British Literary Travellers in Southeast Asia in an Era of Colonial Retreat

Christie, Clive J. "British Literary Travellers in Southeast Asia in an Era of Colonial Retreat." Modern Asian Studies 28 (1994): 673-737.

This is an excellent study on British travel writers who visited Southeast Asia from 1920s to 1950s, such as H.W. Ponder, R.H. Bruce-Lockhart, Osbert Sitwell, Graham Greene, Harold Nicolson, etc., and of course, Maugham.

Christie compares the different impressions from these writers on places and changes that occurred during the time of their visits. Their perceptions are studied in details and the analysis reflects the fascination and nostalgia of an in-between world created by the colonialists and the subsequent brutal reality of the transformation of the political and geographic landscape of the Southeast Asian countries.

What interests us most is the part on Maugham. Christie's study focusses on The Gentleman in the ParlourOn a Chinese Screen and briefly on The Narrow Corner. His commentary on Maugham reveals the importance of travel in Maugham literary creation and how the author exploits the relationship between the physical setting and the people.

This is a very engaging article and the analysis on Maugham's books is insightful and refreshing.


  1. This seems like an appropriate spot to write this. I just received a facsimile dust jacket I had ordered for the Heinemann first of "The Narrow Corner." I had bought a $5.00 1st edition, third printing with no dj, and it looked a little naked. But now it looks like a diamond! And for a total cost of $26. It will be my next Maugham novel to read. Currently I'm reading an early 20th Century American novel called, "The Prodigal Judge" by one Vaughan Kester. [I read one of his earlier books and liked it.] I notice one similarity to Maugham in that they both use the phrase "making love" to describe male sweet talk to a woman - the words not the deed.

    1. Congratulations! I like The Narrow Corner very much. A mature Maugham with a lot of philosophical pondering. I read it only once and have been meaning to read it again some time.

      I have come across "making love" as referring to the courtship stage instead of copulation, because my studies were on earlier centuries. I remember the first time I came across it it gave me a jerk; I don't recall which book it was, but the whole thing was so chaste and stately, suddenly the words jumped up, "He made love to her," and it was in the drawing room! These people were really liberated... and it wasn't a French novel.

      It would be interesting to find out exactly when the phrase changed its meaning, and whether it had to do with the acceptance of pre-marital sex, sexual liberation perhaps, since it used to refer to courtship. The earliest example registered in OED is in 1950: "One of the Carvers made love to her and she had a baby." Unmistakable meaning here.


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