Tuesday, 13 April 2021

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

 


I found this book on a flee market or second hand shop. I always wanted to read something by Maugham and I had heard a lot of good things about this one. 

Based on the life of Paul Gauguin, The Moon and Sixpence is W. Somerset Maugham's ode to the powerful forces behind creative genius. Charles Strickland is a staid banker, a man of wealth and privilege. He is also a man possessed of an unquenchable desire to create art. As Strickland pursues his artistic vision, he leaves London for Paris and Tahiti, and in his quest makes sacrifices that leave the lives of those closest to him in tatters. Through Maugham's sympathetic eye, Strickland's tortured and cruel soul becomes a symbol of the blessing and the curse of transcendent artistic genius, and the cost in humans' lives it sometimes demands.

This novel caught me from page one. Maybe it is the times in which it is written, or just the wonderful writing of Maugham. I have another book by him,  A Writer's Notebook which I started many years ago, but have not managed to go through. After having read The Moon... I think it is time to start from the beginning with the notebook.

The story is loosely based on the life of painter Paul Gaugin. Maugham has created a very dynamic and stubborn character in Charles Strickland, and on top of it, most of the time, not a very nice person.

The narrator, a hopeful writer to be, first meets Strickland at Mrs. Strickland's literary saloon in London. It is said Strickland never attends these sessions, have no interest in culture and is a big bore. Not long afterwards, we hear that he has left his wife and children and moved to Paris. Mrs. Strickland asks the narrator to go to Paris and pursued him to come back. It is rumoured that he left with a mistress. 

The narrator do find him and meets up with him. Strickland is more than willing, in his often course manners, to inform everyone that he has not left with a woman, he is living alone and will become an artist, a painter. He is not going back to his old life.

"I glanced at him with surprise. His cordial agreement with all I said cut the ground from under my feet. It made my position complicated, not to say ludicrous. I was prepared to be persuasive, touching, and hortatory, admonitory and expostulating, if need be vituperative even, indignant and sarcastic; but what the devil does a mentor do when the sinner makes no bones about confessing his sin? I had no experience, since my own practice has always been to deny everything."

We follow Strickland for a time in Paris. He is always a recluse but Dirk Stroeve, a Dutch painter manages to keep in contact with him. He thinks Strickland has genius when nobody else believes he can even paint. When Strickland gets very sick, Stroeve and his wife helps him back to life, which leads to disastrous consequences. 

" "You gave up a comfortable home and a life as happy as the average. You were fairly prosperous. You seem to have had a rotten time in Paris. If you had your time over again would you do what you did?" 

"Rather."

"Do you know that you haven't asked anything about your wife and children? Do you never think of them?

"No."

"I wish you weren't so damned monosyllabic. Have you never had a moment's regret for all the unhappiness you caused them?"

His lips broke into a smile, and he shook his head.

"I should have thought sometimes you couldn't help thinking of the past. I don't mean the past of seven or eight years ago, but further back still, when you first met your wife, and loved her, and married her. Don't you remember the joy with which you first took her in your arms?"

"I don't think of the past. The only thing that matters is the everlasting present." "

Some years later, Strickland is headed for Tahiti where he spends the rest of his life. For the first time in his life he feels integrated in the society and with the people around him. He nevertheless, lives as a recluse far out in the wilderness and continues painting.

The story of Gaugin is a fascinating story in itself. I think that Maugham has brought part of Gaugin's life into the character of Strickland and added other parts. Although you don't have any warmer feelings for Strickland through the book, they tend to melt somewhat as we near the end of his life. It is an interesting portrait of a genius. Geniuses tend to live their lives according to their own ideas. Being somewhat above the rest of us. They also tend to have skills that many of us lacks. 

I loved this book. I loved the writings of Maugham and am eager to read more by him. Furthermore, this is a wonderful edition from 1925, with thick pages. Just wonderful to touch and turn the pages. 

Have you read anything by him that you can recommend?  

2 comments:

  1. Lisbeth, thank you for such a well written and complete look at this book. I am embarrassed to say I have never read anything by Maugham. But this -- this, I think, could be the book that gets me there. The writing segments you've shown are terrific and give such a look at the character. And stories related to art, especially this period, really do capture my other interests as well. This will most definitely go on my list.

    On another note, thanks for your visit and comment on my spring post! Lovely to have your visit. Spring is early here and lovely. I hope you are enjoying it on your travels to Austria and will share some of that country with us!

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    1. Great, Jeanie, I am happy if I could inspire you. This is my first Maugham as well, and I think it is a good book to start. I am certainly into more of his books. I also started reading Graham Greene a while ago. Another excellent British writer. Both of them tend to be so 'matter of fact' keeping the narration in a low key tone, but still manages to convey deep feelings and exciting developments. A little bit the style the John Le Carré developed as well.

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