Monday, December 14, 2009

What have you read by W. Somerset Maugham?

One of my favorite authors currently but not discovered until relatively recently, after my college years. I found him by a method I have really come to value. Anthologies of short stories. That's how I found Saki, and that's how I found Hal Clement, and that's how I found Maugham. Once I find an author I revel in, I look up what else he or she has written.

By the way, I've been told it's is correctly pronounced "Mawm." Originally, I was thinking of him as "mawg-ham" which although I conclude forgivable seems quite uninspired. It reminds me of the seminal German poet of Faust fame, "Go-Ee-Thi."

Okay, back on topic (sort of) I found a Maugham short story in an anthology crediting itself as the "best" modern short fiction in the English Language. I cannot recall the title, even though I've looked, but it was about (roughly) a British man's self-perception as a "gentleman" and "man of civilization" at a lonely island outpost in the middle of a jungle.

I realize that little description probably doesn't engage anyone to look up this author, but assure you, you would be surprised.

Anyway, I soon followed the author's name from his short story to the library search engine and found his one of his best-known novels, "A Razor's Edge." It follows a young man's search for the meaning of life, searching among Eastern mysticism and Parisian frolics.

After that, I found "Ashenden" on eBay and I was thrilled to own a copy that antique (the '50s) with the original cover intact. I just finished reading that this season.

As authors go, Maugham is overwhelmingly cosmopolitan. By that I mean multiculturally influenced. He has a personal background in British espionage and foreign affairs, which he puts to good use in his works. Even though his stories rarely seem to follow a clear beginning-middle-end format, his characters are so very human that I suppose his stories thus mirror life.

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