Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"The Fall of Edward Bernard" from Rain and other Stories by W. Somerset Maugham (1921)

This collection from which this story comes was originally called, The Trembling of Leaf:  Little Tales of the South Sea Islands but was renamed Rain and other Stories in 1932 when a movie was made, staring Joan Crawford, based on a story from the collection.

W. Somerset Maughham (1878 to 1965) was born and died in France but he was throughout English. His father handled the legal affairs of the British Embassy in Paris and in fact arranged for his son to be born inside the embassy, considered British territory.  He was a very successful and prolific author, his best known work is On Human Bondage.  I believe his work is now in the public domain in many countries.   I have read now four of his short stories and previously posted on another story from this collection, "MacIntosh".  In my Q and A sessions with some seventy Irish writers, several listed Maugham as one of the best short story writers of the 20th century.   

All of the stories in this collection are set at least partially in the South Pacific.  There are three main on stage characters in this story about two best friends in love with the same young woman from a very wealthy family living in Chicago.  Her fiancé has gone to work in Tahiti to learn to run a coconut plantation, working under the idea he will come back to Chicago within two years once he learns the business, owned by a Chicago businessman.  He will then marry the woman and be set up in a lucrative job in Chicago.  He sends his fiancé a letter every two weeks, when the mail boat goes out.  Overtime he stops mentioning coming back and his fiancé fears he might have "gone of the deep end" so Edward's best friend and her close friend, who also loves her, agrees to go to Tahiti to investigate. When he gets there he find Edward has fallen in love not just with life in Tahiti but with the daughter of a crooked business man married to a Tahitian princess.  Edward wants to stay there forever, living a simple life. (There are elements of Orientalizing in this story).  Edward goes back to Chicago and tells the woman the truth and he offers to marry her.  Here us his Edward now sees Chicago. 

"I think of Chicago now and I see a dark, grey city, all stone–it is like a prison–and a ceaseless turmoil. And what does all that activity amount to? Does one get there the best out of life? Is that what we come into the world for, to hurry to an office, and work hour after hour till night, then hurry home and dine and go to a theatre? Is that how I must spend my youth? Youth lasts so short a time, Bateman. And when I am old, what have I to look forward to? To hurry from my home in the morning to my office and work hour after hour till night, and then hurry home again, and dine and go to a theatre? That may be worth while if you make a fortune; I don’t know, it depends on your nature; but if you don’t, is it worth while then? I want to make more out of my life than that, Bateman.”

This is a very well done story.  Maybe the plot seems a little cliched but that is OK.  Much is made of the contrast of the business world of Chicago versus what is depicted as the laid back idyllic South Seas life.  This story is considered a precursor to his novel The Razor's Edge.

You can easily find this story online.  

I hope to read more of his short stories and might try one of his novels one day.

Please share your experience with Maugham with us.

Mel u

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