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

Monday, March 21, 2016

Liza of Lambeth. 1897. The First Novel of W. Somerset Maugham

Somerset Maugham is by far the most sucessful physician turned author of all time.  More movies have been made from his works than any other writer.  

Liza of Lambeth is the first novel of Somerset Muagham, published just after he graduated from medical school.  It draws on his experience working as a physician for a few months in a working class section of London.  While there he saw the harsh lives of women, often with ten or more children beaten by their husbands in rages brought on by alcohol.  

Liza is about twenty, works in a factory and lives with her widowed mother.  Alcohol, especially beer fuels all social life, before we judge to harshly there was no clean water to be had.  The novel does a good job of letting us see the inevitable ruin of Liza when she takes up with a married man twice her age with six children.  Liza has a decent suitor but he just a bit dull.  Her mother is kind of a chain puller and a serious drinker also.  

There is a very well done exciting rather brutal fight between Liza and the wife of the man she is involved with. There are several scenes of spousal battery, which was considered more or less normal, though it was illegal.

                  A Street in Lambeth, in the 1890s

The down fall of Liza is very melodramatic and comes as no surprise.  

Liza of Lambeth reminded me of the works of Balzac and Zola  set in the poor quarters of Paris.  

It is a short work, estimated reading time under two hours.  I found it interesting to experience the first work of Maugham.  I have so far read his master work, On Human Bondage, The Moon and Sixpence, The Magician and a few short stories.  


Paulita said...

Interesting that Maugham was a doctor turned writer. He certainly succeeded in his new career.

RT said...

Physician turned author? What about Arthur Conan Doyle? Wasn't he a physician? And certainly more people are familiar with his works (and films based on those works) than those by Maugham. Of course, we're comparing apples and oranges in terms of literary quality, aren't we?

Mel u said...

R T (Tim). Using commercial success as the marker, Muagham became super wealthy. He earned huge amounts from his plays, mostly staged in London but some in NYC also. Maugham is not nearly as known now as Arthur Conan Doyle. My source on Maigham data is Selina Hasting's bio of him, a great book. As to who is a better writer, Maugham knew he was not a first rate writer but said he should be viewed as near the top of the second rank of authors. I don't think he is read a lot anymore. As to movies, four movies were made out of just his short story "Rain". Many of the movies were made in England and not shown now on cable. Maugham is kind of a dated figure, an English gentleman. I enjoy his work a lot and just purchased a set of fifteen of his works for $2.95, an e book.

Mel u said...

R T (Tim). I guess in terms of lasting literary reputation, the most esteemed physician/author has to be Anton Chekhov

RT said...

Chekhov? Absolutely! It would be a fascinating project to list famous authors who had different professions (e.g., physicians who became authors).