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Seventeen Lost Stories (1969)

– tekijä: W. Somerset Maugham, W. Somerset Maugham

Muut tekijät: Craig V. Showalter (Compiler), Graig Showalter (Johdanto)

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W. Somerset Maugham

Seventeen Lost Stories

Doubleday, Hardback, 1969.

8vo. x+273 pp. Selected and with an Introduction by Craig Showalter.

First published thus, 1969.

Contents

The Punctiliousness of Don Sebastian (1898)
A Bad Example (1899)
De Amicitia (1899)
Faith (1899)
The Choice of Amyntas (1899)
Daisy (1899)
Cupid and the Vicar of Swale (1900)
Lady Habart (1900)
Pro Patria (1903)
A Point of Law (1903)
An Irish Gentleman (1904)
Flirtation (1906)
The Fortunate Painter (1906)
A Marriage of Convenience* (1906)
Good Manners (1907)
Cousin Amy** (1908)
The Happy Couple*** (1908)

*Later significantly rewritten and published as part of the travel book The Gentleman in the Parlour (1930).

**Later significantly rewritten and published under the title “The Luncheon” in the short story collection Cosmopolitans (1936).

***Later significantly rewritten and published under the same title in the short story collection Creatures of Circumstance (1947).

All three re-written versions were later included in The Complete Short Stories, Heinemann, 3 vols., 1951.

===================================================

I think we should be grateful to the eminent Caxtonian Craig Showalter for making these seventeen short stories by Somerset Maugham available to everybody who wants to read them, although the author, had he been alive today or in 1969 when this book was first published, would surely have disapproved strongly. I wish only that Mr. Showalter had given us more details, in his otherwise fine preface, about the three stories that were re-written later and published in various books. All other 14 short stories – and the original variants of the three aforementioned, for that matter – were never published in Maugham's lifetime, except in the years before the First World War.

In fact, none of these stories has ever been lost at all; they all appeared in various magazines and some even in book form: the first six comprise Maugham’s first ever published short story collection, Orientations (1899). Still, the title is not altogether misleading since by 1969, when Seventeen Lost Stories was first published if I may remind you, none of these charming pieces had appeared in print for some 60 years and they were accessible only to collectors. Now everybody with modest income could – and still can, second-hand – obtain and enjoy them. And there is a lot to enjoy here.

After 1908, Maugham apparently did not write a single short story for more than 10 years; until 1920 when, inspired by his South Sea travels, he created some of his finest works in this genre, including “Rain” and “The Fall of the Edward Barnard”, later published in the collection The Trembling of a Leaf (1921). This was the beginning of a series of brilliant volumes in the next 26 years – until his last one, Creatures of Circumstance (1947) – that established Somerset Maugham as one the greatest masters the short story has ever seen. Finally, in 1951, the definitive three volume set The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham was published. It contains 91 pieces and even the worst of them are quite readable and even enjoyable; the best ones are surely among the best ever written in English language. But none of his early short stories, written before 1920, was reprinted in these three volumes, nor anywhere else until Maugham was alive (except the three he re-wrote, of course). It was his decision and he was adamant about it.

Maugham’s detestation of his early works is famous, almost notorious actually, and his early short stories are no exception. In his prefaces to later collections, he was severely critical to himself and his early attempts in the genre, dismissing them as too immature to be reprinted. The preface he wrote in 1935 for the reprinting of The Trembling of a Leaf in the Collected Edition of his works is a very good example; Maugham mentions that he had read Orientations the other day and the stories had sent so many chills down his spine that he had thought the malaria had got him again. He admits that these stories seem to show some promise here and there but they have many “preposterously unreal” moments and on the whole are rather supercilious, something which he ascribes to the ignorance of his youth.

Maugham had the same scathing attitude to almost all of his early works, and only very few of them did he approve for reprinting in The Collected Edition. Yet no reader is obliged to agree with any opinion, positive or negative, of a work of art, even if this opinion comes from the very creator of the work in question.

While I do disagree with Maugham about the value of his early works, these short stories in particular, I cannot but admit that they are not on par with his later masterpieces. Still, they are very readable and make a very pleasant reading. They explore the very same themes, albeit in a somewhat crude way, that Maugham was concerned with all his life and career: faith, religion and God; the war between the sexes; the value of art; the impact of society on the individual, and many more. I guess they can be read even by people who are not great admirers of Somerset Maugham themselves. Indeed, in the best of these seventeen pieces, say, “Lady Habart” or “A Point of Law” for example, Maugham comes close to the best stylistic achievements from his mature years as a short story writer after 1920.

But for the real fans of the author, this collection is simply priceless. It gives a compelling glimpse of the writer’s development, of the searching his mature style and his struggling to create real, alive, believable characters. The most fascinating opportunity to do this is, of course, comparing the three of these early short stories that Maugham re-wrote later and thus approved for publication. So “A Marriage of Convenience” (1906), “Cousin Amy” (1908) and “The Happy Couple” (1908) were later published in revised form in three different books: the travel book The Gentleman in the Parlour (1930), and the short story collections Cosmopolitans (1936) and Creatures of Circumstance (1947), respectively.

It might seem strange that Maugham, who sometimes was apt to describe his early efforts as “lousy”, should turn to them again after many years. But a direct comparison between the two versions of each story can significantly clarify the issue. The later versions are much better in any aspect. De facto Maugham preserved little more than the main plot of the stories, changing the whole of their character. This is especially evident in “A Marriage of Convenience” which is virtually a separate story. Although to a lesser extent, the other two stories changed a lot, mainly due to Maugham’s mature style which could always tell so much in so few words. So “Cousin Amy” became much funnier, almost hilarious actually, and “The Happy Couple” became deeper and more dramatic. No wonder that the author approved of their place in The Complete Short Stories.

Reflections on Re-reading [July 2019]

Reading your old reviews can be cruel. I know reading mine is. That repetitious, turgid and barely readable mess above, which I have reluctantly left unrevised, is not even a review. It tells next to nothing about the stories themselves. That’s why I propose to discuss them one by one below. This is not my usual method of reviewing, but in this case I feel it is justified. Special attention will be paid to the three stories which Maugham re-wrote (not revised) and published much later as well as other such biographical and bibliographical connections. Spoilers will be avoided as much as possible. All years, unless otherwise noted, refer to the first publication in book form.

Before that, however, a word about that “lousy” above which I left unsourced. This is how, apparently, Maugham called the early version of “The Happy Couple”. The story comes from Raymond Toole Stott who quotes an unspecified book by Karl Pfeiffer, probably his “Candid Portrait” from 1959. If Mr Pfeiffer is to be believed, it was he who unearthed the early version of “The Happy Couple” and informed Maugham about it who dismissed the matter with “I can’t remember the story at all, am sure it’s lousy, why waste your time?” Mr Pfeiffer nevertheless sent him a photocopy. Maugham was surprised the story hadn’t aged more and thought he would make something of it. Fact or fiction? We shall never know[1].

“The Punctiliousness of Don Sebastian” is one of those studies of human perversity typical of Maugham’s Spanish stories, for example “The Mother” (1947) and “The Point of Honour” (1947)[2]. Our narrator is detained in Xiormonez, “the most inaccessible place in Spain” (no doubt: it’s fictional), and while planning to see some valuable relics like the eyebrows of Joseph of Arimathea or the local cathedral “of the greatest quaintness”, he is unexpectedly offered something better. He obtains for fifty pesetas an old manuscript with the story of Doña Sodina and Don Sebastian. It is the typical story of adultery and revenge that could be invented only by people who enjoy bullfighting. But that’s just my opinion. Maugham, as I have said elsewhere, adored Spain all his life. No wonder his first story was with Spanish setting and flavour.

“A Bad Example” is a brutally amusing, or amusingly brutal, piece of social criticism. It is the story of James Clinton, a typical Englishman: a clerk in the city despising country folk, chauvinistically convinced in the greatness of Great Britain and despising all foreigners, follower of the Church of England if not believer in it, leading a life of uncommonly dull drudgery and happy with it. Until one day he is summoned to serve on a jury at a coroner’s inquest. Only three cases, all of them simple, the coroner says. They are a child of two, a woman of twenty and a man of seventy, all dead from starvation. The experience is a profound shock to Mr Clinton, especially when he is casually told that “on a ‘eavy day we’ll ‘ave ‘alf a dozen” such cases. He experiences the white light of revelation and becomes a zealous follower of Jesus determined to give everything to the poor. Naturally, this leads to his being sacked and, with the generous help of his wife, institutionalised.

Maugham used the same idea thirty-three years later in Sheppey (1932), his last work for the stage. The story and the play make for a fascinating comparison. Neither is really successful as a satire for the simple reason that following literally the words of Jesus obviously makes no sense. (Cf. Huxley’s Savage and his reading Shakespeare in the same way.) No single man, however wealthy, can make the least difference that way. But both works do argue that social inequality is supported by the greed, indifference and hypocrisy of those who have the power to change things.

The story is more straightforward and draws more obviously on Maugham’s life. He made a good use of his medical education in the description of the corpses and of his time in the slums as an obstetrician in describing Mr Clinton’s excursions there. The play is best-known for the surreal last act in which Death visits Sheppey and recounts the famous story of the meeting in Samarra, but the most remarkable thing about it is the large number of alive and ambiguous characters. It is relatively lighter and more amusing than the story, although this is quite debatable. The play has plenty of grim moments and the last act is rather chilling. The story, on the other hand, does end with a hilarious scene in which a “specialist” meets Mr Clinton and gives the uncompromising diagnosis “Post-enteric insanity, you know. Mad as a hatter!” The play improves on that with the daughter’s famous line “Oh God, please make them say he’s potty!” which reportedly cracked the first audience, but the shrink scene itself is only reported onstage.

“De Amicitia” is a cute little farce about a man and a woman who decide to be just friends, without interference of anything so gross as passion. He is Ferdinand White, an English poet. She is Valentia Stewart, a painter from Cincinnati, Ohio. “Thus were united in bonds of amity, Great Britain on the one side and the United States of America and Ireland on the other.” Needless to say, their experiment is a complete failure. The story is a trifle, to be sure, but an amusing one that makes the rather revolutionary for its time point that passion is to be recognised and enjoyed rather than shunned and despised.

“Faith” is the tragic story of Brother Jasper who could not believe. Set in a fictional Spanish monastery (San Lucido) and unspecified time but probably the Golden Age of Spain which was indeed an age of faith, this is a stark and powerful piece which, I suspect, is more than a little autobiographical. “The belief in God is not a matter of common sense, or logic, or argument, but of feeling.” So wrote Maugham in 1894, defiantly explaining his atheism[3]. No doubt he drew on personal experience for Philip’s loss of faith in Of Human Bondage (1915), too. Brother Jasper is an even more striking example that in religion, as in love, trying doesn’t help. Either you believe/love or you don’t. The style is sombre, grave and pregnant with foreboding, a far cry from the light touch in the previous and the next story. The ending is a classic cynical twist. Brother Jasper, who “had not faith to cure the disease of his own mind”, becomes a saint whose relics “cured the diseases of those who had faith in him”.

“The Choice of Amyntas” is a delightfully subversive allegory. The moral, somewhat blatantly hammered in the end, is that there is too much war, wealth and art in this world, but not enough love. There is obviously some truth, more exaggeration and no originality in that statement. More remarkable is Maugham’s savage assault on the British. This is a marked feature of his early stories, though even in them it is seldom that brutal:

The Lady of Riches, too, passed out of Spain. But she was not content with one love, nor with a hundred. She gave her favours to the first comer, and everyone was welcome; she wandered carelessly through the world, but chiefly she loved an island in the north; and in its capital she has her palace, and the inhabitants of the isle have given themselves over, body and soul, to her domination; they pander and lie and cheat, and forswear themselves; to gain her smile they will shrink from no base deed, no meanness; and she, too, makes women widows and children orphans.... But her subjects care not; they are fat and well-content; the goddess smiles on them, and they are the richest in the world.

The story begins, and continues for quite some time, as an ordinary fairy tale. We follow our hero, an English youth with the most un-English Amyntas, in his quest to see the world. He has been thoroughly educated by his father, a great scholar. So he is fluent in Greek and Latin, familiar with Homer, Horace, Aristotle and Tully, and can even read the Bible in the original Hebrew. Maugham writes with great gusto, indulges in all sorts of curiosities like odes to ale and port, and makes witty digs at almost anything. My favourite moment is when Amyntas has to sell his books: “The Bible fetched nothing, but the Aristotle brought him enough to keep him from starvation for a week.” The demolition of religion is continued in the sympathetic figure of the parson. He is a relic from a bygone era “when teetotalism had not ruined the clergy’s nerves, and sanctity was not considered incompatible with a good digestion and common humanity”. Even the shady world of international politics is tackled, a rare thing for Maugham indeed:

...for it was not often that an English ship carried merchandise to Spain. As a rule, the two powers were at daggers drawn; but at this period they had just ceased cutting one another's throats and sinking one another's ships, joining together in fraternal alliance to cut the throats and sink the ships of a rival power, which, till the treaty, had been a faithful and brotherly ally to His Majesty of Great Britain, and which our gracious king had abandoned with unusual dexterity, just as it was preparing to abandon him....

“Daisy” is the last, longest and finest of the six stories that made up Maugham’s first collection. It is a scorching satire of Victorian society. The eponymous heroine elopes with a married man to the consternation of her family and the whole gossipy population of a little fishing village. She is spurned by everybody and left to starve for all they care – until she marries a baronet. Then everybody looks up to her and those who don’t are spurned. Maugham was always merciless with a social lunacy like that. He fashions a masterful story with vivid and complex characters, at once amusing, poignant and even tragic. It is told mostly in sharp dialogue and intensely dramatic scenes, just as befits one of the great playwrights of the future. Daisy appears only briefly in the beginning and the end, yet she is alive, believable and deeply moving. As a curious final note, this is the first work in which Maugham mentioned the name “Blackstable”, a fictional counterpart of Whitstable that would later be used to a great effect in Of Human Bondage and Cakes and Ale (1930).

Taken as a whole, Maugham’s first short story collection is a remarkable achievement for a writer of 25 who has published but two indifferent novels. Clumsy and crude though they are in places, the stories show range and versatility that belie the author’s age and inexperience. The mature Maugham would later improve greatly even on his best efforts here. “Yet they anticipate in so many different ways what was to come that they are of some considerable interest if one is trying to trace the pattern of his development.” So wrote Anthony Curtis in 1974. He continues perceptively:

Social realism, picaresque adventure, fairy-tale, melodrama, satire, these are some of the possible directions in which the author of Orientations might have seemed to be orienting himself. If there was a dominant mood it lay in a sense of enchantment and faith in the spirit of adventure; and if there is a single influence it is one of the books Maugham found on the Vicar’s shelves in Whitstable, The Thousand and One Nights in E. W. Lane’s translation. Total immersion in this work was Maugham’s early baptism as a story-teller. [...] The underlying Islamic sense of the futility of the individual’s attempt to defeat the operation of fate, with all the marvellous unexpected incidents that happen to him in the process, appealed strongly to Maugham’s outlook of life. He recalled the story of the merchant who tries vainly to evade his appointment with death by leaving Baghdad for Samarra in his farewell to the theatre. In the figure of the Departer who tries to change the pattern of fate by leaving one city for another we have the most persistent theme in the whole of Maugham.

However, even Antony Curtis could slip into something perilously close to nonsense when discussing the early stories. It is extremely superficial, to say the least, to say that Amyntas is “the forebear” of Charles Strickland from The Moon and Sixpence (1919) and Charles Battle from The Breadwinner (1930) because all three “abandoned their families in pursuit of quixotic appeal”. (Not true in the case of Amyntas, by the way. He was weaned without ceremony.) It is downright silly to say that “Daisy was to be seen in Blackstable a second time reincarnated as Rosie in Cakes and Ale.”[4]

The other eleven stories are, on the whole, shorter and lighter. They were probably written in some haste for magazine publication and without any thoughts of collecting them in book form one day. Nevertheless, none of them is unreadable or tedious. Some are actually quite good and even brilliant. And three proved a fertile ground for creative rewriting in later years.

“Cupid and the Vicar of Swale” is a very amusing and very deft attack (yet another one!) on the Victorian ideas of society. This time Maugham goes deeper, however. Cutting through the verbiage of hypocrisy and snobbery, he demonstrates the eternal truth that, whatever anyone tells you, it’s all about money. The Vicar of Swale is a gentleman and a man of the world. That’s why the six hundred pounds a year that his position brings him are just not enough. How to get more in a legal and even socially respectable way? Why, by marriage of course! Cupid needn’t be consulted. Surely he would approve of a bride with a most comfortable income?

You can be sure the Vicar is the subject of plenty of good-natured fun, and so is Lady Proudfoot, the chief matchmaker of Swale. But do note that Mrs Strong, the object of the Vicar’s mercenary courtship, is a shrewd and sympathetic woman of the world “with an uncommon sense of humour”. Many men would be only too happy to marry her penniless. Even in his flippant youth, Maugham was not fond of simplistic stories and seldom missed the opportunity for an ironic counterpoint. Swale is a fine place for Mrs Strong to live. She has plenty of fun. Enjoy a few samples of her wit:

“If we have a vicar who wants to have Mothers’ Meetings and Bands of Hope and all that rubbish, I really don’t know what will become of us.”
“Yes,” replied Mrs Strong, with a drawl which might have been sarcastic, “as long as he can play tennis and behave decently at a dinner-party, our souls can take care of themselves.”

“I really don’t see why she shouldn’t marry Mr. Branscombe if she wants to, poor thing,” said Mrs Strong. “She’s a nice quiet girl, and she’d make an admirable wife for a clergyman.”
“My dear Edith,” rejoined Lady Proudfoot, “I think it would be most disagreeable for all of us. You know she’s inclined to be frightfully religious already.”
“Oh, six months of marriage with the vicar would quite cure her of that”


Maugham dealt with a similar subject, among others, in one of his most obscure plays, Loaves and Fishes (written in 1903, first produced in 1911, first published only in 1924), later turned into one of his most obscure novels as The Bishop’s Apron (1906). An amorous curate plays some part in The Hero (1901) as well, but he at least is not a fortune hunter. Making such rather light fun of clergymen is one thing that Maugham abandoned in later years. When he dealt with the clergy then, they were usually missionaries, obnoxious as in “Rain” (1921) or more sympathetic as in “The Vessel of Wrath” (1931), or exceptional figures like the Mother Superior from The Painted Veil (1925) and the Prioress and the Bishop from Catalina (1948), but virtually never funny.

“Lady Habart” is one of Maugham’s masterpieces. This is because the eponymous lady is one of his greatest characters. She is as mercenary and manipulative as she is charming and lovable. Above all, she is a better actress in life than many professionals on the stage. “Oh, I was splendid”, she boasts to her brother (whom she adores, unlike other men whom she merely uses). “If I weren’t going to be married, I’d go on the stage. What a success I should be!” There is every reason to believe this bold self-praise:

She had again lost herself in her part and she was living, not acting. She really felt very miserable and the strain upon her nerves began to tell on her. She could not restrain the real tears that came to her eyes, and she put her handkerchief up, sobbing quietly. It was tremendously effective, and she could not help perceiving it.

This is almost like a dress rehearsal for Julia Lambert, the leading actress in Theatre (1937) and one of Maugham’s finest female characters. Lady Habart, or Dolly for those intimately acquainted with her, is the same seamless mixture of vice and virtue, raising the same thought-provoking issue about life being a stage. Though Maugham delights in exposing her duplicity and has plenty of fun at her expense, he was quite obviously in love with her. So will you be after reading this story.

“Pro Patria” is a political story, ergo one of my least favourite. Maugham was wise, in later years, to leave the world of politics alone. It is seedy enough to offer some material for fiction, but it is rather superficial and, as a consequence, boring. The story deals with the inevitable complications when the personal and the political life clash with each other. All sorts of compromises and sacrifices are then necessary, and the final outcome may surprise even the most closely involved. Maugham would later deal with the same problem at greater length, and with greater success, in one of his least known plays, The Tenth Man (produced 1910, published 1913).

“A Point of Law”, on the other hand, is one of my favourites. Our first-person narrator, more and more resembling the urbane and charming version from later years, has a strange hobby. When he feels more than usually blue, he makes his will. It cheers him up. One day Mr Addishaw, his solicitor and old friend, tells him a story “how sometimes by pure chance that ass, the law, may work so as to protect the innocent and punish the contriving.” I don’t know if the legal thread on which the story hangs is true, but I don’t particularly care. It is a fine piece of short fiction anyway. It begins in a lighter vein, but the story within the story is a much darker study of human parasitism.

“An Irish Gentleman” is a tribute to that strange creature – rather more widespread than the gentlemanly class in Ireland – for whom a grandiloquent gesture is more important than elementary foresight. There is undeniably something attractive about a careless adventurer like that, one who enjoys the passing moment to the full. Maugham did a much better, more subtle and more complex, job with this type of character in “The Ant and the Grasshopper” (1936) and Up at the Villa (1941), among other works. But the Irish Gentleman is by no means devoid of charm. The story is set in Germany which is an excellent opportunity to have some fun with the British. “Is he a mountebank or is he a hero”, wonders the Princess of some minor German principality. “English and Irish, they’re all mad,” observes the despotic yet debonair ruler of the same principality, “that’s why they conquer the world.”

“Flirtation” is the definition of an enjoyable trifle. It might have come from one of Maugham’s lightest early comedies. The whole plot is two people, both with much too much money and time on their hands, making bets who is going to propose to whom. It is perhaps misguided to search for any deeper meaning, but it may be noted that this innocent game finally reveals some real feelings under the bantering surface. The situation reminds me of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, except that there is no third party involved here and Shakespeare’s play is, of course, a great deal more than that.

“The Fortunate Painter” is a cute little story somewhat reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s “The Model Millionaire”. The painter is not at all fortunate in the beginning. He is struggling to make a living in Paris – until a crafty old dealer comes out of retirement and solves his financial (and marital) problems. This is probably the least substantial of all seventeen stories in the book, yet it makes quite a nice read.

“Good Manners” is a picaresque story, greatly implausible and greatly enjoyable. It is told to our narrator by one Augustus Breton, a rather conservative member of the landed gentry who objects to restoration, railways and education for the lower classes. He has had the fortune to know a criminal who is rare even in fiction and in all probability has never existed in real life. But under the almost farcical surface, there is, as usual, a serious point lurking: “there was some kink in his nature which made him unable to resist the strange fascination of crime.” It has often been observed that many criminals are quite intelligent and talented enough to make a good living legally. Why don’t they? Well, because the criminal, together with the artist, is the only free man:

In other callings, in medicine for instance or the law, you are free to choose whether you will adopt them or not, but having chosen, you are free no longer. You are bound by the rules of your profession; a standard of conduct is imposed upon you. The pattern is predetermined. It is only the artist, and maybe the criminal, who can make his own.[5]

The three stories that exist in two very different versions are special cases. They are invaluable to the student of Maugham. It is a study of endless fascination to compare the early version with the late one and try to guess why Maugham changed this or that. I propose to do that briefly in the following paragraphs. You may find them unreadable if you are not familiar with all six stories.

“The Happy Couple” may be the most fascinating case of creative rewriting in Maugham’s complete works. The story of Edwin and Angelina is pretty much the same. So are the physical descriptions of the Craigs and some of the most charming details from their intimacy. For example:

[1908:]
From her verandah Miss Ley could see the pair constantly walking up and down the lawn of their garden, arm in arm; they did not talk, but it was because they were happy to be together; and it was touching to observe the submissiveness with which the dour, unsympathetic woman treated her good-natured husband. She seemed to take a pleasure in doing his bidding. She looked for occasions to prove that she was his willing slave. And because they were no longer young, their mutual devotion seemed all the more charming. It was a pretty sight to observe Mrs. Craig brush an invisible speck of dust off the man’s coat, and Miss Ley was convinced that she purposely made holes in his socks in order to have the pleasure of darning them. To watch this matrimonial felicity made the old maid more contented with herself and with the world in general.

[1947:]
Miss Gray used often to see them walking up and down the lawn of their garden arm in arm; they did not talk, as though they were so happy to be together that conversation was unnecessary; and it warmed her heart to observe the affection which that dour, unsympathetic woman so obviously felt for her tall, handsome husband. It was a pretty sight to see Mrs Craig brush an invisible speck of dust off his coat, and Miss Gray was convinced that she purposely made holes in his socks in order to have the pleasure of darning them. And it looked as though he loved her as much as she loved him. Every now and then he would give her a glance, and she would look up at him and smile, and he gave her cheek a little pat. Because they were no longer young, their mutual devotion was peculiarly touching.

As you can see, Maugham was no fan of copy-paste. Whatever he took from his old story, he rewrote it carefully. Even when he did copy passages word for word, which he was apt to do mostly with physical appearances, he made many subtle improvements. Compare, for instance, Mrs Craig’s clothes:

[1908:]
Her clothes were pretty, flimsy and graceful. But they sat oddly upon her, for they would better have befitted a girl of eighteen; and Mrs Craig was certainly forty. Miss Ley noticed that they were the work of an excellent dressmaker.

[1947:]
Her clothes, pretty, flimsy and graceful, sat oddly upon her, for they would better have suited a girl of eighteen, and Mrs Craig was certainly forty. Miss Gray told me they were well cut and expensive. I thought he looked commonplace and she looked disagreeable, and I told Miss Gray she was lucky that they were obviously disposed to keep themselves to themselves.

More importantly, Maugham made several major changes that add a whole new dimension – two dimensions, in fact. He introduced two completely new characters, the first-person narrator based on the author and Judge Landon who is his guest on the Riviera. The Judge is as fully realised a character as possible in a (very) short story. He is cold but not inhuman, misogynistically old-fashioned in some ways but admirably clear-headed in others. He is a great improvement over Frank Hurrell, even if you know the latter intimately from The Merry-go-round (1904). For the record, Miss Ley from that novel is a totally different character than Miss Ley from the story. She is later exchanged for Miss Gray whose attitude to the Craigs is more complex and more poignant. Here is one fine passage that is entirely missing in the early version:

I never knew why Miss Gray had never married; I felt as certain as the judge that she had had plenty of chances; and I asked myself, when she talked to me about the Craigs, whether the sight of this matrimonial felicity didn’t give her a slight pang. I suppose complete happiness is very rare in this world, but these two people seemed to enjoy it, and it may be that Miss Gray was so strangely interested in them only because she could not quite suppress the feeling in her heart that by remaining single she had missed something.

The minor changes are too numerous to list. The basic plot is pretty much the same, but worked out in greater detail and much more dramatic. A notable example is the meeting with the Craigs. In the first version, Miss Ley and Frank Hurrell meet them for a few seconds accidentally and the family’s reaction of terror is overdone. In the late version, the Craigs come to lunch at Miss Gray’s invitation. They are terrified to see the judge from their case (not mere medical adviser like Hurrell), but they recover so quickly (as you would expect from people who had planned and executed their crime so well) that even the Maugham-like narrator is not sure that anything has happened.

The “virgo intacta” element – a brilliant touch! – is also present only in the later version. It leads to one of Maugham’s finest endings:

‘What do you think made the jury find them not guilty?’
‘I’ve asked myself that; and do you know the only explanation I can give? The fact that it was conclusively proved that they had never been lovers. And if you come to think of it, that’s one of the most curious features of the whole case. That woman was prepared to commit murder to get the man she loved, but she wasn’t prepared to have an illicit love-affair with him.’
‘Human nature is very odd, isn’t it?’
‘Very,’ said Landon, helping himself to another glass of brandy.


(Note that the judge supplies merely an opinion which the narrator doesn’t challenge. The reader is left to work out the details. The mediocre writer would not resist the temptation to supply them. The great writer is different. He does trust that his readers are not mindless bookworms. They would ask themselves whether it was her or his idea to remain chaste; and whether it was done because of social convention or because the parties wisely considered that it might be a great point in their favour at a possible inquest and trial. Either way, the fact points out to an exceptional self-control, perhaps to exceptional cunning as well. And so on and so forth; as every great story, this one provides plenty of material for entrancing speculation.)

People who commit terrible crimes yet remain evidently untroubled by their conscience were one of Maugham’s favourite case studies. “The Happy Couple” certainly qualifies as one his finest achievements. The Cartwrights from “Footprints in the Jungle” are probably his greatest couple of murderers. There Maugham unites the post-homicidal felicity with pleasant company. That story also has a memorable ending[6].

“A Marriage of Convenience” is hardly a less interesting case of thorough rewriting. The basic plot about the confirmed bachelor who marries in a hurry just to get a desirable job evidently dates back at least to 1906. This early version is set on an island off the coast of Tunis. It contains a delicious piece of comedy when our narrator is arrested on suspicion of being a spy which, of course, had to be dropped in the later version which takes place during a ship journey in the Far East in the early 1920s.

If Maugham is to be believed, writing more than three decades after that journey[7], he met aboard “the oddest, the most absurd lot of people I had ever come across”. The mention of the Italian tenor confirms that this is the same bunch described in the later version of “A Marriage of Convenience”. Adorable creatures indeed! The tenor “had the real Italian voice, all macaroni, olive oil, and sunshine”. Mr Wilkins, the American circus proprietor who had roamed the Far East for twenty years, was a character indeed. Or rather, surprisingly, he was not:

It was a strange life he led, unusual, and one that, one would have thought, must offer the occasion for all sorts of curious experiences, but the odd thing about him was that he was a perfectly commonplace little man and you would have been prepared to find him running a garage or keeping a third-rate hotel in a second-rate town in California. The fact is, and I have noticed it so often that I do not know why it should always surprise me, that the extraordinariness of a man's life does not make him extraordinary, but contrariwise if a man is extraordinary he will make extraordinariness out of a life as humdrum as that of a country curate.

And then, of course, there is the story of the classic marriage of convenience. It is altogether too much of a coincidence that in South-East Asia Maugham met a Frenchman who had proposed to his Swiss wife on their first meeting (not to mention the alluring position he was after or the stunt in the Figaro) exactly like the one he had described in 1906 in a most obscure story that was not to be collected in book form for more than sixty years. The most likely explanation is that he took the old plot and combined it with the new characters he met aboard. This makes rather suspicious Maugham’s claim that The Gentleman in the Parlour consists of “true narratives”[8]. Chapter 34 from this book is the late version of “A Marriage of Convenience”. Either way, it’s a lovely story and a rare opportunity to study Maugham’s working methods in detail.

Again there are countless small changes between the two versions. The French Consul in 1906 becomes a French Governor in 1930. The contrast between him and his wife is heightened. He is made smaller, uglier and less effusive. She is more talkative and positively statuesque. She provides the punch line – a punch speech indeed – in the end. It was another favourite notion of Maugham’s that passion, however wonderful it may be, is not a good foundation for marriage. Compare both versions:

[1906:]
The consul thus ended his story; and I, who had come to this curious island searching for romance, felt that I had found it, and, of all places, in a marriage of convenience.

[1930:]
‘The fact is that in a marriage of convenience you expect less and so you are less likely to be disappointed. As you do not make senseless claims on one another there is no reason for exasperation. You do not look for perfection and so you are tolerant to one another’s faults. Passion is all very well, but it is not a proper foundation for marriage. Voyez-vous, for two people to be happy in marriage they must be able to respect one another, they must be of the same condition, and their interests must be alike; then if they are decent people and are willing to give and take, to live and let live, there is no reason why their union should not be as happy as ours.’ She paused. ‘But, of course, my husband is a very, very remarkable man.’

The later ending is unquestionably an improvement, but there is something to be said for the other one as well. I have tried to explain elsewhere the Maughamian meaning of the word “romance”. Suffice it to say here that it has nothing to do, not even in this particular case, with a certain type of human relationship.

The search for romance is one of the leitmotifs of the early version. In the very beginning, when he is offered to leave Cadiz on a Spanish cargo-boat that goes to Valencia, Tarragona and Tunis, “Romance, that jade of flattering insincerity, put out a beckoning hand.” This journey proves to be “very barren of the romance I sought” and that’s why our narrator lands on that island off the coast of Tunis, much to his delight as it turned out. Maugham was indeed “A Traveller in Romance”, as the title of an early story not included here goes, and remained one to the end of his life. John Whitehead was wiser than he knew when used that phrase for the title of his collection of uncollected writings.

“Cousin Amy” is the least substantial case of rewriting, but even so the final result is a significant improvement. Maugham exchanged the gluttonous cousin in the early version for a gluttonous admirer of the first-person narrator (a writer, of course), and to a great comic effect. The hapless gentleman from 1908 sacrifices merely a trip to Paris to “improve my mind”, but his version from 1924 (when “The Luncheon” first appeared in a magazine) sacrifices just about everything for the next month. Again, the plot remains the same, yet the story feels totally different. Which is just another proof that the plot is really rather unimportant. Again, the endings are very different, both charming but the late one rather more so; of course you may disagree:

[“Cousin Amy”, 1908:]
When we parted, she shook hands with me. “I have enjoyed myself,” she said. “I’m so sorry I’m not staying in town longer, but you must come and lunch with me to-morrow. My system is chop for chop you know.”
This was new in Cousin Amy, and I put the change down to the advance of years, which have a soft logic of their own.
“I shall be delighted!” I answered promptly. “Where shall we go?”
She looked at me with the utmost effrontery.
“What do you say to the Eustace Miles Restaurant? I should so much like to show you what a vegetarian restaurant is really like.”
I have no presence of mind in emergencies, and I accepted Cousin Amy’s invitation. But as I wandered away in the rain (I really couldn’t afford a hansom) a sadder, poorer, wiser, and much overeaten man, I murmured to myself:
“She may call it chop for chop, if she likes. But I call it carrot soup for
potage bisque

(For those ignorant of the culinary reference, such as myself, the Web says that “potage bisque” is a French soup based on a strained broth of crustaceans. Certainly a very different thing than a carrot soup!)

[“The Luncheon”, 1936 in book form:]
The bill came and when I paid it I found that I had only enough for a quite inadequate tip. Her eyes rested for an instant on the three francs I left for the waiter and I knew that she thought me mean. But when I walked out of the restaurant I had the whole month before me and not a penny in my pocket.
‘Follow my example,’ she said as we shook hands, ‘and never eat more than one thing for luncheon.’
‘I’ll do better than that,’ I retorted. ‘I’ll eat nothing for dinner tonight.’
‘Humorist!’ she cried gaily, jumping into a cab. ‘You’re quite a humorist!’
But I have had my revenge at last. I do not believe that I am a vindictive man, but when the immortal gods take a hand in the matter it is pardonable to observe the result with complacency. Today she weighs twenty-one stone.


______________________________________________________________
[1] See Raymond Toole Stott, A Bibliography of the Works of W. Somerset Maugham, Kaye & Ward, 1973, D16, p. 200. Mr Stott also gives some fascinating information about the relationship between Maugham and Pfeiffer, how it “cooled” when the latter expressed a desire to fancy himself a biographer and how Maugham publicly denounced the “candid portrait” (ibid., F102, pp. 237-8; also pp. 301-2 & 306). For further information on Maugham and Pfeiffer, see Klaus W. Jonas, W. Somerset Maugham: The Man and His Work / Leben und Werk, Harrassowitz, 2009, pp. 60-1, and this fine review by a fellow Maughamian. Mr Jonas quotes a letter to himself from 22 January 1959 in which Maugham offers a devastating review of Pfeiffer’s book: “vulgar and very inaccurate, somehow spiteful, but otherwise harmless enough. [...] The only thing that puzzles me is why, considering that I have always been kind to him and that he enjoyed my hospitality (not so much as he proclaimed, however) he should apparently have always regarded me with ill will.”
[2] “The Mother” was first published in April 1909 in Story Teller. Another obscure early story with Spanish setting is “Told in the Inn at Algeciras” (February 1905, The Woman At Home), later renamed “A Man from Glasgow”. Both stories were slightly revised some 40 years later and included in Maugham’s last collection, Creatures of Circumstance (1947). I suppose Mr Showalter didn’t include those stories, if he knew about them, because they are rather close to the later and better known versions. John Whitehead has alluded to (Maugham: A Reappraisal, Barnes & Noble, 1987, pp. 61-62) and even mentioned (A Traveller in Romance, Clarkson N. Potter, 1984, ed. John Whitehead, p. viii) an early version of “The Point of Honour”, presumably from 1904, but nothing more is known of its existence. Other stories missed by Mr Showalter are the three in A Traveller in Romance (“The Spanish Priest”, “The Making of a Millionaire”, “A Traveller in Romance”), not counting “The Buried Talent”, first published in 1934 and never reprinted in Maugham’s time; and the three recently discovered (“A Really Nice Story”, “The Criminal”, “The Image of the Virgin”) and published in English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, vol. 57, no. 1.
[3] A Writer’s Notebook (1949), “1894”.
[4] Anthony Curtis, The Pattern of Maugham, Hamish Hamilton, 1974, pp. 30-4.
[5] The Summing Up (1938), Chapter XV.
[6] You can find it in this selection of quotes from Maugham’s short stories.
[7] Preface to The Travel Books, Heinemann, 1955, pp. vii-viii.
[8] Ibid., p. viii. ( )
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