The Explorer. A Melodrama in Four Acts by W. Somerset Maugham - First Edition

The Explorer by W. Somerset Maugham, First Edition 1912
The Explorer by W. Somerset Maugham, First Edition 1912

The Explorer. A Melodrama in Four Acts (London: Heinemann, 1912)

The Explorer, a play by W. Somerset Maugham, was written as early as 1899 but wasn’t produced until 1908, forming one of the four plays presented simultaneously after the success triggered by Lady Frederick.

Like some of his other early works, Maugham used the same story to try out different genres. The play was novelized under an identical name and published in 1907.

The Explorer - Storyline

The play got good contemporary reviews, but the story may not be very appealing for the modern reader.

Alec MacKenzie, the hero explorer, is bent on bettering the condition of his fellow human beings in Africa. Straight as an arrow, his sense of self-righteousness and conscientiousness attracts the equally stubbornly good Lucy Allerton. I can’t help but wonder what Maugham really thinks of his protagonists. His treatment of them, nevertheless, is serious and, I bet, appeals to the patriotism of his countrymen.

Disgraced by her dishonest father who is sentenced to prison at the opening of the play, all Lucy’s hopes lie in her brother George, who is to redeem the family’s proud name.

Instead of marrying Alec when he proposes to her after the trial and when they both confess their love for each other, Lucy insists on George going with Alec to Africa to finish the job of clearing out the slave traders so as to make her proud of her family name again.

However, her plan doesn’t quite work out since George is as weak and as crooked as his father. Alec’s expedition is disrupted by George’s cruelty and irresponsibility and the team barely escapes death due to his errors. At the end, George, in order to atone what he has done, agrees to a dangerous mission and dies subsequently.

Back to London, an enemy of Alec blackens his name with accusations of him deliberately sending George to his death. Too proud to explain himself to the public and too anxious to protect Lucy from realizing George’s imbecility, Alec refuses to tell the truth about George and is hurt beyond salvage by Lucy’s doubts about him sacrificing George for keeping his own life. The result is that Lucy breaks their engagement.

Time passes. Alec and Lucy haven’t seen each other until just before Alec’s departure to Africa to chase after certain death. Meanwhile, Lucy understands that she should have trusted Alec instead of doubting him. They reconcile and pledge their undying love, but somehow Alec can’t cancel his trip out of sheer stubbornness, and Lucy agrees to wait for his return and he promises her that he will live.

Some of the dialogues appear forced. The couple Dick Lomas and Mrs. Crowley is there merely to provide the missing information and to lighten up the melodrama. Dick’s epigrams and Mrs. Crowley’s repartees sound out of place.

Nevertheless, most probably the dramatic effects work well on stage because of the positive reviews. As a novel, The Explorer is better developed, story-wise and character-wise, but still I would say it is Maugham’s minor work.

The Explorer - First Edition

The Explorer was first published in 1912 by Heinemann in the two usual formats. Copies are hard to come by and very expensive.

The Explorer by W. Somerset Maugham, Theatrical Programme 1908
The Explorer by W. Somerset Maugham, Theatrical Programme 1908

I also bought the theatre programme some time ago, which offers an interesting example of the music used when it was first produced and some of the peripheral information of the theatrical arrangements of over a hundred years ago.

The Explorer by W. Somerset Maugham, Theatrical Programme 1908
The Explorer by W. Somerset Maugham, Theatrical Programme 1908

The Explorer at AbeBooks
The Explorer at


  1. Hi. I have a super rare advance copy of the novel "The Explorer" up on eBay now. $150 less than what I paid for it. Here is a link if anyone's interested.

    1. Best of luck, Mike! That's one thing I'd like to have, but not now...


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