W. Somerset Maugham in A Handbook to Literature

A Handbook to Literature. Sixth Edition.
A Handbook to Literature. Sixth Edition.

Holman, C. Hugh, and William Harmon, eds. A Handbook to Literature. 6th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1992.

This random old books revisit has slowly turned into a reappraisal of W. Somerset Maugham's standing in the academic world. Admittedly my books are from the 90s curriculum, but I do have a relatively new shorter tenth edition of The Norton Introduction to Literature.

Not only criticisms of Maugham post an interest, their absence sometimes is more telling.

The Norton Anthology, one of the most standard companions to undergraduate English programmes, is rid of Maugham, but let's look at what we have in the M section in 1993:

Macaulay, Thomas Babington
MacDiarmid, Hugh
MacNeice, Louis
Mansfield, Katherine
Martineau, Harriet
Meredith, George
Mill, John Stuart
Moore, Thomas
Morris, William
Mulock, Dinah Maria

But this is not the subject of this post. We are going to look at another book, A Handbook to Literature, basically a dictionary of literary terms, and the entries of Maugham in it.

W. Somerset Maugham in A Handbook to Literature

Apprenticeship Novel A NOVEL that recounts the youth and young adulthood of a sensitive PROTAGONIST who is attempting to learn the nature of the world, discover its meaning and pattern, and acquire a philosophy of life and "the art of living." Goethe's Wilhelm Meister is the archetypal apprenticeship novel; noted examples in English are Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh, James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, and Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. The apprenticeship novel is now usually called a BILDUNGSROMAN. It is also sometimes called an ENTWICKLUNGROMAN, or "novel of development," or an ERZIEHUNGSROMAN, or "novel of education." When an apprenticeship novel deals with the development of an artist or writer, it is called a KÜNSTLERROMAN. (34)

The following entry is long, but I think it interesting to include it whole, because it is helpful for reading Maugham's plays.
Comedy of Manners A term designating the REALISTIC, often satirical, COMEDY of the Restoration, as practiced by Congreve and others. It is also used for the revival, in modified form, of this COMEDY a hundred years later by Goldsmith and Sheridan, as well as for another revival late in the nineteenth century. Likewise, the REALISTIC COMEDY of Elizabethan and Jacobean times is sometimes called comedy of manners. In the stricter sense of the term, the type concerns the manners and conventions of an artificial, highly sophisticated society. The stylized fashions and manners of this group dominate the surface and determine the pace of tone of this sort of comedy. Characters are more likely to be types than individuals. Plot, though often involving a clever handling of situation and intrigue, is less important than atmosphere, dialogue, and satire. The dialogue is witty and finished, sometimes brilliant. The appeal is more intellectual than imaginative. SATIRE is directed in the main against the follies and deficiencies of typical characters, such as fops, would-be wits, jealous husbands, COXCOMBS, and others who fail somehow to conform to the conventional attitudes and manners of elegant society. A distinguishing characteristic of the comedy of manners is its emphasis on an illicit love duel, involving at least one pair of witty and often amoral lovers. This prevalence of the "love game" is explained partly by the manners of the time and partly by the special satirical purpose of the comedy itself. In its satire, realism, and employment of "humours" the comedy of manners was indebted to Elizabethan and Jacobean COMEDY. It owed something, as well, to the French comedy of manners as practiced by Molière.

The reaction against the questionable morality of the plays and a growing sentimentalism brought about the downfall of this type of comedy near the close of the seventeenth century, and it was largely supplanted through most of the eighteenth century by SENTIMENTAL COMEDY. Purged of its objectionable features, however, the comedy of manners was revived by Goldsmith and Sheridan late in the eighteenth century and in a somewhat new and brighter garb by Oscar Wilde late in the nineteenth century. The comedy of manners has been popular in the twentieth century in the works of such playwrights as Noël Coward, Somerset Maugham, and Philip Barry.

A few typical comedies of manners are: Wycherley, The Plain Dealer (1674); Etheredge, The Man of Mode (1676); Congreve, The Way of the World (1700); Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer (1773); Sheridan, The Rivals (1775) and The School for Scandal (1777); Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895); Maugham, The Circle (1921); Coward, Private Lives (1931); and Barry, The Philadelphia Story (1939). For a couple of decades, roughly from 1930 to 1950, adaptations of the comedy of manners constituted a popular film genre. (97–8)
Cynicism Doubt of the generally accepted standards or of the innate goodness of human action. In literature the term characterizes writers or movements distinguished by dissatisfaction. Any highly individualistic writer, scornful of accepted social standards and ideals, can be called cynical. Almost every literature has had its schools of cynics. Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh and W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage are examples of the cynical NOVEL. The THEATER OF THE ABSURD, the THEATER OF CRUELTY, and many ANTIREALISTIC NOVELS reflect cynicism. (125)

The entry for "Drama," as expected, is long. I will only quote the paragraph concerning Maugham.
There has been a healthy rebirth of dramatic interest and experimentation in the twentieth century both in Great Britain and in the United States. In the Irish Theatre, under the leadership of people such as Lady Gregory and Douglas Hyde, a vital drama merged, with original and powerful plays from the likes of W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, Padraic Column, and Sean O'Casey (see CELTIC RENAISSANCE). In England the influence of Ibsen (also important on the Irish playwrights) made itself strongly felt in the PROBLEM PLAYS and domestic tragedies of Henry Arthur Jones and Arthur Wing Pinero, in the witty and highly intellectual drama of G. B. Shaw, and in the realism of John Galsworthy. Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, and James Barrie were active producers of comedy; John Masefield gave expression to the tragic vision in a long series of plays. T. S. Eliot and Christopher Fry revived and enriched verse drama. Also important is John Osborne, the leader of England's "ANGRY YOUNG MEN" (Look Back in Anger, and the absurdist playwrights Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard. (150)
Flashback A device by which a work presents material that occurred prior to the opening scene of the work. Various methods may be used, among them recollections of characters, narration by the characters, dream sequences, and reveries. Notable examples in the theater occur in Elmer Rice's Dream Girl and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Maugham used the flashback skillfully and effectively in Cakes and Ale, and it is employed consistently in the novels of John P. Marquand. Commonly enough, as in John O'Hara's novel Ten North Frederick and the film version thereof, a work may begin with a funeral or other such terminal event and then go back into the past to show what passed before, so that a large part of the work is technically one protracted flashback. (197)
Georgian Age in English Literature, 1914–1940 The Georgian Age in English Literature begins with the First World War. It is named for George V, although he reigned from 1910 to 1936. The war effected a fundamental change in English life and thought, a true start of a new age, marked by a long and bitter struggle for national survival, by a flowering of aesthetic talent and experiment in the 1920s, and by the harshness of the Great Depression in the 1930s. In 1940 England had become once more an embattled fortress, destined to suffer six years of harsh attack and the destruction of much of its finest talent.

It was a rich period for the novel. The Edwardians Galsworthy, Wells, Bennett, and Conrad continued to do fine work, and in the 1920s experimental fiction was triumphantly developed by Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce. In the 1930s Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and Graham Greene joined Maugham and Lawrence in producing fiction that constituted a serious commentary on social and moral values. The theater was marked by the social drama of Galsworthy, Jones, and Pinero, and the plays of ideas of Shaw. Maugham and Coward practiced the COMEDY OF MANNERS with distinction. Although Thomas Hardy turned seventy-four in 1914, he was still producing extraordinary powerful poetry, especially that in the volume Satires of Circumstance (1914). Hundreds of other poems followed in the years before Hardy's death, at eighty-seven, in early 1928. Throughout the Georgian Age Yeats was a major poetic voice, as was T. S. Eliot, whose The Waste Land was the most important single poetic publication. The posthumous publication of the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1918 added significantly to the new poetry. T. E. Hulme, Wyndham Lewis, I. A. Richards, T. S. Eliot, and William Empson created an informed, basically anti-Romantic, analytical criticism. Modernism found its doctrines and its voice and did much of its best work during the Georgian Age.

It was a time of national troubles, of major war, of deep depression, and of declining empire, yet the literary expression of the age was vital, fresh, and varied. By the coming of the Second World War, the chief literary figures were turning inward, but they still showed little of the diminishment that was to come. (213–4).

This is a curious literary term:
Gossip A staple of human culture from the beginning, gossip is the unofficial exchange of information and opinions having to do with the private conduct of others. We customarily say that gossip is repeated, that gossip spreads, passed from one person to another until the original personnel and activities are quite transformed. The ROMAN À CLEF in particular tends toward gossip, as is certainly the case with Somerset Maugham's Cakes and Ale and Truman Capote's Answered Prayers. (216)
Implied Author A term applied, particularly by Wayne C. Booth, to the sense of a human agency presenting the materials of a literary work to the reader. The concept of the implied author is similar to Aristotle's concept of the ETHOS of a piece of oratory, in that the ethos is the image of the speaker projected by the speech as a whole. Booth regards an implied author, always present, as a created, idealized version of the real author; it is important, however, to discriminate between the real and the implied author, who remains always a creation, figment, or PERSONA, even when bearing the same name as the real author (a phenomenon that turns up in novels by Somerset Maugham and Christopher Isherwood). (243)

The following is an extract from the entry of "Modernist Period in English Literature," which contains an unexpected coupling of Maugham and Chekhov:
Modernist Period in English Literature In the early years of the Modernist Period, the novelists of the EDWARDIAN AGE continued as major figures, with Galsworthy, Wells, Bennett, Forster, and Conrad dominating the scene, joined before the 'teens were over by Ford Madox Ford and Somerset Maugham. A new fiction, centered in the experimental examination of the inner self, was coming into being in the works of such writers as Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf. It reached its peak in the publication in 1922 of James Joyce's Ulysses, a book perhaps as influential as any prose work by a British writer in this century. In highly differing ways D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, and Evelyn Waugh protested against the nature of modern society; and the maliciously witty novel, as Huxley and Waugh wrote it in the twenties and thirties, was typical of the attitude of the age and is probably as truly representative of the English novel in the contemporary period as is the NOVEL exploring the private self through the STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS. In the thirties and forties, Joyce Cary and Graham Green produced a more traditional FICTION of great effectiveness. Throughout the period English writers have practiced the short story with distinction; notable examples being Katherine Mansfield and Somerset Maugham, working in the tradition of Chekhov.

The theater saw the social plays of Galsworthy, Jones, and Pinero, the play of ideas of Shaw, and the COMEDY OF MANNERS of Maugham—all well-established in the EDWARDIAN AGE—continue and be joined by Noël Coward's comedy, the proletarian drama of Sean O'Casey, the serious verse plays of T. S. Eliot and Christopher Fry, and the high artistry of Terence Rattigan. (298–9)
Roman à Clef A novel in which actual persons are presented under the guise of fiction. (Like the "Schlüssel" in SCHLÜSSELROMAN, the "clef" here means "key," in the sense of a program of true identities.) Notable examples have been Madeleine de Scudéry's Clélie, Thomas Love Peacock's Nightmare Abbey, Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance, Somerset Maugham's Cakes and Ale, Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point, Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, Truman Capote's Answered Prayers, Carrie Fisher's Postcard from the Edge, and almost any of Jack Kerouac's novels. (413)

I will quote this full too, a brief overview of the history of short story:
Short Story Egyptian papyri dating from 4000 B.C. reveal how the sons of Cheops regaled their father with narrative. Some three hundred years before the birth of Christ, we had such Old Testament stories as those of Jonah and of Ruth. Christ spoke in parables. A hair-raising werewolf story is embedded in Petronius's Satyricon. In the Middle Ages the impulse to storytelling manifested itself in fables and epics about beasts and in the MEDIEVAL ROMANCE. In England, about 1250, some two hundred well-known tales were collected in the Gesta Romanorum. In the middle of the fourteenth century Boccaccio assembled the hundred tales in The Decameron. In the same century Chaucer wrote his framework collection, The Canterbury Tales. In the eighteenth century came the modern novel, growing out of the PICARESQUE NOVEL of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The eighteenth century also saw the development of the INFORMAL ESSAY, which frequently derived some of its interest from such episodes and sketches as Addison uses in the "Sir Roger de Coverley papers" or "The Vision of Mirzah." In the nineteenth century came Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Mérimée and Balzac, Gautier and Musset, Maupassant, Chekhov, and E. T. A. Hoffman. With these writers the short story as a distinct genre came into being. Some of these writers consciously formulated the short story as an art form. This development flowered with such speed and force in America that the modern short story is often called an American art form, with only minor exaggeration.

In the middle nineteenth century, under the impulse of Poe's persuasive statement in his 1842 review of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales, critics postulated a definite structure and technique for the short story. To this was added, around the end of the century, the tight "surprise-ending story" of O. Henry, and the short story came to be thought of as corresponding to a formula, a pattern that was much repeated in the popular short story. After the turn of the century, however, the impact of REALISM and NATURALISM joined with the example of Chekhov's SLICE OF LIFE stories to force open the formula, and such masters of the form as Somerset Maugham and Katherine Mansfield in England and Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and, most recently, Raymond Carver in America developed the short story to a dominant form of literary expression in the twentieth century.

A short story is a relatively brief fictional NARRATIVE in PROSE. It may range in length from the SHORT-SHORT STORY of 500 words up to the "long-short story" of 12,000 to 15,000 words. It may be distinguished from the SKETCH and the TALE in that it has a definite formal development, a firmness in construction. It finds its unity in many things other than plot—although it often finds it there—in effect, theme, character, tone, mood, and style. It may be distinguished from the NOVEL in that it tends to reveal character through actions, the purpose of the story being accomplished when the reader comes to know what the true nature of a character is. The novel tends, on the other hand, to show character developing as a result of actions.

However natural and formless the short story may sometimes give the impression of being, a distinguishing characteristic of the genre is that it is consciously made and reveals itself to be the result of conscious, skilled work. Furthermore, however slight the short story may appear, it consists of more than a mere record of an incident or an ANECDOTE. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end; it possesses at least the rudiments of plot. (442–3)

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