Conversesfriends of Maugham

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oct. 1, 2010, 5:31am

Someone once asked the great author if he wrote on a schedule or only when inspiration struck him. “I write only when inspiration strikes me,” Maugham replied. “Fortunately it strikes me every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

oct. 1, 2010, 5:32am

"People are always a little disconcerted when you don't recognize them, they are so important to themselves, it is a shock to discover of what small importance they are to others. — W. Somerset Maugham, The Human Element

oct. 1, 2010, 5:36am

The love that lasts the longest is the love that is never returned." -- W. Somerset Maugham

oct. 1, 2010, 5:40am

"How can I be reasonable? To me our love was everything and you were my whole life. It is not very pleasant to realize that to you it was only an episode." — W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil

oct. 1, 2010, 10:27am

All sensible people know that vanity is the most devastating, the most universal, and the most ineradicable of the passions that afflict the soul of man, and it is only vanity that makes him deny its power. It is more consuming than love. With advancing years, mercifully, you can snap your fingers at the terror and the servitude of love, but age cannot free you from the thraldom of vanity. Time can assuage the pangs of love, but only death can still the anguish of wounded vanity. Love is simple and seeks no subterfuge, but vanity cozens you with a hundred disguises. It is part and parcel of every virtue: it is mainspring of courage and the strength of ambition; it gives constancy to the lover and endurance to the stoic; it adds fuel to the fire of the artist's desire for fame and is at once the support and the compensation of the honest man's integrity; it leers even cynically in the humility of the saint. You cannot escape it, and should you take pains to guard against it, it will make use of those very pains to trip you up. You are defenseless against its onslaught because you know not on what unprotected side it will attack you. Sincerity cannot protect you from its snare nor humour from its mockery.
''His Excellency'' from ''Ashenden''

oct. 2, 2010, 12:17pm

"Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

oct. 2, 2010, 12:18pm

"It wasn't until late in life that I discovered how easy it is to say "I don't know."

oct. 2, 2010, 1:57pm

From ''Virtue'', one of my greatest favourites among Maugham's short stories, first published in book form in the collection ''Six Stories in the First Person Singular'' (1931):

I prefer a loose woman to a selfish one and a wanton to a fool.

Life is really very fantastic, and one has to have a peculiar sense of humour to see the fun of it.

...but if the folly of men made one angry one would pass one's life in a state of chronic ire.

'Good gracious, she could have remained faithful to him in spirit while she was being unfaithful to him in the flesh. That is a feat of legerdemain that women find it easy to accomplish.'
'What a odious cynic you are.'
'If it's cynical to look truth in the face and exercise common sense in the affairs of life, then certainly I'm a cynic and odious if you like.'

oct. 4, 2010, 12:29pm

From the essay ''Reflections on a Certain Book'' from the collection ''The Vagrant Mood'' (1952):

''Jeremy Bentham startled the world many years ago by stating in effect that if the amount of pleasure obtained from each be equal there is nothing to choose between poetry and push-pin. Since few people now know what push-pin is, I may explain that it is a child's game in which one player tries to push his pin across that of another player, and if he succeeds and then is able by pressing down on the two pins with the ball of his thumb to lift them off the table he wins possession of his opponent's pin. ... The indignant retort to Bentham's statement was that spiritual pleasures are obviously higher than physical pleasures. But who say so? Those who prefer spiritual pleasures. They are in a miserable minority, as they acknowledge when they declare that the gift of aesthetic appreciation is a very rare one. The vast majority of men are, as we know, both by necessity and choice preoccupied with material considerations. Their pleasures are material. They look askance at those who spent their lives in the pursuit of art. That is why they have attached a depreciatory sense to the word aesthete, which means merely one who has a special appreciation of beauty. How are we going to show that they are wrong? How are we going to show that there is something to choose between poetry and push-pin? I surmise that Bentham chose push-pin for its pleasant alliteration with poetry. Let us speak of lawn tennis. It is a popular game which many of us can play with pleasure. It needs skill and judgement, a good eye and a cool head. If I get the same amount of pleasure out of playing it as you get by looking at Titian's 'Entombment of Christ' in the Louvre, by listening to Beethoven's 'Eroica' or by reading Eliot's 'Ash Wednesday', how are you going to prove that your pleasure is better and more refined than mine? Only, I should say, by manifesting that this gift you have of aesthetic appreciation has a moral effect on your character.''

oct. 4, 2010, 10:21pm

My most favorite quote from Maugham is this:

"...it seems to me as though everyone were surrounded by an invisible ring which cuts him off from the rest of the world. Each of us stands entirely alone, and each step one must judge for one's self, and none can help".

oct. 4, 2010, 11:28pm

Clara, would you mind giving the source of this quote?

I can't place it at all, but it reminds me about one of Maugham's most arresting opening paragraphs: the first lines of the short story ''The Happy Man'' from ''Cosmopolitans''(1936):

''It is a dangerous thing to order the lives of others and I have often wondered at the self-confidence of politicians, reformers and such like who are prepared to force upon their fellows measures that must alter their manners, habits and points of view. I have always hesitated to give advice, for how can one advise another how to act unless one knows that other as well as one knows oneself? Heaven knows, I know little enough of myself: I know nothing of others. We can only guess at the thoughts and emotions of our neighbours. Each one of us is a prisoner in a solitary tower and he communicates with the other prisoners, who form mankind, by conventional signs that have not quite the same meaning for them as for himself. And life, unfortunately, is something that you can lead but once; mistakes are often irreparable, and who am I that should tell this one and that how he should lead it? Life is a difficult business and I have found it hard enough to make my own a complete and rounded thing; I have not been tempted to teach my neighbour what he should do with his.''

Editat: oct. 5, 2010, 10:00am

Remarkable, Waldstein! Your quote does ring a bell of the one I offered... Unfortunately, I cannot place mine, unless I start re-reading Maugham (which I eventually will, of course); it was something I read years ago and was so taken by it that I had to write it down... If I come up with the source, I will let you know.

oct. 5, 2010, 5:55pm

"How can I be reasonable? To me our love was everything and you were my whole life. It is not very pleasant to realize that to you it was only an episode." — W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil

oct. 5, 2010, 5:56pm

‎"The great tragedy of life is not that men perish, but that they cease to love."
— W. Somerset Maugham

oct. 5, 2010, 6:00pm

parting words, from Selina Hastings' biography

"It is safe to say that he will again hold generations in thrall, that his place is assured as Somerset Maugham, the great teller of tales."

oct. 6, 2010, 3:31am

From "The Summing Up", a summary of human nature in one sentence:

"It is want of imagination that prevents people from seeing things from any point of view but their own, and it is unreasonable to be angry with them because they lack this faculty. "

oct. 6, 2010, 5:30am

My personal collections of quotes, some extensive, some perfunctory, the latter will be in time revised; so, hopefully, will new titles be added:

From ''The Painted Veil'' (1925)

From ''Mrs Craddock'' (1902)

From ''The Hero'' (1901)

From ''The Making of a Saint'' (1898)

From ''Don Fernando'' (1935, 1950)

From ''The Land of the Blessed Virgin'' (1905)

From ''The Vagrant Mood'' (1952)

From ''The Summing Up'' (1938)

From various plays (1903-1933)

From ''Points of View'' (1958) (much too perfunctory this one)

From ''A Writer's Notebook'' (1949)

From ''Theatre'' (1938)

From ''The Hour Before the Dawn'' (1942)

From ''Cakes and Ale'' (1930)

From ''Ten Novels and Their Authors'' (1954)

From various prefaces to his own works

From ''The Narrow Corner'' (1932)

From ''Christmas Holiday'' (1939)

From ''The Moon and Sixpence'' (1919)

From ''Of Human Bondage'' (1915)

From various short stories

Editat: oct. 6, 2010, 12:08pm

Something more or less rare: the first lines of ''Twenty Days in a Ship'', a propaganda talk delivered by Maugham on BBC in the beginning of the Second World War, shortly after his precarious flight from France on the board of a collier together with several hundred other refugees, and published in The English Spirit (George Allen & Unwin, 1942; edited by Anthony Weymouth.)

I love the last sentence:

''On my return from France a fortnight ago today, I gave a short talk on my journey home in a collier with five hundred refugees. Since then, among many other letters I have received a number from persons who said that they had no sympathy with us, and if we had suffered danger, discomfort and hardship during our escape, we thoroughly deserved it, for we had gone to the Riviera to lead idle, pleasure-loving lives, while our country was fighting for its existence. Well, sympathy is a commodity that does not cost much, but the persons who are short of it are very wise to hoard it till they have occasion to expend it on themselves.''

oct. 6, 2010, 12:14pm

Few excerpts from Maugham's charming letter to Klaus Jonas which the latter has used several times as preface to his indifferent books about the writer, for first time in 1954 for The Gentleman from Cap Ferrat (for which the letter was apparently written) and most recently in the bilingual mess titled William Somerset Maugham: The Man and His Work / Leben und Werk:

I have never pretended to be anything but a story writer. I have little patience with the novelists who preach or philosophise. I think it much better to leave philosophy to philosophers and social reform to the social reformer. It has amused me to write stories, plays, and novels. With the exception of the last war, when I was called upon to write propaganda, a thing for which I had no gift and so found a distressing burden, I have only written for my own pleasure.

After wasting a good deal of time, I came to the conclusion that it suited me better to eschew the flowery, the precious, the artificial, and to write as simply and as naturally as I would talk. I should like to think that I have not entirely failed. The most pleasing compliment I have ever received came from a G.I. in the last war who was stationed in New Guinea; he wrote to tell me that he had greatly enjoyed a book of mine that he had been reading because he had never had to look out a single word in the dictionary.

The fact is that when I have written something, corrected the proofs an published it, I am no longer interested in it and don’t really care what people say about it.

I am well aware that I have lost any talent I may have had. There was only one thing for me to do - to turn critic.

Editat: oct. 6, 2010, 6:07pm

so many of his quotes show a self- effacing, modest persona.

Meanwhile, the above-mentioned last line deserves endless repetition.

"sympathy is a commodity that does not cost much, but the persons who are short of it are very wise to hoard it till they have occasion to expend it on themselves.''

oct. 7, 2010, 7:25pm

‎'There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.'

oct. 7, 2010, 7:26pm

"To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life."
— W. Somerset Maugham

Editat: oct. 8, 2010, 6:27am

Self-revealing excerpt from Maugham's General Introduction to his first anthology Traveller's Library (1933). The following lines might have been taken from The Summing Up as well:

The ablest editor I know is accustomed to say: I am the average American and what interests me will interest my readers; the event has proved him right. Now I have most of my life have been miserably conscious that I am not the average Englishman. Let no one think I say this with self-satisfaction, for I think that there is nothing better than to be like everybody else. It is the only way to be happy, and it is with but a wry face that one tells oneself that happiness is not everything. ... The accident of my birth in France, which enabled me to learn French and English simultaneously and thus instilled into me two modes of life, two liberties, two points of view, has prevented me from ever identifying myself completely with the instincts and prejudices of one people or the other, and it is in instinct and prejudice that sympathy is most deeply rooted; the accident of a physical infirmity, with its attendant nervousness, separated me to a greater extent than would be thought likely from the common life of others. In my communication with my fellows I have generally felt 'out of it'; in that uprush of emotion that sometimes seizes a crowd so that their hearts throb as one I have been lamentably aware my own keeps its accustomed and normal rhythm. When 'Everybody suddenly burst out singing' as Siegfried Sassoon says in one of the most moving of the poems I have been allowed to reprint in this book, I have always felt exceedingly embarrassed. And when on New Year's Eve people join hands and swinging them up and down to the music, like a nurse rocking the baby, sing lustily Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot, my shivering nerves whisper, yes, please. I cannot then offer this book as the choice of the average man and I cannot say that because these things please me they will please you. If you like me they will please you, and if you don't they won't. Though I do not share many of the prejudices that many people have, I naturally have prejudices of my own, and they will be obvious to anyone who reads this book through. I am a writer and I look at these things from my professional standpoint. This is the difference between the writer and the critic, that the critic, the good one, can look upon production from the vantage-ground of the absolute and putting himself in the author's shoes can judge of the success of his effort without the hindrance of predisposition. I do not think that many writers can do this. However good a book may be we can difficultly find merit in it if it is not the sort of thing we do, or think we can do ourselves.

oct. 8, 2010, 6:30am

If anybody has any idea who is the ''ablest editor'' Maugham knew, let me know too.

Also, in the same preface, Maugham mentions that in a recent book of his he had made a jibe at the expense of E. M. Forster. I suppose he meant something in Cakes and Ale, published just three years before, but I can't recall the exact passage. If anybody can, please let me know.

oct. 8, 2010, 3:54pm

From the preface to The Partial View (1954), my personal number 1 for a desert island library:

Tolstoy found comfort at last in the recovery of faith he had had as a child and lost. The meaning of life, he came to believe, was to God's will in the assurance of immortality. That surely is to admit that life in itself has no meaning. But is there any sense in asking what is the meaning of life? I should have said no more than in asking what is the meaning of Beethoven's 'Eroica' or Titian's 'Venus and Adonis'.

oct. 27, 2010, 6:23am

From The Summing Up:

My sympathies are limited. I can only be myself, and partly by nature, partly by circumstances of my life, it is a partial self. I am not a social person. I cannot get drunk and feel a great love for my fellow-men. Convivial amusement has always somewhat bored me. When people sitting in an ale-house or drifting down the river in a boat start singing I am silent. I have never even sung a hymn. I do not much like being touched and I have always to make a slight effort over myself not to draw away when someone links his arm in mine. I can never forget myself. The hysteria of the world repels me and I never feel more aloof than when I am in the midst of a throng surrendered to a violent feeling of mirth or sorrow. 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.

oct. 30, 2010, 12:10pm

From the preface written for The Travel Books (1955). A charming incident illustrating Maugham's love for Spain and Spaniards' love for their Golden Age:

To many a Spaniard, to far more than you would suppose, that moment of glory is a support and an inspiration. Now and then a trivial incident, a casual remark, will bring it so close to you that you are dazzled.
On one occasion, I was lunching with a friend of mine in Madrid, and he happened to ask me what I had been doing that morning. I told him that as usual I had spent it at the Prado.
''Did you look at the portrait of my ancestor, the Count-Duke of Olivares?'' he said.
''Of course,'' I answered.
He pointed to a suit of armour, elaborately damascened, that stood against the wall.
''That is the armour that Velasquez painted him in.''
A thrilling moment!

nov. 2, 2010, 9:38am

From the original preface to Cosmopolitans

The anecdote is the basis of fiction. The restlessness of writers forces upon fiction from time to time forms that are foreign to it, but when it has been oppressed for a period by obscurity, propaganda or affectation, it reverts, and returns inevitably to the anecdote.

The novel may stimulate you to think. It may satisfy your esthetic sense. It may arouse your moral emotions. But if it does not entertain you it is a bad novel. It is merely laziness that induces people to go to novels for instruction on subjects that are the province of experts. There is no short road to knowledge and you will only waste your time if you seek it in a work of fiction.

The novelist deals with individual cases which he has chosen to suit his purpose. They may exemplify a rule; they cannot serve to formulate one. The novelist gives you his private view of the universe. He offers you intelligent entertainment; and the first thing you should of an entertainment is that it should entertain.

nov. 18, 2010, 7:28pm

"There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one's means of livelihood. I have nothing but contempt for the people who despise money. They are either hypocrites or fools. Money is like a sixth sense, without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five. Without an adequate income half the possibilities of life are shut off. You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh. They do not know how mean it makes you. It exposes you to endless humiliation, it cuts your wings, it eats into your soul like cancer. It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one's dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank, and independent."
W. Somerset Maugham

nov. 19, 2010, 10:06am

Great quote! Reminds me of the situation in Maugham's short story The Lotus Eater which I read this morning. Money was the driving force behind the main character even though he placed the aesthetics of living ahead. It's a disturbing story. s4sando

nov. 19, 2010, 9:36pm

..."My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror!"

nov. 19, 2010, 9:37pm

"I've always been interested in people, but I've never liked them."

des. 9, 2010, 4:20pm

Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of habit.

des. 18, 2010, 4:05pm

"Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young."

des. 19, 2010, 12:45pm

“I forget who it was that recommended men for their soul’s good to do each day two things they disliked: it was a wise man, and it is a precept that I have followed scrupulously; for every day I have got up and I have gone to bed. But there is in my nature a strain of asceticism, and I have subjected my flesh each week to a severe mortification. I have never failed to read the Literary Supplement of The Times. It is a salutary discipline to consider the vast number of books that are written, the fair hopes with which their authors see them published, and the fate that awaits them. What chance is there that any book will make its way among that multitude? … The moral I draw is that the writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thoughts; and indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.”

des. 22, 2010, 5:35am

Extremely self-revealing passage from Maugham's essay ''Some Novelists I Have Known'' (from the collection The Vagrant Mood, 1952):

But the chief reason why I have never become easily familiar with the men of letters I propose to write about is owing to some fault in my own character. I am either too self-centred, or too diffident, or too reserved, or too shy to be able to be on confidential terms with anyone I know at all well, and when on occasion a friend in trouble has opened his heart to me I have been too embarrassed to be of much help to him. Most people like to talk about themselves and when they tell me things I should have thought they would prefer to keep to themselves I am abashed. I prefer to guess at the secrets of their hearts. It is not in me to take people at their face value and I am no easily impressed. I have no power of veneration. It is more in my humour to be amused by people than to respect them.

Editat: des. 26, 2010, 9:31am

Possibly the best description of Maugham in a single sentence: from The Summing Up (1938):

I have more character than brains and more brains than specific gifts.

Maugham's famous passage about stammer, from the essay Some Novelists I Have Known in the collection The Vagrant Mood (1952). He spoke of the author of Old Wives' Tale here, but he may very well have meant himself too - he probably did indeed:

Arnold was afflicted with a very bad stammer; it was painful to watch the struggle he sometimes had to get the words out. It was torture to him. Few realised the exhaustion it caused him to speak. What to most men is as easy as breathing was to him a constant strain. It tore his nerves to pieces. Few knew the humiliations it exposed him to, the ridicule it excited in many, the impatience it aroused, the awkwardness of feeling that it made people find him tiresome, the minor exasperation of thinking of a good, amusing or apt remark and not venturing to say it in case the stammer ruined it. Few knew the distressing sense it gave rise to of a bar to complete contact with other men. It may be that except for the stammer which forced him to introspection Arnold would never have become a writer. But I think it is no small proof of his strong and sane character that notwithstanding this impediment he was able to retain his splendid balance and regard the normal life of man from a normal point of view.

I don't think that, had he never suffered from stammer, Maugham would have become anything else but a writer. But it might well be that he would have become a different writer. How different nobody can say.

For the record, I am not sure what is the difference between stammer and stutter, but as was made clear by Garson Kanin, who tried in Remembering Mr Maugham to reproduce his speech as accurately as possible, Maugham's defect was not of 't-t-t-that' type; apparently, he just made pauses before some words, often with fine dramatic effect.

Editat: abr. 18, 2013, 2:40pm

Also, I have greatly expanded my collections of quotes from Maugham's collections with essays, The Vagrant Mood (1952) and Points of View (1958). If anybody's interested, they can be found here:



Probably more quotes will be added in the next days too.

des. 26, 2010, 11:16am

Waldstein, regarding Maugham's stammer, is it ever apparent in the introductions he did for the various films made from his movies? I assume not, but wonder why.

Editat: des. 26, 2010, 11:57am

As far as I know, in his later years Maugham came to control his stammer pretty well - am not sure if he ever received any treatment for it - and he even enjoyed some modest popularity as a lecturer; I've just been reminded that my favourite essay by him was actually first delivered as a lecture in the Columbia University in 1950 somewhat stragely titled ''Beauty and the Professor''.

His introductions in ''Quartet'', ''Trio'' and ''Encore'' are fairly fluent, with just few slight pauses which indeed have certain dramatic effect and I am never sure whether Maugham does not make them deliberately. His voice is not an especially pleasant one, nor his diction very clear, and he does look somewhat uneasy in front of the camera (something natural for a naturally shy man, I should think). Also, it might be just my fancy but I think in the last of these movies (''Encore'') he came to enjoy his short speeches more and delivered them with something like gusto.

It might be that the stammer was a serious problem only in Maugham's young and formative years. Surelly it was dependent on things like mood or circumstances. Will have to check the ''treatment hypothesis'' in the literature about him.

gen. 2, 2011, 9:38am

Extensive selection of quotes from The Merry-Go-Round (1904):


gen. 3, 2011, 8:31am

From The Summing Up (1938):

Some writers who do not think clearly are inclined to suppose that their thoughts have a significance greater than at first sight appears. It is flattering to believe that they are too profound to be expressed so clearly that all who run may read, and very naturally it does not occur to such writers that the fault is with their own minds which have not the faculty of precise reflection. Here again the magic of the written word obtains. It is very easy to persuade oneself that a phrase that one does not quite understand may mean a great deal more than one realises. From this there is only a little way to go to fall into the habit of setting down one's impressions in all their original vagueness. Fools can always be found to discover a hidden sense in them.

I wonder if Maugham didn't have Henry James in mind when he wrote that.

gen. 4, 2011, 4:13pm

Bit harsh on Henry, but I'm wondering if Maugham wasn't in one of my earlier poetry groups.

gen. 4, 2011, 9:05pm

> 42. I believe that quite a number of people who worship at the altar of Foucault could benefit from taking Maugham's words to heart. They will of course not do so (on the grounds that Maugham is so grievously guilty of many of the early 20th century "-isms" and others sins yet to be invented). But as with many of his epigrams and quotes, his is a common- sensical wisdom that is hard to deny.

gen. 4, 2011, 10:17pm

Meaning Eco's Foucault's Pendulum? When I read that, it was screamingly obvious that he had a grad student or two doing background research for him. I'm not sure what I think about Eco to this day. I either love his work but am not smart enough to fully appreciate it, or the emperor just ran past me stark naked.

gen. 5, 2011, 5:22pm

Foucault as in Michel Foucault.


gen. 5, 2011, 11:23pm

Ah, Have heard of him but not read him.

gen. 6, 2011, 11:08am

you are none the worse for it, and probably the better...

gen. 6, 2011, 5:13pm

I'll stay away from him now that you've warned me. I try not to do things like plug in hair dryers with faulty electrical cords while I'm taking a shower, or stretch my brain into a shape that resembles gold leaf pounded to the thickness of one atom.

gen. 11, 2011, 12:53pm

Selection of quotes from Maugham's prefaces to books by others (mostly the anthologies he compiled himself) and other miscellaneous pieces - like the notes from the same anthologies. Still rather in progress but let's have the link here in case anybody is interested:


Personal favoruite (in 1954):

I am well aware that I have lost any talent I may have had. There was only one thing for me to do - to turn critic.

gen. 11, 2011, 1:12pm

From his monstrously notorious memoirs Looking Back (1962):


Human nature is very odd.

gen. 18, 2011, 7:31am

From France at War (1940), little propaganda book.


From Strictly Personal (1941), little anti-propaganda book and one of the very few cases when Maugham did write an autobiography, at least for some one dealing with a very short period of his life:


Editat: feb. 10, 2011, 1:33pm

From Cakes and Ale.

One of the difficulties that a man has to cope with as he goes through life is what to do about the persons with whom he has once been intimate and whose interest for him has in due course subsided. If both parties remain in a modest station the break comes about naturally, and no ill feeling subsists, but if one of them achieves eminence the position is awkward. He makes a multitude of new friends, but the old ones are inexorable; he has a thousand claims on his time, but they feel that they have the first right to it. Unless he is at their beck and call they sigh and with a shrug of the shoulders say:
''Ah, well, I suppose you're like everyone else. I must expect to be dropped now that you're a success.''
That of course is what he would like to do if he had the courage. For the most part he hasn't. He weakly accepts an invitation to supper on Sunday evening. The cold roast beef is frozen and comes from Australia and was over-cooked at middle day; and the burgundy - ah, why will they call it burgundy? Have they never been to Beaune and stayed at Hotel de la Poste? Of course it is grand to talk of the good old days when you shared a crust of bread in the garret together, but it is a little disconcerting when you reflect how near to a garret is the room you are sitting in. You feel ill at ease when your friend tells you that his books don't sell and that he can't place his short stories; the managers won't even read his plays, and when he compares them with some of the stuff that's put on (here he fixes you with an accusing eye) it really does seem a bit hard. You are embarrassed and you look away. You exaggerate the failures you have had in order that he may realise that life has its hardships for you too. You refer to your work in the most disparaging way you can and are a trifle taken aback to find that your host's opinion of it is the same as yours. You speak of the fickleness of the public so that he may comfort himself by thinking that your popularity cannot last. He is friendly but severe critic.
''I haven't read your last book,'' he says, ''but I read the one before. I've forgotten its name.''
You tell him.
''I was rather disappointed in it. I didn't think it was quite so good as some of the things you've done. Of course you know which my favourite is.''
And you, having suffered from other hands than his, answer at once with the name of the first book you ever wrote; you were twenty then, and it was crude and ingenuous, and on every page was written your inexperience.
''You'll never do anything so good as that,'' he says heartily, and you feel that your whole career has been a long decadence from that one happy hit. ''I always think you've never quite fulfilled the promise you showed then.''
The gas fire roasts your feet, but your hands are icy. You look at your wrist watch surreptitiously and wonder whether your old friend would think it offensive if you took your leave as early as ten. You have told your car to wait round the corner so that it should not stand outside the door and by its magnificence affront his poverty, but at the door he says:
''You'll find a bus at the bottom of the street. I'll just walk down with you.''
Panic seizes you and you confess that you have a car. He finds it very odd that the chauffeur should wait round the corner. You answer that this is one of his idiosyncrasies. When you reach it your friend looks at it with tolerant superiority. You nervously ask him to dinner with you one day. You promise to write to him and you drive away wondering whether when he comes he will think you are swanking if you ask him to Claridge's or mean if you suggest Soho.

feb. 10, 2011, 10:16pm

53> with friends like that...

feb. 11, 2011, 10:56am

From Ashenden

"I'm expecting a fellow to come and see me tonight," he said at last, "His train gets in about ten." He gave his wrist-watch a glance, "He's known as the Hairless Mexican".
"Because he's hairless and because he's a Mexican".

feb. 11, 2011, 10:20pm

55> LOL!

feb. 12, 2011, 9:28pm

From Ashenden

(This is for all of you who have suffered through a Dostoyevsky novel!)

"Valdimir would never expose me to the vulgar notoriety of the divorce court. When I tell him that I have decided to marry you he will commit suicide."

"That would be terrible, said Ashenden.

He was startled, but thrilled. It was really very much like a Russian novel and he saw the moving and terrible pages, pages, pages, in which Dostoyevsky would have described the situation. He knew the lacerations his character would have suffered, the broken bottles of champagne, the visits to the gipsies, the vodka, the swoonings, the catalepsy and the long, long speeches everyone would have made. It was all very dreadful and wonderful and shattering."

feb. 13, 2011, 11:06am

laughing And of course, we can hear Maugham speaking directly to us of his own view of the Russian novel.

Although to be fair, he did name War and Peace as one of the greatest novels of all time

Editat: feb. 13, 2011, 12:08pm

From A Writer's Notebook:

I read a work on Dostoyevsky by X. It might have been written at the menopause by the virgin daughter of a clergyman. There is no reason why one should not keep one's head about Dostoyevsky. It is not necessary to read a novel with the ecstatic unction of a nun in contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament. To gush is not only tiresome to others, but unprofitable to oneself. And I think one pays a better compliment to the object of one's admiration when one considers him with sense than when one surrenders oneself to him like a drunkard to his glass of gin.

PS Maugham did name among his 'Ten Best' one novel by Dostoyevsky also.

feb. 13, 2011, 8:29pm

Great quote, Waldstein! How I laughed!

A group of us just finished a Dostoyevsky reading project which included all of the major novels. How well I can relate to "keeping one's head about Dostoyevsky" and "It is not necessary to read a novel with the ecstatic unction of a nun in contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament"---which is exactly how some in our group (not me, obviously) reacted to Dostoyevsky.

feb. 14, 2011, 11:15pm

#59 That's our Willie!

març 14, 2011, 7:42pm

"When some incident has shattered the career you’ve mapped out for yourself, a folly, a crime or a misfortune, you mustn’t think you’re down and out. It may be a stroke of luck, and when you look back years later you may say to yourself that you wouldn’t for anything in the world exchange the new life disaster has forced upon you for the dull, humdrum existence you would have led if circumstances hadn’t intervened." — W. Somerset Maugham, The Narrow Corner

març 17, 2011, 2:23pm

The following quote is neither by Maugham himself nor concerned specifically with him; it is by Bernard Shaw as regards to the place of sex in a biography. But it is so apposite to Maugham and his so called biographers that I cannot resist quoting it. Shaw addresses here one of his friends and early (pseudo)biographers, Frank Harris.

And one polite request to every would-be biographer of Maugham: please take notice of the following passage:

First, O sex-obsessed Biographer, get it into your mind that you can learn nothing about your biographees from their sex histories. The sex relation is not a personal relation. It can be irrestitibly desired and rapturously consummated between persons who could not endure one another for a day in any other relation. If I were to tell you every such adventure I have enjoyed you would be none the wiser as to the sort of man I am. You would know only what you already know: that I am a human being. If you have any doubts as to my normal virility, dismiss them from your mind. I was not impotent; I was not sterile; I was not homosexual; and I was extremely susceptible, though not promiscuously.

(To Frank Harris on Sex in Biography from Sixteen Self Sketches, Constable, 1949, p. 113; this piece written in 1930.)

Ironically, Shavian biographers seem to have the opposite problem of the Maughmian ones: too less sex in the life of their biographee. Yet, even more ironically, they seem to make the same mess. It's worth quoting also the last paragraph of Shaw's piece. It consists but of two short sentences:

So now, no romance. Above all, no pornography.
(Ibid., p. 115.)

maig 7, 2011, 4:22pm

From Maugham's second novel, The Making of a Saint (1898):

I bear my soul in patience, but sometimes I cannot help rising up against fate, and crying out that it is hard that all this should happen to me. Why? What had I done that I should be denied the little happiness of this world? Why should I be more unhappy than others? But then I chide myself, and ask whether I have indeed been less happy. Are they any of them happy? Or are those right who say that the world is misery and that the only happiness is to die? Who knows?

juny 15, 2011, 10:55pm

ah, that's a book I need to read

juny 16, 2011, 3:08pm

It's not as great as it might be suggested by this quote, alas. But, considering that it was only Maugham's second novel, and a historical one, and that he was but 24 years old when he wrote it, it is a considerable achievement, if still very far from the mature Maugham. It's been out of print for ages but there are few reprints available (at least there were some time ago) for ardent students of Maugham - who are probably the only ones who would read it.

You will fnd some amusing things about this novel in Maugham's preface to Liza. By the way, one of Maugham's more sympathetic critics (John Whitehead, if my memory serves me right) wrote in his study that the article by Andrew Lang that Maugham refers to could not be traced. Funny that.

The novel makes an especially fascinating comparison with Maugham's second historical novel, Then and Now, first published 48 (!) years after The Making of a Saint. Like, say, Liza and Cakes and Ale, I still find it hard to believe that it was the same man who wrote both books. The development of the writing style, to say nothing of characterisation, is truly incredible.

juny 16, 2011, 9:45pm

perhaps a coincidence: but a page in an 1891 journal that Maugham could well have read bears the name of the critic Andrew Lang, along with advice from another writer to write historical novels




Editat: juny 20, 2011, 9:27am

Congratulations, Daniel! You have just outwitted the whole army of Maugham biographers/critics. And thank you: fascinating to know the original source of Andrew Lang's advice. It must be the same as the one Maugham refers to!

Editat: juny 26, 2011, 5:48pm

Maugham tours the armament factories in France during the early stages of the Second World War:

For the moment you enter you are made aware that danger is close; at the gateway your matches and lighter are taken from you; and so that you may be preserved from temptation you are asked to give up your cigarettes. The workmen wear wooden sabots in case a nail in a leather sole should strike a spark on the concrete floor. They wear black overalls which are fire-proofed, and this uniform somberness gives them a kind of mystery. The director who showed me round told me that his immediate predecessor was the victim of an explosion. Not a trace of him, not even trouser button, was ever found; he simply disappeared. ... In another factory I saw, where they made explosives, the last part of the process takes place in little cubicles so made that the roof and front will blow out if there is an explosion, and each man works alone, so that he alone may be killed. Grim! And yet so true is it that familiarity breeds contempt, that these workmen - and there are 12 000 of them at the powder-factory - go about their business with as little concern as the women I had seen at the front making shirts and sweaters.

From France at War (1940), one of the few volumes pure propaganda in Maugham's oeuvre.

Editat: jul. 11, 2011, 8:51pm

"68": well, I only just now read this note, and am pleased that the search paid off. Amazing what Google can do!

jul. 25, 2011, 11:13pm

"I only remember that my admiration for Flaubert led me to write long descriptions of scenery. I have since learned that there is nothing so tedious. I think it is a very good rule to limit such descriptions to three lines. If a writer in that space cannot give an adequate description of a scene he had better leave it to the reader's imagination." (1934 Preface to Liza of Lambeth, compliments of Waldstein).

jul. 26, 2011, 4:04pm

This is a particular favourite of mine too. I had in mind these lines when I wrote the final paragraph of my review of The Trembling of a Leaf. Of course I haven't really counted the lines of the descriptions in the short stories. I just assumed Maugham would keep his word and wouldn't exceed three lines. -:)

One favourite line from the play Caesar's Wife:

Why do we all call him Henry? Why does Henry suit him so admirably? If he had charm we would naturally call him Harry.

jul. 29, 2011, 12:34pm

71 LOL - I'm reading Flaubert right now, Madame Bovary of course, and am right at the stage that I'm becoming less charmed with all the description because I'm wondering what is important and what is just background. Flaubert can spend more than three lines of description on an incidental character that won't be mentioned again after the chapter is over.

jul. 29, 2011, 1:21pm

cammykitty, whatever the flaws, in my opinion Flaubert makes up for it with his strenghs in Madame B. This is a man who could spend all day on a few lines, so one thing we can be sure of, if he published it, he intended to write it that way! :-)

jul. 29, 2011, 1:22pm

“In the country, the darkness of night is friendly and familiar, but in a city, with its blaze of lights, it is unnatural, hostile and menacing. It is like a monstrous vulture that hovers, biding its time.”

(I've not found the source of this widely- reprinted quote, but I suspect that Waldstein will know)

jul. 30, 2011, 1:31am

@74 Yes, definitely enjoying Madame B, but Flaubert & Maugham were very different writers.

jul. 31, 2011, 12:01am

>76 cammykitty:. Oh, yes they were, that's for sure. But I do sense an influence of Flaubert in Maugham's first novel, Liza of Lambeth (or perhaps they both stemmed from the same school of writing). Liza is a tale of "realism", showing life unromanticized, with elements that range from human to sordid. Maugham in his youth seems not to have put much stock in romanticized love. Or, given that he was working as a medical student in the lower class tenements in which the story takes place, perhaps he just described what he saw.

jul. 31, 2011, 10:46pm

Did he ever put much stock in romanticized anything? I'll have to read Liza at some time.

ag. 3, 2011, 11:33pm

If you do read Liza, pay particular attention to the ending. The tone is entirely different from the rest of the novel. I swear, in irreverent hilarity and satire it goes beyond anything Dickens would have dared!

ag. 4, 2011, 9:38pm

I will.

ag. 8, 2011, 10:42am

On the Mona Lisa (if my seconday source is to be believed): "the insipid smile of that prim and sex-starved young woman"

ag. 10, 2011, 3:01pm

Charming. According to Google, this comes from the novel Christmas Holiday (1938). I regret to say I don't remember it at all. Time to re-read this work, I guess.

set. 25, 2011, 3:12pm

In response to a letter written by Marilyn Monroe, Maugham wrote:

Dear Miss Monroe,
Thank you for your charming telegram of good wishes on my birthday. It was extremely kind of you to think of me; I was touched and much pleased.
I am so glad to hear that you are going to play Sadie in the T.V. production of “Rain.” I am sure you will be splendid. I wish you the best of luck.
Yours very sincerely, W. Somerset Maugham

set. 26, 2011, 4:22pm

LOL, I wouldn't think of Marilyn sending him of all people, birthday wishes. & as for "charming telegram," I'm sure it would've been better as a singing telegram.

set. 30, 2011, 8:58pm

Apparently, Miss Marilyn was more intelligent than the public realized, and better read. She had been slated to play the role of Sadie Thompson in Rain, but that was precluded by her suicide.

oct. 1, 2011, 12:22am

I knew she was very intelligent, and could turn "Marilyn" on and off. She didn't always walk around like hot sex in heels.

Editat: abr. 28, 2012, 9:22am

On Henry James:

He was like a man who would provide himself with all the impedimenta necessary to ascend Mount Everest in order to climb Primrose Hill.

(From the Introduction to Tellers of Tales, Doubleday, Doran, 1939, p. xxxvii)

I am exceedingly proud that I have just finished my first short story by Henry James: ''Brooksmith''. Only now do I really appreciate the above quote as well as all other of Maugham's rather harsh words about Henry James.

Have you seen ''The Beach'' with Leo di Caprio? There one of the characters thanked the Lord for the two pillars of civilization: Christianity and cricket. He was wrong. Ask Henry James. There is but one pillar of civilization, and this is ''the institution of the salon''.

abr. 28, 2012, 11:21pm

Haven't seen "The Beach" but Maugham's quote on James seems right on to me. Haven't read Brooksmith. Did you like it?

abr. 29, 2012, 5:43am

No, Katie, I can't say I liked it; indeed I am a little surprised I could finish it. But it was only 17 pages long. ''The Beast in the Jungle'' is 40!

I can see why James is revered for his ''subtlety''. But I wish he had aimed just a little higher than salons and butlers; maybe in his his other works he did.

This story is unintentionally hilarious. Imagine Brooksmith's tremendous moral and spiritual degradation from butler (which is sublime) to waiter (which is despicable)! And how ''dreadful'' is the very thought of his opening a shop after his master's death. A shop! A SHOP!

Oh Henry, Henry...

abr. 29, 2012, 12:52pm

While we are on the Maugham-James subject, here are two gems more, both from ''Some Novelists I Have Known'' in the collection The Vagrant Mood:

Henry James's fictions are like the cobwebs which a spider may spin in the attic of some old house, intricate, delicate and even beautiful, but which at any moment the housemaid's broom with brutal common sense may sweep away.

I think he took himself a good deal too seriously. We look askance at a man who keeps on telling you he is a gentleman; I think it would have been more becoming in Henry James if he had not insisted so often on his being an artist. It is better to leave others to say that.

abr. 29, 2012, 12:54pm

Um, yes. That does sound unintentionally hilarious. I was surprised that you would try James again. Yes, he's quite subtle, but sometimes that means for the reader that you read several pages and are still not sure why you read them. Who but James could write a horror story on the horror of living your life and realizing at the end that the horror you feared was going to happen was the horror of finding out you did nothing to enjoy your life because some horror was going to happen to you. Circular?

abr. 29, 2012, 1:20pm

I am sorry, Katie. I know I promised you not touch Henry again. I was just browsing through 50 Great Short Stories and got curious. I think I may possibly try ''The Jolly Corner'' in some distant future, simply because it is part of Tellers of Tales, but I don't see myself reading a novel by him (or, for that matter, trying ''The Beast in the Jungle'' again). Life's too short for Henry James.

That horror story is a very vicious circle indeed!

abr. 29, 2012, 10:40pm

Read The Turn of the Screw if you are going to touch James again. I'm sure you won't like "The Jolly Corner" any more than Beast. I'm not going to fix the hole in your plasterboard wall when you throw Tellers of Tales across the room. I made you promise for your own good. ;)

abr. 30, 2012, 2:20am

I was bored by Turn of the Screw at an age perhaps too young to appreciate it... although at the same age, I loved Of Human Bondage. Somehow, I have not managed to get back to Mr James. I don't think he's my cup of tea (as WSM would say, and did, of Edith Wharton)...

maig 2, 2012, 11:59pm

Oooooo I haven't been able to read Edith Wharton. I've tried, but have found her tedious. Other people adore her, but I just don't have the patience for all the details that interested her. Perhaps I should look at WSM's criticism of his contemporary writers. I seem to agree with him, at least somewhat.

nov. 28, 2012, 8:43pm

When one reads, and re-reads, Moby Dick, it seems to me that one gets a more convincing, a more definite, impression of the man than from anything one may learn of his life and circumstances; an impression of a man endowed by nature with a great gift blighted by an evil genius, so that, like the agave, no sooner had it put forth its splendid blooming than it withered; a moody, unhappy man tormented by instincts he shrank from with horror; a man conscious that the virtue had gone out of him, and embittered by failure and poverty; a man of heart craving for friendship, only to find that friendship too was vanity. Such, as I see him, was Herman Melville, a man whom one can only regard with deep compassion.

From Ten Novels and Their Authors (1954).

Editat: des. 28, 2012, 8:38am

The collection of quotes from Ten Novels and Their Authors has been greatly expanded. The link is still the same, namely this one:


gen. 5, 2013, 6:32pm

very good-- thanks!

Editat: gen. 29, 2013, 4:26pm

From The Sacred Flame:
What do we any of us live for but our illusions and what can we ask of others but that they should allow us to keep them?

From The Circle:
My dear, I don't know that in life it matters so much what you do as what you are. No one can learn by the experience of another because no circumstances are quite the same. If we made rather a hash of things perhaps it was because we were rather trivial people. You can do anything in this world if you're prepared to take the consequences, and the consequences depends on character.

març 13, 2013, 9:49am

The collection of quotes from plays has been greatly expanded; the whole sections from Our Betters and The Constant Wife are entirely new. The link is still the same:


In the next days I intend also to expand the selection from Sheppey beyond the famous story "Appointment in Samarra" and add a new section about The Bread-Winner, the most forgotten among Maugham's last four plays (Mr Curtis didn't choose to reprint it in his two-volume selection from the 1990s).

març 26, 2013, 1:13pm

Not anymore. Apparently Multiply has closed for good. Please pay no attention to all Multiply links above. They don't work anymore.

Since I was stupid enough not to save the collections with quotes from Maugham's works, I will have to compile them again. When this happens, and when they are uploaded somewhere, I'll post the links here.

abr. 9, 2013, 9:03pm

Terrible that this site can just close without any warning. I guess we should all take a lesson from this and keep copies of what we post online. Waldstein, I hope you haven't lost much the extensive material you had online

Editat: abr. 13, 2013, 8:05pm

I'm trying to accept it as a blessing in disguise. On the positive side, being an inveterate quoter, I could retrieve a lot from my old reviews, and now that I am going over all collections carefully, I can check for misquotations and expand them with many passages that strike me as relevant to Maugham's life, work and personality, but which I somehow missed the previous time.

I have already started the Restoration (not to be confused with the less important period from the British history) on my newly formed for this very purpose blog. Most of the collections are already in existence and you are of course welcome to browse them, but I must warn you that they are poorer than before. The only exceptions are Ten Novels and Their Authors and the plays; they are still the same and can be found here:



The only newly corrected and augmented collection so far is the one from A Writer's Notebook:


The next one will be The Summing Up where the loss was particularly terrible, especially since the only free online copy of the book I know of is - well, it is no longer free. But it will no doubt be a great pleasure to go over this magnificent book yet again. However, many other works, especially fiction, will have to wait for the proper mood and complete rereading in order to be supplied with the proper selection of extracts.

PS I had at least the good sense to save those of my precious reviews which are too long for LT and therefore have to be posted somewhere else. Yes, by all means do back up your online stuff.

abr. 16, 2013, 10:08pm

I am very glad you are getting these back online. On a side note, I haven't seen your non- LT reviews, and honestly didn't know there was such a thing as a review too long for this site.

Editat: maig 30, 2013, 11:30am

Normally there are no reviews too long for LibraryThing. But my intolerable verbosity sometimes leads to the existence of such freaks. I have incidentally noticed that one of them is only a little shorter than the limit (the addition of only one paragraph makes it too long) and so, out of curiosity, I "measured" in Word the review length of LibraryThing. It is about 65 000 characters, give or take a few hundred and including spaces and formatting. In words, this means about 11 500, which - again incidentally - is very close to Willie's favourite length for a short story (12 000). :-)

ag. 22, 2013, 6:00pm

Some quotes extracted from the essay about El Greco in Don Fernando; relevant reproductions added:


Quotes from Of Human Bondage extended with references to El Greco and his "View and Plan of Toledo" which is described in the novel:


set. 2, 2013, 6:57pm

Excerpts from The Summing Up greatly expanded. Links to authors and works added. The endnotes, unfortunately, don't work as links; am working on that.


gen. 30, 2014, 11:25am

Insight into Maugham's craft from the preface to vol. 1 of his Collected Plays, 1952.

I was blamed also for my fertility, which is a merit, it appears, only in the dead, but when I look back I am astounded at my moderation. I had always half a dozen plays in my head, and when a theme presented itself to me it did so divided into scenes and acts, with each ‘curtain’ staring me in the face, so that I should have had no difficulty in beginning a new play the day after I had finished the one I was engaged on. If I did not write six a year it is only because it would have bored me. I have always written with pains and care, but I am an improviser. Some writers beat out their matter little by little, they write and write again, they add something here and something there; they put their work together like the pieces of a mosaic; and I am prepared to believe that so they achieve sometimes an excellence that the improviser cannot hope for. With him it is hit or miss. I daresay the elaborator gets nearer perfection, but the improviser perhaps has a greater spontaneity and he preserves the freshness of any inspiration he may have. Anyhow he has not made himself, and he must make the best of what gifts he has. Fertility is one of his compensations. I have often tried writing scenes again, but have found that I wrote not better but merely different ones.

Editat: març 12, 2014, 7:56am

Hereford Vaughan, who was an object of considerable curiosity to several of the guests on account of his phenomenal success in having eleven plays at the same time being performed in London, New York, Berlin, Paris, and every other European city, was, to those who did not know him before, an agreeable surprise. Heaven knows what exactly people expected of him; perhaps the men feared 'side' and the women that he would be overpowering after so many triumphs, but he was merely a rather pale, dark, and rather handsome young man. He behaved like anybody else, except that perhaps his manner was a little quieter than the average. Unless one was very observant (which one isn't), or unless one listened to what he said, he did not at first appear too alarmingly clever. He had one or two characteristics which must have at times led to misunderstandings. One was that whatever or whoever he looked at, his dark opaque eyes were so full of vivid expression that women often mistook for admiration what was often merely observation. For instance, when he glanced at Lady Walmer she at once became quite confused, and intensely flattered, nearly blushed and asked him to dinner. While, if she had but known, behind that dark glance was merely the thought, "So that's the woman that Royalty... What extraordinary taste!

From the 1911 novel The Limit by Ada Leverson. Willie makes a cameo appearance in the character of Gilbert Hereford Vaughan (Gillie). Online text is available here. Stott mentions the novel and the friendship between Ada Leverson and Maugham in F114. See also Morgan, chap. 6, pp. 173-74 in the 1981 Triad/Granada paperback, and Hastings, chap. 5, pp. 142-43 in the 2010 John Murray paperback.

març 13, 2014, 1:22pm

Since information about Maugham's collection of paintings seems to be scarce on the Web, I have made a post dedicated to it which contains all reproductions from Purely for My Pleasure and most of the text. It is here.

nov. 3, 2014, 4:28am

The Gentleman in the Parlour, first lines:

I have never been able to feel for Charles Lamb the affection that he inspires in most of his readers. There is a cross grain in my nature that makes me resent the transports of others and gush will dry up in me (against my will, for heaven knows I have no wish to chill by my coldness the enthusiasm of my neighbours) the capacity of admiration. Too many critics have written of Charles Lamb with insipidity for me ever to have been able to read him without uneasiness. He is like one of those persons of overflowing heart who seem to lie in wait for disaster to befall you so that they may envelop you with their sympathy. Their arms are so quickly outstretched to raise you when you fall that you cannot help asking yourself, as you rub your barked shin, whether by any chance they did not put in your path the stone that tripped you up. I am afraid of people with too much charm. They devour you. In the end you are made a sacrifice to the exercise of their fascinating gift and their insincerity. Nor do I much care for writers whose charm is their chief asset. It is not enough. I want something to get my teeth into, and when I ask for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding I am dissatisfied to be given bread and milk. I am put out of countenance by the sensibility of the Gentle Elia. For a generation Rousseau had pinned every writer’s heart to his sleeve and it was in his day still the fashion to write with a lump in the throat, but Lamb’s emotion, to my mind, too often suggests the facile lachrymosity of the alcoholic. I cannot but think his tenderness would have been advantageously tempered by abstinence, a blue pill and a black draught. Of course when you read the references made to him by his contemporaries, you discover that the Gentle Elia is an invention of the sentimentalists. He was a more robust, irascible and intemperate fellow than they have made him out, and he would have laughed (and with justice) at the portrait they have painted of him. If you had met him one evening at Benjamin Haydon’s, you would have seen a grubby little person, somewhat the worse for liquor, who could be very dull, and if he made a joke it might as easily have been a bad as a good one. In fact, you would have met Charles Lamb and not the Gentle Elia. And if you had read that morning one of his essays in The London Magazine you would have thought it an agreeable trifle. It would never have occurred to you that this pleasant piece would serve one day as a pretext for the lucubrations of the learned. You would have read it in the right spirit; for you it would have been a living thing. It is one of the misfortunes to which the writer is subject that he is too little praised when he is alive and too much when he is dead. The critics force us to read the classics as Machiavelli wrote, in Court dress; whereas we should do much better to read them, as though they were our contemporaries, in a dressing-gown.

Editat: nov. 17, 2014, 4:32am

Reflections on William Hazlitt (1):

The Gentleman in the Parlour, chapter III:

I began to read my Hazlitt. I was astonished. I found a solid writer, without pretentiousness, courageous to speak his mind, sensible and plain, with a passion for the arts that was neither gushing nor forced, various, interested in the life about him, ingenious, sufficiently profound for his purposes, but with no affectation of profundity, humorous, sensitive. And I liked his English. It was natural and racy, eloquent where eloquence was needed, easy to read, clear and succinct, neither below the weight of his matter nor with fine phrases trying to give it a specious importance. If art is nature seen through the medium of a personality, Hazlitt is a great artist.

I was enraptured. I could not forgive myself that I had lived so long without reading him and I raged against the idolaters of Elia whose foolishness had deprived me till now of so vivid an experience. Here certainly was no charm, but what a robust mind, sane, clear-cut and vivacious, and what vigour!

The Summing Up, chapter XIV:

Hazlitt is vivid, bracing, and energetic; he has strength and liveliness. You feel the man in his phrases, not the mean, querulous, disagreeable man that he appeared to the world that knew him, but the man within of his own ideal vision. (And the man within us is as true in reality as the man, pitiful and halting, of our outward seeming.)

des. 22, 2014, 7:37am

Maugham's parody of Eddie Marsh, his long-time proof-reader, as quoted in Christopher Hassall's Edward Marsh: Patron of the Arts, Longmans, 1959, p. 615:

I found it very interesting and most entertaining. You will say, if a book is interesting it must be entertaining and if it's entertaining it must be interesting. Not at all, Crime and Punishment is interesting without being entertaining and any one of the work of P. G. Wodehouse is entertaining without being interesting. And this brought me to the word intriguing which you have twice used in inverted commas.This is sheer pusillanimity. The time has surely come to admit that commonplace usage has given the word a serviceable meaning. Down with your god-mammon-serving commas!

This was apparently written on the occasion of Mr Marsh's publishing his reminiscences, A Number of People (1939), probably in a letter. Mr Hassall, unfortunately, gives no source.

des. 27, 2014, 4:40pm

ah, so that's why you've been reading Hazlitt!

Editat: gen. 22, 2015, 7:33am

Maugham on his own limitations and how they affected his work:

The Summing Up, chapters 22 & 23:
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.


But though I have had variety of invention, and this is not strange since it is the outcome of the variety of mankind, I have had small power of imagination. I have taken living people and put them into the situations, tragic or comic, that their characters suggested. I might well say that they invented their own stories. I have been incapable of those great, sustained flights that carry the author on broad pinions into a celestial sphere. My fancy, never very strong, has been hampered by my sense of probability. I have painted easel pictures, not frescoes.

A Writer's Notebook, "1917":
My native gifts are not remarkable, but I have a certain force of character which has enabled me in a measure to supplement my deficiencies. I have common-sense. Most people cannot see anything, but I can see what is in the front of my nose with extreme clearness; the greatest writers can see through a brick wall. My vision is not so penetrating. For many years I have been described as a cynic; I told the truth. I wish no one to take me for other than I am, and on the other hand I see no need to accept others' pretences.

gen. 23, 2015, 8:13pm

wow, just saw this. What a great contribution !

Editat: gen. 23, 2015, 8:16pm

These self deprecating thoughts, full of humility, are a remarkable self assessment. They are consistent with that (perhaps apocryphal) "second tier" perspective...

Editat: gen. 25, 2015, 6:54pm

Yes, they are. I suppose somebody read them, remembered Lytton Strachey (or Christopher Isherwood) and thought it would fit Maugham in the first person singular as well.

As I am currently on Stephen King frequency, here are a few fascinating references to Maugham from one of his novels, Bag of Bones:

Johanna and I had both been English majors at the University of Maine, and like many others, I reckon, we fell in love to the sound of Shakespeare and the Tilbury Town cynicism of Edwin Arlington Robinson. Yet the writer who had bound us closest together was no college-friendly poet or essayist but W. Somerset Maugham, that elderly globetrotting novelist-playwright with the reptile's face (always obscured by cigarette smoke in his photographs, it seems) and the romantic's heart. So it did not surprise me much to find that the book under the bed was The Moon and Sixpence. I had read it myself as a late teenager, not once but twice, identifying passionately with the character of Charles Strickland. (It was writing I wanted to do in the South Seas, of course, not painting.)

"A hundred years from now," she had said, "the shame of the mid-twentieth century literary critics will be that they embraced Lawrence and ignored Maugham." This was greeted with contemptuously good-natured laughter (they all knew Women in Love was one of the greatest damn books ever written), but I didn't laugh. I fell in love.

At one place later, the narrator even exclaims (or sighs?): "Thank God she was a Maugham fan." Without that, apparently, their marriage wouldn't have worked. :-)

gen. 27, 2015, 6:37am

Maugham on his literary position. Please note that this refers to his standing with the critics, not necessarily to his own limitations as a writer.

The Summing Up, chapter 58:
I have no illusions about my literary position. There are but two important critics in my own country who have troubled to take me seriously and when clever young men write essays about contemporary fiction they never think of considering me. I do not resent it. It is very natural. I have never been a propagandist. The reading public has enormously increased during the last thirty years and there is a large mass of ignorant people who want knowledge that can be acquired with little labour. They have thought that they were learning something when they read novels in which the characters delivered their views on the burning topics of the day. A bit of love-making thrown in here and there made the information they were given sufficiently palatable. The novel was regarded as a convenient pulpit for the dissemination of ideas and a good many novelists were willing enough to look upon themselves as leaders of thought. The novels they wrote were journalism rather than fiction. They had a news value. Their disadvantage was that after a little while they were as unreadable as last week's paper. But the demand of this great new public for knowledge has of late given rise to the production of a number of books in which subjects of common interest, science, education, social welfare and I know not what, are treated in non-technical language. Their success has been very great and has killed the propaganda novel. But it is evident that while its vogue lasted it seemed much more significant and so offered a better subject of discourse than the novel of character or adventure.

Liza of Lambeth, Preface for The Collected Edition, 1934:
I am aware that this preface and those that follow it are egotistic. I hope my egotism is not unseemly. It is not easy to talk of oneself without offence and it may seem to some readers that in these prefaces I have arrogated to myself an importance which is not my due. I beg them to believe that I have no illusions about my position in current literature, and I do not think that I attach an exaggerated value to my works. I know their defects better than any critic. But no one will concern himself with such an edition as this unless, for reasons best known to himself, he is interested in the author. It is not unreasonable then to suppose that he will care to know under what conditions such and such a book was written and be interested to hear what the author cares to say about himself and his art. If these prefaces are not egotistic they are absurd. They have amused me to write: if they do not amuse the reader to read he is after all under no compulsion to do so.

A little later in the same preface comes my favourite passage on the critics:

I have been much praised and much blamed. Though I have been elated by the praise and cast down by the blame I have never let either disturb me in my chosen course. I should have been very willing to learn from the many criticisms of my work that I have read, but I have not found them very helpful. I suppose it is asking too much from a critic, who is often hurried and always ill-paid, that he should take the trouble to indicate an author's faults in such a way that he may be enabled to correct them. Perhaps my critics never thought it worth while to make the attempt; perhaps they had not the capacity.

març 1, 2015, 6:40pm

Selection of quotes from The Pattern of Maugham by Anthony Curtis (1).

Editat: juny 24, 2015, 2:38pm

From Books and You, chapter 3. On Ralph Waldo Emerson and his Essays:

"Often he hardly escapes the commonplace by a hair’s breadth. He had a gift of the picturesque phrase, but too often it is empty of meaning. He is a nimble skater who cuts elegant and complicated figures on a surface of frozen platitudes. Perhaps he would have been a better writer if he had not been quite so good a man."

juny 28, 2015, 6:21pm

Extensive selection of quotes from Books and You. Most of these are here on LT as parts of reviews or lists, but if you want them collected together,see here.

oct. 20, 2016, 4:09am

From The Gentleman in the Parlour, Chapter XXX:

Now it happened that one of the books I had brought to read on the way was Bradley’s Appearance and Reality. I had read it before, but had found it difficult and wanted to read it again, but since it was an unwieldy volume I tore off the biding and divided it into sections that I could conveniently put in my pocket when, having read enough, I mounted my pony and rode off from the bungalow in which I had passed the night. It is good reading, and though it scarcely convinces you it is often caustic, and the author has a pleasant gift of irony. He is never pompous. He handles the abstract with a light touch. But it is like one of those cubist houses in an exhibition, very light and trim and airy, but so severe in line and furnished with such austere taste, that you cannot imagine yourself toasting your toes by the fire and lounging in an easy chair with a comfortable book. But when I came upon his treatment of the problem of evil I found myself as honestly scandalised as the Pope at the sight of a young woman’s shapely calves. The Absolute, I read, is perfect, and evil, being but an appearance, cannot but subserve to the perfection of the whole. Error contributes to greater energy of life. Evil plays a part in a higher end and in this sense unknowingly is good. The absolute is richer for every discord. And my memory brought back to me, I know not why, a scene at the beginning of the war. It was in October and our sensibilities were not yet blunted. A cold raw night. There had been what those who took part in it thought a battle, but which was so insignificant a skirmish that the papers did not so much as refer to it, and about a thousand men had been killed and wounded. They lay on straw on the floor of a country church, and the only light came from the candles on the altar. The Germans were advancing and it was necessary to evacuate them as quickly as possible. All through the night the ambulance cars, without lights, drove back and forth, and the wounded cried out to be taken, and some died as they were being lifted on to the stretchers and were thrown on the heap of dead outside the door, and they were dirty and gory, and the church stank of blood and the rankness of humanity. And there was one boy who was so shattered that it was not worth while to move him and as he lay there, seeing men on either side of him being taken out, he screamed at the top of his voice: je ne veux pas mourir. Je suis trop jeune. Je ne veux pas mourir. And he went on screaming that he did not want to die till he died. Of course this is no argument. It was but an inconsiderable incident the only significance of which was that I saw it with my own eyes and in my ears for days afterwards rang that despairing cry; but a greater than I, a philosopher and a mathematician into the bargain if you please, said that the heart had its reasons which the head did not know, and (in the grip of compound things, to use the Buddhist phrase, as I am) this scene is to me a sufficient refutation of the metaphysician’s fine-spun theories. But my heart can accept the evils that befall me if they are the consequence of actions that I (the I that is not my soul, which perishes, but the result of my deeds in another state of existence) did in past time, and I am resigned to the evils that I see about me, the death of the young (the most bitter of all) the grief of the mothers that bore them in anguish, poverty and sickness and frustrated hopes, if these evils are but the consequence of the sins which those that suffer them once committed. Here is an explanation that outrages neither the heart nor the head; there is only one fault that I can find in it: it is incredible.

Editat: ag. 30, 2019, 2:39pm

From The Razor's Edge:

"You know, at one time I made quite a little reputation for myself as a humorist by the simple process of telling the truth. It came as such a surprise to most people that they thought I was being funny."
"I don't see the connection."
"Well, Larry is, I think, the only person I've ever met who's completely disinterested. It makes his actions seem peculiar. We're not used to persons who do things simply for the love of God whom they don't believe in."
Suzanne stared at me.
"My poor friend, you've had too much to drink."

oct. 6, 2019, 5:48am

From the play Landed Gentry:

“Do I shock you?”
“No, because I see you’re trying to.”

gen. 10, 2020, 6:38am

From the introduction to Maugham's Choice of Kipling's Best:

No one is obliged to read stories, and if you don’t like them unless there is something in them more than a story, there is nothing to do about it. You may not like oysters, no one can blame you for that, but it is unreasonable to condemn them because they don’t possess the emotional quality of a beefsteak and kidney pudding. It is equally unreasonable to find fault with a story because it is only a story. That is just what some of Kipling’s detractors have done.

Editat: maig 6, 2021, 12:38pm

From The Summing Up (1938), ch. XVI:

At first sight it is curious that our own offences should seem to us so much less heinous than the offences of others. I suppose the reason is that we know all the circumstances that have occasioned them and so manage to excuse in ourselves what we cannot excuse in others. We turn our attention away from our own defects, and when we are forced by untoward events to consider them find it easy to condone them. For all I know we are right to do this; they are part of us and we must accept the good and the bad in ourselves together. But when we come to judge others it is not by ourselves as we really are that we judge them, but by an image that we have formed of ourselves from which we have left out everything that offends our vanity or would discredit us in the eyes of the world.