La Closerie des Lilas & Maugham

the restaurant la closerie des lilas in the early 20th century, somerset maugham
La Closerie des Lilas, early 20th century

photo of the author somerset maugham about 17
W. Somerset Maugham about 17

W. Somerset Maugham's Reference to La Closerie des Lilas in Of Human Bondage

In this post I will look at several restaurants mentioned in one of W. Somerset Maugham's novels, Of Human Bondage, that Philip Carey frequented when he was studying arts in Paris, such as Gravier's, Le Versailles, and La Closerie des Lilas.

Recently I have taken on the task of rereading Of Human Bondage (1915). After finishing a stressful and boring month, full of mundane and dull duties and daily contact with the hollow men, the stuffed men (albeit young ones), it is such a welcoming breeze to feel my brain responding to stimuli. 

I will write a fuller post after I finish the whole book again, but I cannot help making a comment on a part of Philip's experience in Paris. 

Parisian Restaurants in Of Human Bondage


I have been following Philip's references to restaurants. I have not been able to locate Gravier's, which, according to Clutton, is "the best place for getting dyspepsia at the lowest cost in the Quarter." 

It is likely that it has been closed for a long time. Nevertheless, according to Rogal, Gravier's is actually Le Chat Blanc in the Rue d'Odessa near the Gare Montparnasse [1]. If that is the case, I wonder why Maugham keeps the real name of the other restaurants and changes this one. 

Maugham does mention a restaurant conspicuously called the Chien Noir in another book, The Magician (1908): "The Chien Noir, where Susie Boyd and Margaret generally dined, was the most charming restaurant in the quarter" (30), which is not exactly what Clutton describes. 

The infamous Oliver Haddo, the magician in the novel, is generally agreed to have been based on Aleister Crowley, and we have the following corroboration from Arnold Bennett: “I dined at Chat Blanc. Aleister Crowley was there with dirty hands, immense rings, presumably dyed hair, a fancy waistcoat, a fur coat, and tennis shoes” (in his private journal, March 9 1905). In fact, Rogal writes that Maugham met Crowley at Chat Blanc in 1904 [2]

Le Versailles

Another place the gang seem to frequent is Le Versailles, which does not appear to exist anymore either, but I do find it in Julian Street's Where Paris Dines (1929) [3]. It says the following:
                    LE VERSAILLES
Place de Rennes, opposite Gare Montparnasse
A long-established place less self-consciously "artistic" than the several Montparnasse cafés already mentioned. Lately done over with bright modernistic lighting. There is a billiard hall and, at the back, a dance hall used every night and at tea-time on Sundays. (223)

La Closerie des Lilas

Then we come to La Closerie des Lilas. This is one of the restaurants that has survived and taken full advantage of the national and international intellectual circles that used to frequent it. Now it's pricey and no poor struggling artist would be able to afford it. 

One interesting (and sad) fact is that when one visits its official site, one finds names flashing by, shouting "I've been here!" "I've been here too!" I waited patiently until the last name flew by, and Maugham has been forgotten. 

For those who are familiar with Of Human Bondage, this is the haunt of Cronshaw, the inebriated savant, allegedly based on Aleister Crowley who, as described by Cordell, "had a dynamic but chaotic intellect, great erudition, and no common sense, was less attractive than Cronshaw" [4]:
La Closerie des Lilas was a café to which they often went in the evening after dinner, and here Cronshaw was invariably to be found between the hours of nine at night and two in the morning. (170)
When they arrived at the café Lawson told Philip that they would have to go in. There was hardly a bite in the autumn air, but Cronshaw had a morbid fear of draughts and even in the warmest weather sat inside. (171)
The object of their search sat in the most sheltered corner of the café, with his coat on and the collar turned up. He wore his hat pressed well down on his forehead so that he should avoid cold air. (171)
This is also the place in which Philip first gets from Cronshaw the enigmatic answer about the meaning of life, which he finds out for himself at the end of the book.

In "The Buried Talent" (1934) Maugham mentions the café again:
He[Convers] remembered the room in a pension that he had lived in—he was learning French for his examination—and the studio that Blanche and Charmian had in a street that led out of the Boulevard Raspail, and the Closerie des Lilas, which was their favourite café.

I sure do hope that Maugham's name will be added in full instead of being shrugged off as "many others..."


[1] Rogal, Samuel J. A William Somerset Maugham Encyclopedia. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997. 114.

[2] Ibid. 144-5.

[3] The copy I have is the first edition, published by Doubleday, Doran & Company, which happens to be Maugham's American publisher. By 1929, Doubleday has already merged with Doran, and as I mentioned on About My Maugham Collection, Doran in the 1920s did not include any first edition statement, except a stamp of the initial on the copyright page. After it was merged with Doubleday, the stamp became different, naturally: 

doubleday and doran stamp after 1927 for first editions, maugham american publisher

[4] Cordell, Richard A. Somerset Maugham. A Writer for All Seasons. A Biographical and Critical Study. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969. p. 95. However, Stott believes that Cronshaw is based on the painter James Wilson Morrice. Stott, Raymond Toole. A Bibliography of the Works of W. Somerset Maugham. London: Kaye & Ward, 1973. p. 244. Of course it is perfectly possible that Cronshaw is a composite of several people that Maugham knows. 


  1. What's the secret of converting the endnotes into links? I could never discover it, and I really want to use it.

    1. I am leaving for a weekend trip, when I come back I'll tell you the steps. It's easy.

    2. I create an id for the place I want the endnote to go back to. I write all the html tags in the posts because they give me better control of layout.

      For being able to show the html tags here in the comments, I will substitute the angle brackets with [ ]. When you write the tags I am going to write now, substitute all of them with the angle brackets.

      The example would be note number 1.

      1. Create a tag in the place where your endnote will go back to in the text and insert this:
      [a id="backnote1"][/a]
      2. Create the link in the endnote:
      [a href="#backnote1"]1[/a]

      You can give any id that you like. I put it like this usually to identify different notes so as not to get confused.

      That's it. I am not sure if this is clear. If not, I can send you a screenshot of an example. I don't think I can put a screenshot in the comments.


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