all grasp Lady Vizard's situation a lot more readily.

Finally, so happy you got what I was saying about "some of my best friends" etc. I was afraid I had been unclear.

BTW I read your review: I'm sorry your copy turned out to be so poor.

50cammykitty
marraskuu 20, 2010, 12:35pm

sholofsky> Thanks! That copy was 45 pages!!! It had the first chapter, then skipped to chapter 5 of Part II. Amazon is selling a kindle of the same for $4... for something that is public domain! That copy is going back to Amazon and I've got a new copy with all the pages now. I'm still perplexed about that "reprint" of The Merry-Go-Round.

51sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 20, 2010, 2:47pm

#50 seems I've read so many similar horror stories, Cammy. Half the single star ratings on Amazon concern lousy copy condition. Glad you're back on track. Caveat emptor is a poor epitaph for W. Somerset. Hope you read them the riot act.

52cammykitty
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 20, 2010, 11:55pm

Sholofsky> Just read your #35 - I was saving it because of the spoiler alert. I agree, especially on Mrs. Castillyon. It doesn't make any sense that a player like her would fall hard for the first man who plays the game the same way she does. He can obviously walk away from her, simply because her tastes are extravagant. That alone is enough to bring her to her knees. Absurd! She should throw him away like a piece of used tissue.

As for Jenny, I can understand her being able to fall for Basil in a pure way yet still be blind to her brother's faults. People have the incredible ability to deny or justify what their loved ones are doing. At first I thought Maugham was doing a good job rounding her character out. However, I'm up to Part II know and feel Maugham hasn't developed her character as fully as necessary. She's a bit spineless, and approaching Mary Janehood as well. We need to know about her relationship with her family and her other inner thoughts to be able to believe in her.

53sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 21, 2010, 1:31am

#52 Cammy, thanks for bringing the Jenny/Basil situation more into focus. I suppose if Maugham allowed Jenny's detestable family any saving grace at all, it would have to be family loyalty...of sorts. It makes sense in that context that Jenny might overlook faults in her brother that she wouldn't in others. If only Maugham had spent more time with her; she could have been such an interesting character--especially for the Edwardian era--if he had given her the least ounce of yearning for personal growth.

#46 Waldstein, thanks for your comments on the evolution of the Frank Hurrel/Miss Ley relationship. At your suggestion I located THE HAPPY COUPLE in vol. 1 of Penguin's COLLECTED STORIES and re-read it. It is unquestionably the revised version with Judge Landon and Maugham as narrator. Of real interest, however, would have been the earlier version you speak of. Were the actual Ley and Hurrel names used, and am I correct in assuming they applied to the companion and doctor accused of poisoning Miss Wingford? If not, did you make the connection from Maugham's own comments? It is fascinating, I agree, watching Maugham in this manner develop as a writer.

54Waldstein
marraskuu 21, 2010, 6:25am

sholofsky,

Yes, the characters were named so: Miss Ley and Frank Hurrell, and they were best friends too. But no, they were not the criminals themselves. As in The Merry-Go-Round, they were the observers. Miss Ley was the one to invent the Edwin-Angelina myth, which seems something impossible for Miss Ley from the novels to do; and Frank Hurrell, whose appearance is very brief, performs the role of the judge: he was the one to recognise ''the happy couple''.

Of all four stories that exist in two versions, The Happy Couple is, I think, the one that shows the greatest difference. It is indeed fascinating. Currently reading A Man of Honour, I am amazed at Maugham's dexterity to switch between prose and drama: Miss Ley and Frank are missing from the play, but there is another character who speaks more or less his words, but he is married to a creature entirely missing from the novel, and so on.

As for the horrible reprints, there is a huge irony here: one of the most careful of all writers seems to enjoy one of the most careless ''publishers''.

55sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 21, 2010, 12:02pm

#54 Waldstein, many thanks. You've piqued my curiosity also--and perhaps that of the others--regarding the storyline of MAN OF HONOUR. Which of the MERRY-GO-ROUND plotlines was used in the play? I spent a half hour surfing the net and couldn't find a single synopsis of MAN OF HONOUR--would be grateful if you could supply one. Thanks again for letting me pick your brain.

56danielx
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 21, 2010, 2:15pm

55> sholofsky, If you are willing to read text of A Man of Honour online (or even print a copy), here are some sites where you can obtain the play, in multiple formats

http://goo.gl/taUaW

http://goo.gl/NI4qT

These are scans of books in US university libraries, and the second may not work out of the US (PS I used the goggle URL shortener -- http://goo.gl/-- for the links, which should work)

In addition, I do see copies at amazon.com
http://goo.gl/C582r

hope this helps

57sholofsky
marraskuu 21, 2010, 4:36pm

#56 Dan, thanks for the info! I'll definitely check it out. Where've you been? We've missed you in the group read. Did you get your copy okay?

58danielx
marraskuu 21, 2010, 5:06pm

yes, indeed, I did get my copy. Since I have been lagging behind you folks, I have been reading yoiur comments judiciously, in order to avoid the spoilers to parts I've not gotten to. I really am enjoying reading people's comments to date.

59Waldstein
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 21, 2010, 5:43pm

My giving a synopsis of the play is already a trifle superfluous, but I'll try it anyway.

But first, few historical remarks from the Bible of all fans of Maugham, the dramatist, Theatrical Companion to Maugham (1955), and the Bible of the Maugham completist, Bibliography of the Works of W. Somerset Maugham.

A Man of Honour, as is well known, is Maugham's first full-length play to be produced. Written in Rome in 1898, revised in 1902 (in London, I presume), it was first presented by the Stage Society at the Imperial Theatra - twice, the evening on February 22, 1903, and the very next morning as a matinee. Apparently, there was but one revival, a year later in the Avenue theatre, which ran for only 28 performances. Then the play seems to have fallen into almost total obscurity; Mander and Mitchenson don't mention any other revivals, and it's a fairly sure guess that there were none since 1955. Interestingly, the play was not staged during Maugham's annus mirabilis (1908), nor in the next few years when he was the most fashionable dramatist of his day; one possible reason is that by that time Maugham was famous mostly for his social comedies and a tragedy was probably not the most suitable play to be produced.

The publication history is complicated. The first edition was published by Chapman and Hall on February 22, 1903, and was a very small one: 150 copies; today Maugham collectors would easily kill a man for a copy; the bidding usually starts at about 1000 dollars and finishes at about 2000. Next month, March 1903, the play was also published as a suppplement to Fortnightly Review (this, if I am not mistaken, is one of the PDFs given by Daniel above).

It seems that the play was published only two times later: 1911 by Heinemann and 1912 by Dramatic Company (Chicago). The latter is, I believe, the second PDF from above. I have not compared both files, but as far as I know the only difference is a small change in the finale which Maugham made for the revival in 1904 in response to some criticisms.

Now the plot in a nutshell, as requested by sholofsky, but first:

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
(the Jenny-Basil subplot is completely revealed)


ACT I: Sitting-room of Basil's lodgings in Bloomsbury

The play starts with Basil expecting Jenny whom he had already decided to marry. Instead, his beloved Hilda pays him a visit, together her sister Mabel who is married to one John Halliwell (equivalent of Frank and Miss Ley). After some delicious banter, the women clear off and then there is a highly dramatic scene which is almost verbatim reproduced in the novel: Basil tells John he's going to marry an ex-barmaid; his friend tries to persuade him not to make such a mistake, but he fails. Finally, Jenny and her brother James come (her mother is missing entirely in the play). After a short scene, John and James depart and there is a very short love episode from which is clear that Jenny worships Basil

ACT II: The Drawing-Room of Basil's house in Putney: One year later

The act opens with a scene between Jenny and James. It's obvious that the marriage isn't going well and that there is good deal of bad blood between Jimmy and Basil. The latter comes and is distinctly annoyed to find the avaricious brother in his home. James leaves and there is a rather dramatic scene between Jenny and Basil (as in the novel). Suddenly John turns up and doesn't fail to notice Jenny's distress. Basil is as urbane as ever, and while he changes for going out, there is one touching conversation between Jenny and John, again very similar to the one in the novel when Jenny visited Frank. Both men leave, Jenny follows them.

ACT III: The Drawing-Room of Mrs Murray's House, Mayfair: The Same Afternoon

Hilda and her sister Mabel entertain one Robert Brackley, officially a poet but really a scoundrel fond of scandals. He is the equivalent of Farley in the novel for he is keen on marrying Hilda. John and Basil come and there is an amiable quintet for some time. Finally Hilda and Basil remain alone and again there is an almost verbatim repetition of the novel, only it's more dramatic here: they confess openly their love, Jenny comes and makes the scene positively explosive, finally she remains with her husband in what is probably the most intense episode in the play. Basil is touched by Jenny's misery but makes no bones that he never loved her and is now leaving her. Hilda's note comes, as in the novel save for the name of her putative future husband, and finally Basil leaves her wife utterly desperate.

ACT IV Same as Act II: The Next Morning

The act opens with a scene between Basil and John. Jenny is already dead, she had killed herself as in the novel. When Basil tells him, John is a bit shocked but tries to console his friend who is striken with guilt. James is announced and Basil vanishes, leaving John to deal with the rogue. Then there is this terrific scene (almost verbatim in the novel) in which John bribes James not to open his mouth on the inquest, only he does so not with Miss Ley's but with his own 150 pounds. James leaves, Basil comes back and makes a great speech how he feels free after Jenny's death. He also reveals that he had written to Hilda and waits for her any minute now. He gets excited when he hears that somebody is comming but then his maid announces the Coroner's officer.

THE END

In the alternative ending (1904) there is a little change in the finale (there may be other changes I am not aware of). Hilda comes as expected and then is the Coroner's officer announced. As it seems the happy ending in the novel was developed especially for it.

The two characters I didn't mention so far are Basil's maid at Putney, Fanny, and his landlady in the beginning, Mrs Griggs. The latter is quite a character; when Basil tells her that he'd like to free the rooms, her reply is memorable:

(With a sigh of resignation.) Ah, well, sir, that's lodgers all over. If they're gents, they get married; and if they're ladies they ain't respectable.

60Waldstein
marraskuu 21, 2010, 5:48pm

To finish with A Man of Honour, we might speculate that it was more important for Maugham than it might at first glance seem. According to his own account in The Summing Up, he noticed at rehearsals that some of the banter in the first act amuses the audience and thought he might try his hand at comedies. So in the next year or two he wrote Loaves and Fishes and Lady Frederick. The former never became popular, but the latter, after several years of obscurity, finally became a huge succcess in 1907 and thus started Maugham's fame as a dramatist.

61sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 22, 2010, 12:51am

#59, 60 Waldstein, many thanks again for your comprehensive and obviously time-consuming responses to my queries. Your efforts are much appreciated. I hadn't realized MAN OF HONOUR had such a brief run. I can see now why Maugham felt justified in recycling in novel form a plotline with which the public was still largely unfamiliar. Thanks to danielx' info, I've started reading the play. I've gotten to the second act and can see what you mean by "banter" in the first--one would almost call it Noel Cowardish if one didn't realize how indebted Coward must be to Maugham!

62Waldstein
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 22, 2010, 4:18am

sholofsky,

In case you're reading the PDF of the Chicago edition, it might amuse you to know that it is very one reprinted by Nabu press, with the blurred page 139.

Now I think I can safely order the other one as well and compare them at leisure. The 60-pages version seems to be complete and I bet it is the one reprinted in the 58-pages version of Nabu press.

Thanks a lot, Daniel, for reminding me of that online source. I had stumbled across it some time ago but had forgotten it completely since then. It makes me sorry that I am so old fashioned and can't read more than a few pages on a monitor.

63sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 22, 2010, 1:34am

#62 Waldstein, I'm sure you wouldn't have any interest at all in the copy I'm reading. I got it going to the first site Daniel mentioned downloading "full text." It is in typescript and has apparently been copied from some original using one of those awful computer scanning machines. That means, as often as not, the stage directions fade off into gibberish. Remarkably, however, the dialogue itself remains uncorrupted, so I've been able to read it. I think I'll try the other site Daniel suggested or use the PDF option you mentioned when I return to it. Another question: what's with that preface with all the Greek allusions? Did Maugham mean that to be read to the audience or was that simply for the edification of the cast and crew? I think s4sando would call it pretty pretentious, and I would have to agree. I have to confess to skipping it.

64Waldstein
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 22, 2010, 2:40am

Pity about the stage directions. They are often so telling that one can easily see and hear the whole scene in his mind, with every nuance in the voices, furtive glances,nervous movements, etc.

The ''General Preface'' is a mystery to me too. It surely is the dullest preface Maugham ever wrote, or quoted in this case for it seems to have been taken entirely from Herodotus. I agree it is pretentious; worse still, I can't really see its relevance to the play. Why Maugham should have thought it necessary to include such thing in a publication edition as late as 1911 is perfectly beyond me.

PS You've given an example of a most useful skipping. :-)

PPS The epigraph from Eckermann's ''Conversations with Goethe'' is equally enigmatic.

65suaby
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 22, 2010, 8:12pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

66cammykitty
marraskuu 22, 2010, 10:29pm

s4sando - I'm about where you are too, just a bit into part II. I'm also losing interest , mainly because the characterization isn't enough to keep me going. Sigh. After all, I can tell this is all going to end in tragedy, with a small t. That's what happens when people make stupid decisions about marriage.

67sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 22, 2010, 10:47pm

#65 s4sando, I for one would be really sorry to lose your helpful and insightful contributions to the group. I know the middle section of the book gets bogged down somewhat, but Waldstein and I both feel that it picks up in about 30 or 40 pages from where you are and Maugham really starts to come into his own as the sort of writer that drew most of us to him in the first place. May I suggest what I do when I develop "reader's block" dealing with any book I really want to finish but can't: I usually set a daily goal--sometimes as little as four pages a day--and follow that to completion. I know it sounds simplistic and it doesn't work for everyone, but give it a try. Even if you do give up on the book, however, don't give up on us--if you ever want to comment on what you've read so far, you know we'd all be interested. So, don't be a stranger, okay?

#66 Cammy, I just saw your message. Et tu, Brute? Well, I guess my message to s4sando applies universally: you would both be a big loss to the group, and I personally hope you guys (and girls) can soldier on.

68suaby
marraskuu 23, 2010, 6:51am

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

69sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 23, 2010, 8:52am

#69 Happy to hear that, S4. You and all the other contributors have enriched my reading experience enormously and I hope everyone comes to feel that way if they don't already. BTW Mark Twain was no great fan of the MOHICANS, either; if you haven't read it already, I recommend his attack on Cooper and THE LEATHERSTOCKING series--it's hilarious. You can probably Google it. Thanks again for sticking it out.

70danielx
marraskuu 23, 2010, 10:46pm

I too shall continue to read. I'm sorry not to have contributed to the discussion (due to work- related busy-ness). However, I am enjoying the comments and analyses others have written. I might feel a touch guilty for benefitting from your work and insight, but I guess my contribution came from the initial idea of reading and discussing the book.

71danielx
marraskuu 23, 2010, 10:50pm

Mark Twain, on James Fennimore Cooper's Literary Offenses

http://www.pbs.org/marktwain/learnmore/writings_fenimore.html

72sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 24, 2010, 12:01am

No need for you, Dan, or anyone to feel guilty about contributions, reading progress, or slowness thereof. I said we've all made MERRY-GO-ROUND a gift that keeps on giving, but I think Maugham gave us an even better metaphor simply in his title: like the titular amusement, it will always be there going round, and we may get on, get off, and get on again as much and whenever we please. Sorry, I tend to wax poetic.

BTW Thanks, Dan, as always, for supplying the right site at the right time. I'm sure S4sando will get a kick out of it.

73cammykitty
marraskuu 24, 2010, 10:33pm

I have just under 100 pages left. I'm a little surprised to see Mrs. Castillyon develop something that looks a bit like a social consciousness. Perhaps Maugham did try to many characters, because I feel he's finally added some depth to her that makes her interesting and at this point of the novel, convincing.

I'm still don't believe that a woman as she was described in the beginning of the book would have put up with Reggie for longer than one or two assignations. When we were first introduced to her, she seemed a confident coquette much like Lady Vizard. If we had seen her as a wannabe coquette who had never strayed and secretly worried her beauty had already faded from age, I might have been a happier reader.

74sholofsky
marraskuu 25, 2010, 12:05am

#73 I have to agree, Cammy, I think of all those who blossom spiritually as the book concludes (Bella's father, Paul Castillyon, Reggie and his mother) Mrs. Castillyon's development is the most effective because it is the most unexpected and pulls the most characters up in its sweep (her husband and the gamekeeper's family). The only drawback, as we've discussed, is that it all seems a surprise to Maugham, as well, because of his failure to both prepare the reader or Mrs. Castillyon's inner workings for such a development. Still, as implausible as her transformation is, Maugham still manages to generate a real sense of poignancy surrounding it and, as you say, add needed depth to a formerly shallow character. I hope I've spoken generally enough not to require spoiler warnings.

75cammykitty
marraskuu 25, 2010, 5:18pm

74> Yes, I think your comments are general enough not to need a spoiler warning.

I've finished the book now and am not sure what to think. SPOILER WARNINGS: I haven't gone back and read the book wrap up comments from the rest of you yet. I want to risk blathering about my first reactions first. First reaction was to smack Basil around. It's not like I didn't know what was coming. It's all foreshadowed the minute he sighs to himself and proposes to Jenny, and she says that she would have killed herself if he hadn't married her. As incompletely drawn as Jenny was, I still had the modern reaction of wanting to force the couple to quit sniping at each other and talk. See a marriage counselor for #$'s sake! What Maugham did, though, was more realistic for the time and perhaps even for our time. Jenny became a shrew like her mother because she and Basil couldn't communicate. Basil became less communicative. We spiral down from there.

I began having more appreciation for the book after I closed it and started thinking of all the comparisons that are deliberately offered up to the reader: Basil who marries beneath himself and Reggie who also does, but oddly marries up too. Bella's beautiful mourning vs Basil's catastrophic emotional upheaval. The two suicides. Hurrell's atheism and Lady Vizard's ironically timed conversion. Hmmmm... & then I began thinking about various marriages I've watched from the sidelines. Sadly, much of the breakdowns Maugham showed are similar to things I've seen.

As for the Basil & Frank are gay theory... Miss Ley must be Frank's decoy girlfriend. ;) What does that say about our era that some people feel the need to create gay subtexts in everything? Can't two guys be supportive of each other without it being sexual in nature?

As I said, I still haven't had enough thinking time to do a proper wrap up for M-g-R, but saying that in itself is a compliment to Maugham. Many books don't require a lot of thought processing time.

76suaby
marraskuu 27, 2010, 7:50pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

77sholofsky
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 28, 2010, 12:55am

#75, thanks for an interesting initial summation, Cammy. You have shot the opening salvo in something that could occupy the group for quite awhile: the psycho-sexual underpinnings of the book. Sexually, Maugham at this point in his life (late twenties) must have been a maelstrom inside: hetero urges competing with homo, with the criminal penalties for his gay activities causing greater stress, the social ruin of Oscar Wilde still so fresh on every gay person's mind. The amazing thing is that Maugham managed to write such a tranquil book (not to mention his frothy plays) simultaneously. That notwthstanding, as Cammy has indicated, there's a lot of undercurrent going on here. I personally don't see a Frank/Basil gay connection, either: Basil is just too straight. Where I see Maugham really outpicturing his inner turmoil is in the strange Frank Hurrell/Miss Ley relationship--or, rather, non-relationship. Consciously and/or subconsciously, Maugham intentionally nixes any romance here with a 30 year age difference. Why? I feel the only answer is that together they are intended to be a single person: Maugham himself. Whether indoctrinated in his view by society or psyche, Maugham, the bi-sexual, is here expressing the dilemma of his identity: the feminine side, Miss Ley, denied total expression because of his masculinity; and the masculine side, Frank Hurrel, denied full expression because of his feminine inclinations. What confirmed me in this theory was the interesting information Waldstein provided (entries #46, 53, and 54) regarding the evolution of the Hurell/Ley characters in the context of a single short story which eventually became THE HAPPY COUPLE. In the earlier version of the story Hurrell and Ley are themselves, joint narrators of the tale; in the revised version published decades later they have become a single person, Maugham himself. By my yardstick, it is a clear indication of the resolution that finally came to Maugham sexually with his decades long relationship with Gerald Haxton, his "companion/secretary", and the upper hand ultimately awarded his homosexual side. (Correct me if I'm wrong, Waldstein, but I seem to recall reading that toward the end, Maugham feared hell because of the fact his homosexuality eventually outweighed heterosexuality in the course of his life.) Looking forward to your opinions.

#76 s4sando, glad you enjoyed the Mark Twain piece.

78cammykitty
marraskuu 27, 2010, 10:44pm

sholofsky> I can see that reading of it. Both Ley and Hurrell are as close to single by choice and non-sexual in the M-g-R. They have a very comfortable relationship that reminds me of many gay men + straight women friendships I've seen.

As for them being two sides of Maugham himself, I can see that too. Hurrell feels like an author thinking character, especially with his complex views towards religion. Ley, to me anyway, wasn't as intimate a character. She was more the mouthpiece for sharp witticisms and social commentaries. If you look at the novel structurally though, she was the glue, the character that tied all the various characters and plot threads together. That role is one that would typically be taken by an author stand-in.

79sholofsky
marraskuu 27, 2010, 11:20pm

#78 Yes, Cammy, and I think you hit the nail on the head of another major weakness in the book that I haven't put into words before, or even considered. Miss Ley was definitely intended, as you say, to be "the glue, the character that tied all the various characters and plot threads together". In Maugham's merry-go-round metaphor she needed to be the strongest character, the most visceral, the most plausible, the central pillar that holds the platform on which all the horses are permitted to prance. Yet he winds up making her the least of all these things and, in our mutual analysis--whether mere mouthpiece or psychological puppet--not a real character at all. It is for this reason I felt the Bella/Herbert sublot flew off from the whole--the glue was not strong enough to hold it in place or, for our purposes, in context. All in all, however, I have to agree with your assessment--not every book makes you think: this does, and says a lot about Maugham, the craftsman who is and who is to come.

80sholofsky
marraskuu 27, 2010, 11:20pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

81suaby
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 1, 2010, 8:55am

Finally finished M-g-R today. Glad to be done with it and my thoughts on finishing are that it is definitely a product of its time (1905) written for the reading public of its time. Class is a bigger theme than I thought at the beginning--even bigger than consciousness of rectitude and misaliances---the two I thought most important at the beginning. The end of the novel was decisive. Upper class=happily ever after, lower class=eliminated (killed off)--- in the way. Not much surprise here. Money decisive. It silences those who may be unpleasant and allows trips to Spain and India for the fortunate who need to recover from rather disappointing events. Key character, Miss Ley, pretty much lost in the shuffle although still present to provide money and advice for those who need it. The squire still holds power. The fallen society lady is rehabilitated. Roses: appear on the grave of Jenny and in the hand of Miss Lay. Beauty, triumphant.

82cammykitty
marraskuu 30, 2010, 5:21pm

s4sando> Miss Ley talking about beauty in the end didn't work for me either. Your two word summary, "Beauty, triumphant" dismisses it more cynically than I think Maugham intended.

83sholofsky
marraskuu 30, 2010, 6:07pm

# 81 Nice summation, s4sando. Glad you stayed with it. I agree, despite the book's other virtues, regrettably, not much hope or sympathy here for the lower classes.

84cammykitty
marraskuu 30, 2010, 6:09pm

unless you're a consumptive poet.

85sholofsky
marraskuu 30, 2010, 6:23pm

Yeah, Cammy, but then Maugham's only concession is that you can die a natural death; you don't have to jump in front of a train or off a bridge.

86cammykitty
marraskuu 30, 2010, 10:16pm

LOL, and you get to travel first, but you won't enjoy it.

87suaby
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 1, 2010, 10:58am

Thanks for the feedback. I'll admit I was more cynical about this novel than I usually am with novels of this sort---probably in a cynical mood right now. I usually enjoy "funky" renditions of Edwardian goings-on (see the works of Marie Corelli but this time particular scenes in this novel just struck me as irritating e.g. plights of love between Basil and Mrs. Murray. Anyway, I'm glad I finished the novel. Definitely not one of Maugham's best.

88cammykitty
joulukuu 1, 2010, 4:28pm

s4sando> I have to agree. I'm glad I finished it, but it was flawed, and sometimes irritating. Characters can only do stupid things for the wrong reasons so many times...

89sholofsky
joulukuu 1, 2010, 6:39pm

What irritates me in so many books from this time and before is that it always seems to come as a surprise to all these humping couples that eventually they'll be confronted with a bun in the oven. I know what Cammy means about wanting to slap Basil around--when Jenny first shows up in tears and Basil goes through his whole "But, darling, what's wrong?" routine when any half-wit could tell what's wrong from two miles off, Basil sure looked like prime punching bag material to me.

90cammykitty
joulukuu 1, 2010, 10:07pm

sholofsky, you said it! You can't tell me men didn't understand where babies came from during the Edwardian period.

91TheTortoise
joulukuu 2, 2010, 3:28pm

I have to agree that this is a flawed book with stock situations that are sometimes unbelievable. However, I do detect the underlying strengths of Maugham's literary excellence for which we love him.

The book is full of great observations some of which I have shared earlier. There were lot's of literary and Biblical allusions that gave it some depth of meaning. Overall, I am really pleased to have read this book and thank whoever suggested it for a group read. I always enjoy reading Maugham and am prepared to overlook any perceived faults because he is so delightful an author.

I look forward to reading another book I haven't yet read of Maugham's.

- TT

92sholofsky
joulukuu 2, 2010, 10:06pm

#91 Tortoise, good to hear from you again. Your thanks go to danielx for the inspired idea to turn this book that many of us were unfamaliar with into a group read. It's really worked out well, I think. Your summation nicely capsulates the feelings of most of us, I think, that of a great writer using this book to iron out the wrinkles in his writing style and plot construction. I would say--and I would not have said this before our read--that MERRY-GO-ROUND is an invaluable tool for any student of Maugham and his development as a writer.

93danielx
joulukuu 2, 2010, 10:10pm

ah, you're too kind sholofsky. You folks did all the "work" of analysis, and I have benefitted immensely; so I'm in your debt.

so now what shall we read...

94cammykitty
joulukuu 2, 2010, 10:18pm

I've got an unread copy of Cakes and Ale but would be happy to read anything the group suggests. The group read experience has been a good one and I trust you guys.

95sholofsky
joulukuu 2, 2010, 11:13pm

The trust is mutual, Cammy. CAKES AND ALE would make a great read (I don't know about the others but I read it so long ago--well, let's just say it's like someone else read it). I had thought of joining a JANE EYRE group read, but that thread is going nowhere (though, happily, the book is great). Let's face it, you people have spoiled me for group reads, you've set the bar so high. Be happy to join you on another Maugham. If there's any problem with CAKES AND ALE, another interesting read might be Maugham's Ashenden stories based on his espionage experience--but that would do just as well for our third project.

96suaby
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 3, 2010, 8:51am

Thanks for your summary of M-g-R, Tortoise. Of course, you and I came out of the novel with a different experience but that is why group reads are so interesting to me. It's great to find out how other people experience a literary work and how widely those experiences can differ. And how mood can affect personal opinion. I have gone through a rather cynical phase recently and I think my cynical attitude toward M-g-R had an impact on my opinion of that work.
I am excited that danielx suggests another group read! I'm game. Cakes and Ale would be great as would Ashenden. One of my face-to-face groups has Ashenden in the queue to read in the spring of next year but that should not affect the decision of this group. I could read either. Cakes and Ale, after all is my favorite major work of Maugham.

97danielx
joulukuu 3, 2010, 10:15am

I would gladly go with the Ashenden stories (which I've never read in totality) or Cakes and Ale (which I read long ago, and poorly recall).

98sholofsky
joulukuu 4, 2010, 1:34am

If everyone agrees, my idea would be to put book selection to a vote among our group's active members (cammykitty, danielx, s4sando, myself, thetortoise, and Waldstein; urania1, who posted early in the read, might be iffy; she messaged me a while ago that she was deeply involved in two of her blogs, but that she intended to post again). I hope I haven't missed anybody. Cammy voted for CAKES AND ALE and I'll go along with that. The voting booth is open--unless somebody has a different plan.

99TheTortoise
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 4, 2010, 5:02am

I'm in for Cakes and Ale. Read it about ten years ago, so it is due for another read. It is only 160 pages long in my edition so it is half as long as M-G-R.

P.S. Thank you to Danielx for M-G-R, which I wouldn't otherwise have thought of reading.

I am happy to read or re-read anything by Maugham.
He is my inspiration in my own writing.

- TT

100suaby
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 4, 2010, 8:59am

I am casting my vote (this makes five "yea's) for Cakes and Ale. As I mentioned before, C&A is my all time favorite Maugham novel. So we now need to hear from Waldstein and Urainia1---and please! from any or all of the other 44 members who have signed on to this group but who remain curiously silent.

101sholofsky
joulukuu 4, 2010, 9:23am

Yes, all newcomers welcome--now's the chance to be heard.

102Waldstein
joulukuu 4, 2010, 9:43am

I pass.

103sholofsky
joulukuu 4, 2010, 10:12am

#102 I, for one, think the group read would be impoverished without you, Waldstein. I would certainly miss your encyclopedic knowledge of Maugham. I don't think any of us wants you to feel bulldozed selection-wise, so if you have an alternative candidate please feel free to express it.

104Waldstein
joulukuu 4, 2010, 11:50am

You must be an exception, sholofsky.

No, I don't have any alternative candidates. I just have too many other things to read right now and too little time to actually do so.

105sholofsky
joulukuu 4, 2010, 12:05pm

#104 I know I speak for the whole group when I say that I regret time constraints will limit your participation. I do hope you'll follow the read and when your schedule permits, continue to comment on items of interest.

106danielx
joulukuu 4, 2010, 3:10pm

Waldstein, I agree with sholfsky, as I am certain do the other active members of the group. Even if you haven't the time/ inclination to reread Cakes and Ale, I hope you would consider posting. your information is invaluable, and your opinion valued. The more I read about Maugham the more I find there is to know, and you can at very least keep us on track factually.

107suaby
joulukuu 4, 2010, 4:05pm

Waldstein, I certainly hope you will continue to give us your ideas on Maugham's work especially Cakes and Ale. It is great to have thoughts from someone who has such a wide knowledge of Maugham and his works-- such knowledge is really rare, in fact. As I am a novice on Maugham, I find your input quiet informative. So keep in touch with what "comes up" on this novel---and let us know your thoughts even if you are not able to read along.

108cammykitty
joulukuu 4, 2010, 7:38pm

waldstein> ditto sholofsky. I've found your posts very interesting and I believe this group wouldn't have worked as well as it did had we not had you to start us off.

109TheTortoise
joulukuu 5, 2010, 8:49am

M104: Waldstein, I do understand time constraints. I haven't posted anything on Librarything for nearly a year because I have a full-time job which takes up 11 hours of my day and I wrote three novels last year ( one of which, The Confession of Sandy Harris, will be published in 2011). I have only writen 30,000 words of my fifth novel this year because I am just too tired and posting on Librarything had to take a low priority. However, I love Maugham and didn't want to pass up the opportunity to read him.

I echo the above comments and hope you can pop in from time-to-time (time permitting!)

- TT

110cammykitty
joulukuu 5, 2010, 4:26pm

Tortoise> Congrats on getting all the writing done. I'll confess, I use librarything to avoid writing.

111suaby
joulukuu 5, 2010, 9:50pm

Tortoise,
It's great to know a published writer. I certainly admire your determination to write and hold down a full time job at the same time. I don't doubt that you are tired. Thanks for hanging in there with the Maugham read.

112suaby
joulukuu 5, 2010, 9:53pm

Is there a time-frame on Cakes and Ale? When should we begin?

113sholofsky
joulukuu 5, 2010, 10:05pm

#112 Why don't we do a copy status check first and see if there's anyone who needs to wait? I have my copy and I think Cammy indicated she has hers. Anyone without a copy?

114TheTortoise
joulukuu 7, 2010, 1:18pm

I have read the first chapter already! Ready for comments yet! :)

- TT

115danielx
joulukuu 7, 2010, 3:07pm

Don't let me hold things up. I do have a copy, but won't be doing much reading before the weekend.

116cammykitty
joulukuu 7, 2010, 4:01pm

Wow!!! You guys are ready to rock. Do we want to start reading right away, or do we want to wait until after the holidays?

117suaby
joulukuu 7, 2010, 6:22pm

cammykitty and all,
Sounds like the Holiday Season and all the time it seems to scarf up may affect our schedule to begin our group read. I'm O.K. to begin whenever but really, really want as many people "on board" with this as possible since Cakes and Ale is such a fascinating novel! Let's share our thoughts on how everyone feels about a beginning time.

118urania1
joulukuu 7, 2010, 6:24pm

Count me in for Cakes and Ale, but I would prefer that the cakes be chocolate ;-)

119urania1
joulukuu 7, 2010, 6:28pm

Where starteth the new thread? Waldstein, even if you take a pass on this one, perhaps you could start off the Cakes and Ale thread with some Cakes and Ale estorica for us all.

120danielx
joulukuu 7, 2010, 6:58pm

great idea. I vote for Waldstein to get us going with a general perspective on what we're about to experience.

For the record, I read Cakes and Ale years ago, and remember little of it. I think perhaps I wasn't "ready", but now I am.

121danielx
joulukuu 7, 2010, 6:58pm

great idea. I vote for Waldstein to get us going with a general perspective on what we're about to experience.

For the record, I read Cakes and Ale years ago, and remember little of it. I think perhaps I wasn't "ready", but now I am.

122sholofsky
joulukuu 7, 2010, 7:07pm

#119 Good idea, urania! That's always a good way to start. Good to have you onboard. As for start time, I'm neutral--now or later is fine.

123suaby
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 7, 2010, 7:12pm

Great, Urania1, it's wonderful that you are joining us on this read. (I think the Ale should be Sam Adams because I know him personally!) Yes, indeed. I definitely vote for Waldstein to start us with a perspective on this great novel. What say you Cammykitty and Sholofsky who might find a time constraint here? Let us know your thoughts. And any other souls out there---please join us.

124suaby
joulukuu 7, 2010, 7:12pm

Sholofsky---we were posting at the same time so didn't see you thoughts until now. So Cammykitty?

125cammykitty
joulukuu 7, 2010, 7:20pm

I don't have a strong opinion either way. There's pros & cons for either. One, we've got a good group and some momentum going. That would say we forge ahead. Two, if we wait, we could perhaps do some recruiting from the snobs & what are you reading people.

If we think we want to keep this group going for awhile, we might want to think about setting up a schedule posted on our group page. We could alternate short stories with novels. That would be 6 of each in a year. I'm just thinking ahead.

126urania1
joulukuu 7, 2010, 8:16pm

Okay chocolate cakes and Sam Adams Ale. For what it's worth, I think we could start the week between Christmas and the New Year without giving up momentum now. We might consider doing the following: having separate threads by chapters to avoid urania spoilers. I read the novel years ago.

127cammykitty
joulukuu 7, 2010, 8:25pm

urania, that sounds like a plan.

128suaby
joulukuu 7, 2010, 8:54pm

Urania1, your plan gets my vote. So those who wish to can read ahead and be ready to post which will begin the week between Christmas and New Year. I really like the idea of separate threads for each chapter---brilliant, in fact. What do you others think? I am a rather slow reader and tend to panic if I feel I am lagging too far behind everyone else. With chapter threads I can wend my way at my own plodding speed and those who read faster would hopefully backtrack to provide their thoughts.
Bravo, Urania1 for coming up with this idea!
Just want to add that I am going to be out of town during that week with no computer access but that should not affect the group beginning at that time. I'll catch up.

129urania1
joulukuu 7, 2010, 8:55pm

Someone needs to find Waldstein. Do we need to send out St. Bernard search parties with little kegs of "medicinal" hot chocolate?

130sholofsky
joulukuu 7, 2010, 10:01pm

All of urania's ideas sound like winners. I was going to message Waldstein--I guess I'll ask him to help us set up the thread between now and Christmas, if no one objects to that time-frame.

131danielx
joulukuu 7, 2010, 11:24pm

great ideas, everyone. I will supply the Sam Adams, you folks supply the deep insight, and by general acclamation, Waldstein gets us started

132urania1
joulukuu 7, 2010, 11:54pm

Hip hip hurrah for Waldstein!!!