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 7, 2016

The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham (1919)

Literary trivial pursuit questions

Who is the most sucessful doctor turned writer of all time?

What writer's fiction has been the basis for the most movies?  

Not long ago t read The Many Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings, a first rate literary biography that has motivated me to expand my reading of Maugham beyond On Human Bondage and his great set on a tropical island short story "Rain".  Maugham was a very prolific writer, more movies have been based on his novels than any other writer (per Selina Hastings).  

The Moon and Sixpence is the first person narrative centering on an account of the narrator's acquaintanship with a Charles Strickland.  The narrator is an affluent English gentleman.  He receives an invitation to have tea with a Mrs. Strickland and gradually they become close.  He is shocked to learn her husband has deserted her and their children, moving to Paris to pursue his artistic ambitions.

Mrs Strickland and her brother in law are convinced Mr. Strickland is with a woman in Paris and asks the narrator to go to Paris and report back.  He finds Strickland living alone in a shabby hotel.  We then follow his developing relationship to Strickland, who seems a throughly unlikeable blaggard with no artistic skill the narrator can see.  Mrs Strickland is at first churched, she has been left with no means of support.  She begins to type manuscripts for authors and in time has four typists working for her.

Strickland has little success as a painter and does not much care.  He does an occasional odd job to get by.  Maugham is a great creator of characters.  I loved it when the narrator said as he walked the rougher quarters of Paris he wondered  how Balzac would describe the people he encountered.  

There is an interesting development in which Strickland gets deathly ill and is taken in by another painter and his wife.  Something shocking happens, many secrets in the Balzacian streets of Paris.

Strickland decides to go to a tropical island in the Pacific to paint. He works his way there on tramp steamers.  I don't want to give away the action of the novel as it is very interesting. They"white man in the tropics" segment of the novel might offend the hyper anti-colonial readers but it for sure lets us see how people thought and makes us feel the power the island had for Strickland. After his death Strickland has become world famous, with his work of great value to collectors and is proudly displayed in museums.  

Strickland is very much a cypher.  The Moon and Sixpence is very much worth reading, very perceptive.  I enjoyed it a lot.

I have begun his novel The Magician, based loosely on Aleister Crowley.  Upon completing it, maybe tommorow, I hope to read his first novel, Lisbeth, based on his work as a doctor in the slums of London.

Please share your experiences with Somerset Maugham with us.

Mel u

No comments: