Tuesday, 5 April 2011

THE MOON AND SIXPENCE by W. Somerset Maugham

I love Maugham’s book OF HUMAN BONDAGE, so I was excited to find this in my cousin’s bookcase.

THE MOON AND SIXPENCE is very loosely inspired by the life of the nineteenth century painter Paul Gauguin. It tells the story of one Charles Strickland, an English stockbroker who leaves his wife and children and runs away to Paris. Everyone assumes he is in love with another woman, but in fact he is in love with oil painting. This is met with general boggling by all his acquaintance.

He paints furiously while in Paris, and almost dies of starvation there. He eventually takes a passage working on a ship going east. When he finds Tahiti, he feels himself at last at home, moves in with a local woman, and continues to paint furiously till he dies of leprosy.

This book is quite interesting in terms of considering what qualifies as a worthwhile goal for your life, and in terms of what it means if your goal is not one that anyone else understands:
Each one of us is alone in the world....We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them, and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellows and unknown by them. We are like people living in a country whose language they know so little that, with all manner of beautiful and profound things to say, they are condemned to the banalities of the conversation manual. Their brain is seething with ideas, and they can only tell you that the umbrella of the gardener’s aunt is in the house

So interesting, but, I thought, a little trite. The above is sort of like OF HUMAN BONDAGE, but on a bad day.

It also all seems to be written by W Somerset Misogynist. It’s only 217 pages, but manages all sorts of unexpected and distasteful discussions of his early twentieth century views on gender:

When a woman loves you she’s not satisfied until she possesses your soul. Because she’s weak she has a rage for domination, and nothing less will satisfy her. She has a small mind, and she resents the abstract which she is unable to grasp. She is occupied with material things, and she is jealous of the ideal. The soul of man wanders through the uppermost regions of the universe, and she seeks to imprison it in the circle of her account – book.

Now, I never knew I could use my trusty account-book for encircling unwary souls! My small mind shall get right on that.

I am not surprised this has all come out in a book on Gauguin. I never liked those pictures of women he made, who all just stare out at you, half-naked, as if they had a secret and mysterious message, that message being BOOBS.


  1. A crazy lady from Virginia agrees with you:


    PS: Kenya?

  2. That is wild! It is weird she chose that picture, because it is one that has always REALLY irritated me. Maybe I am going crazy too . . .

  3. A friend has recommended this author to me and I would be looking out for his work.

  4. Oh, you should try and get OF HUMAN BONDAGE if you can - it is by far one of the best books I have ever read. Really fantastic.

  5. But why? I love Gauguin. I never thought of his pictures as eroticized. Maybe a little exoticized, that I concede.

    That paragraph about women is hideous, but couldn't it be Gauguin and not Somerset Maugham who thought that about women? However, at the time it must have been quite accurate. Women were not expected to (not to mention not allowed to) "wander through the uppermost regions of the universe" and they were taking care of the house expenses, whereas men had their minds in their artistic achievements.

  6. Oh I think you are very right to put him in the context of his time as regards women - we can't judge everyone by today's standards. But even so, he was writing in 1919, so he had Austen, Bronte, Gaskell all behind him, and Virginia Woolf coming up fast, so I don't know he had quite so much room to talk! I admit I don't ahve a good reason for disliking Gauguin - it's just a kneejerk reaction . . . The women just all look so blank faced, I guess - it sort of reminds me of Playboy! Like they've all been cut off at the neck in some sense.

    Oh, and Steve, PS: Globetrotter! You know me x