Reviewing Somerset Maugham The Short Story English Literature Essay
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: English Literature|
|✅ Wordcount: 1219 words||✅ Published: 1st Jan 2015|
W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham” are two self-compiled volumes filled with literary sketches from his travels around the world. Through careful observation, Maugham’s keen insight into human nature proves a most interesting topic choice. Written in a meticulous structure, he writes the same old story in a raw and riveting way.
While working as a doctor in the slums of London, he came into contact with less than reputable characters, some of which intrigued him. These initial experiences with colorful individuals seemed to be the origination for his interest in human nature. Maugham was interested in controversial topics like adultery and prostitution, but I believe any culture that was different than his own simply evoked strong feelings of curiosity. When possible, he leapt to explore those circumstances, hence his famed short stories compiled from his travels around the world.
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Maugham writes of his travels more than any other topic throughout his oeuvre. Because his writing gave him freedom to travel, Maugham was able to witness notoriously historical settings in his lifetime. Most transcribed in his short stories are these accounts of colonized areas in the Far East. India and Asia, colonized by Britain during the time of his travels, were lands filled with interesting people waiting for their story to be told. Through others’ stories, he wrote first-person narratives unique to this time. And while each sole story was distinctive, two common threads united them all together: its capturer, Maugham, and foreign lands. Maugham was able to illustrate the setting of the early twentieth century in a way unlike any other author.
Not until after delving into the collection did I read the preface which explains exactly how and why the collection was constructed. Maugham states that his “short stories” are actually notes taken while traveling on particular instances and accounts of people that interested him. His intention was to revise his notes upon returning home, and to transform them into classical short stories with better narrative than originally found in his notes. When observing the notes, Maugham found they “had a vividness which I might easily lose if I tried to elaborate them.” His notes stayed as they were and he took on the famed reputation for having a plain prose.
Maugham’s notable style was formed when he wrote for Cosmopolitan Magazine. He was required to integrate his stories into allotted space; therefore he had to write an interesting story with succinct language. This can prove to be difficult and is similar to poetry in the sense that certain adverbs and adjectives are stripped away to achieve the most profound story possible. Because of Maugham’s circumstances, he employed discretion when choosing his verbiage. Combing his work forced him to consciously mold his writing style, and to make his stories concise without making the monthly story tedious. This makes any writer more familiar with and ultimately superior in their craft. What the public got was a refined and pithy account of Maugham’s scrupulous narratives. His “plain prose style”, being bare in language, dated in setting, and having the common theme of human nature became a sure-tale sign of his work.
Maugham’s decision to keep his notes raw makes them a refreshing alternative to the embellished stories of his peers. While some authors write more colorfully and in detail than Maugham, they elaborate and strip the stories of je ne sais quoi that can be found in raw, frank art. While some may view this is bland reporting, it captures an element which refined stories lack. His notes, or stories, resemble photographs in that they are snapshots of the setting. The works of his peers are like paintings, which are manipulated by the artists to appear in a perfect manner born from the authors view. Underneath the initial image of his work, like photographs, there is an ethereal quality. The connotation of foreign land accompanied by the time of the colonized Far East makes this possible. His style creates an unadulterated rapport with his readers.
True entertainment lies within a story, and the means of telling it is merely taste. I admire Maugham for being undaunted by his competitor’s styles. His lack of elaboration to engage a reader is bold. The purpose for some artists, as Maugham does, is to find the extraordinary in the everyday. Maugham goes on to explain that stories generally are seen as dull, to a writer, can be seen as intriguing. This is what makes a talented artist perfect for their work. They are able to observe minute details and make them apparent for those who cannot do this. His stories are entertaining and well written, despite what critics or Maugham himself may say.
In a self-deprecating quote, Maugham states that his limited vocabulary and lack of creative metaphors within his stories is the cause for harsh literary criticism. Maugham describes his opinion of a true story to include a beginning, middle and end. He states that popular writings of his day are to begin a story at any point and to end inconclusively. He believed this willy-nilly approach is not truly a story and that there must be structure. He believed a reader is only satisfied when there is a conclusion and sense of closure. Maugham also believed that his peers’ were inclined to write of perilous stories to intrigue their readers, but he could make everyday just as intriguing. He was behind his times and was enthralled by the past ways of writing.
His work was said to have a “plain prose style” which was contradictory to his peers’ experimental literary styles. Interestingly I made the observation when reading his short stories of how matter-of-factly they had been written. “This is what happened here,” is often his message. This style of Maugham’s is what I like, but can also tire of. It is interesting and crisp, and all the adjectives and metaphors are stripped away. I am prone to concise information, and Maugham’s work is the base for plain prose indeed. Of course, one will tire of such bare language and crave something more colorful and exciting, which is why his style can eventually make the reader restless. Like bread, it is enough for sustenance, but with the lure of near-by fruit, who could stay on bread forever?
Maugham is a unique unabashed writer whose style and diction I enjoy because it is not often heard today. It is rare and delicate and is novelty for modern readers. It is not necessary for a story to contain the dramatic plot of all fictions, as Maugham has proven over the years. Because he was true to his form, he should be respected by all.
Maugham, W. Somerset. “The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset
Maugham.” Doubleday: New York, 1952.
Hastings, Selina. “The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham.” John Murray.
Rowland Egger, Roland. “The Administrative Novel.” The American Political
Science Review, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Jun., 1959), pp. 448-455
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