The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

Earlier this month I was called for jury duty for the first time. In anticipation of a long wait, as everyone had told me, I went to the library to pick up a new book. Being a small library I usually have to request books as I tend to read ones that most people no longer care much for or only read when required for a class. Wandering the stacks I stumbled on W. Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence (1919). Published around the same time as the Lost Generation that I love so much was coming of age, and loving Of Human Bondage, I picked it up.

I ended up not reading a page while waiting for jury duty, but frantically writing out the first draft of a short story that was born from the surroundings and the fact that I burned my eye socket using a hair straightener five minutes before leaving for the courthouse.

In the end I enjoyed parts of the book but as a whole it fell a bit flat for me. Flat characters, flat plot lines, flat, flat, flat. But Maugham still does have a nice turn of phrase in his work and that kept me reading through till the end. This book especially highlights what one often sacrifices for art. Two of my favorite passages from the book:

“It is a salutary discipline to consider the vast number of books that are written, the fair hopes with which their authors see them published, and the fate which awaits them. What chance is there that any book will make its way among that multitude? And the successful books are but the successes of a season. Heaven knows what pains the author has been at, what bitter experiences he has endured and what heartache suffered, to give some chance reader a few hours’ relaxation or to while away the tedium of a journey. And if I may judge from the reviews, many of these books are well and carefully written; much thought has gone to their compensation; to some even has been given the anxious labour of a lifetime. The moral I draw is that the writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thought; and, indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.” – Pg 8-9

 

“A man’s work reveals him. In social intercourse he gives you the surface that he wishes the world to accept, and you can only gain a true knowledge of him by inferences from little actions, of which he is unconscious, and from fleeting expressions, which cross his face unknown to him. Sometimes people carry to such perfection the mask they have assumed that in due course they actually become the person they seem. But in his book or his picture the real man delivers himself defenceless.” – Pg 189

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