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The Collected Short Stories of W. Somerset…

The Collected Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham, Vol. 1 (1963)

by W. Somerset Maugham

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This is the first of a four volume short story collection by William Somerset Maugham. For about three weeks Maugham kept me enchanted with his 30 stories in this book. 30 canons I'd say. Most of these stories mean to scrutinize the human nature. Maugham was a doctor in personal life which certainly often led him to play the role of a dissector. Evidently, he incorporated this other being of him into his works when he became a writer. He dissected and looked into the patterns how humans deal with their fellow brothers and sisters in the everyday life. The stories are not extraordinary. Nor are they different from any regular ones. Yet they ARE unique. Maugham has got a wonderfully comical tone and he's a very wordy writer. You can almost visualize him telling you stories using his sharp humors with an impassive face. You definitely will buy his rhetoric style and sometimes he may leave you stupefied.

The stories in this book are written in different parts of the world. Maugham was a great traveler and he wrote the stories based upon his experiences in England-his motherland-and other foreign regions. It's a curious thing that Maugham himself is present in almost all the stories and describes the happenings in the first person. Expanding from South America to the Down Under Australia, he set his venues for his stories. One thing that might strike you is that people from all over these places in his stories are somewhat close in nature. They think alike, they love alike and they lie alike. I don't know if Maugham meant it at all but what I surmised from these stories is regardless of the geography, people all over the world are more or less similar. Yet, there are so many variations that Maugham had to write 30 different stories (well,at least for this volume) which certainly is an infinitesimally small number compared to the innumerable possibilities of human behavior patterns.

Thirty is a big number when you're to name your favorite ones from among them specially when all of the thirty stories are equally good, but still there are stories in this collection I will be remembering for a long time. My most loved ones are 'Rain', 'The Fall of Edward Barnard', 'The Pool', 'The Three Fat Women of Antibes', 'Gigolo and Gigolette', 'Judgement Seat' and 'Mr. Know All'. And now, in the end, I'd like to thank Mr. William Somerset Maugham for introducing me with the multitude of triviality of human lives in such a joking manner. Great job Sire. ( )
1 vote Shaker07 | May 18, 2017 |
This final classic collection reveals Somerset Maugham’s unique talent for exposing and exploring the bitter realities of human relationships in tales of love, infidelity, passion and prejudice.
The stories range from “The Lotus Eater” where a man envisions a life of bliss in the Mediterranean, to the astringent tales of “The Outstation” and “The Back of Beyond” in Malaya and South East Asia.(less) ( )
1 vote ICANABIBBELG | Oct 24, 2012 |
I want to give this book more than five stars. Maugham is a great short story writer. For example Rain is probably perfect. Some of the other reviews are quite detailed but I will just add that some of the racist language is uncomfortable to read in the 21st century although Maugham seems deliberately to put the words in the mouths of unsympathetic characters. Finally I don't remember when stories produced such a physical reaction (of dread or fascination or sadness or contentment). Maugham is a magician. ( )
3 vote lunarcheck | Sep 28, 2009 |
W. Somerset Maugham

Collected Short Stories, vol. 1

Vintage Classics, Paperback, 2000

8vo. 536 pp. Preface by the author, 1951 [pp. 1-2].

First published as The Complete Short Stories in 3 vols., 1951.
First published as Collected Short Stories in 4 vols., 1975.*

Table of Contents:

The Fall of Edward Barnard
The Luncheon
The Ant and the Grasshopper
The Pool
Appearance and Reality
The Three Fat Women of Antibes
The Facts of Life
Gigolo and Gigolette
The Happy Couple
The Voice of the Turtle
The Lion's Skin
The Unconquered
The Escape
The Judgement Seat
Mr. Know-All
The Happy Man
The Romantic Young Lady
The Point of Honour
The Poet
The Mother
A Man from Glasgow
Before the Party
The Promise
A String of Beads
The Yellow Streak

* This is what you will find if you open any of the four Vintage Classics volumes. But it does not seem to be true. Apparently, Maugham's short stories in four volumes and under the title Collected Short Stories were first published in 1963 by Penguin.

** Essentially, this preface is identical with the one to the first volume of The Complete Short Stories from 1951.


I cannot remember when was the last time when a novel, let alone a short story collection, kept me awake all night long until the dawn broke. That is precisely what happened with this volume of Collected Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham. From his most famous story – "Rain" – until the last one, "The Yellow Streak", which Maugham based on his own experience in the Far East when he nearly drowned himself, there are 30 beautifully written masterpieces in the genre of the short story, quite rightly regarded as classics today.

Except for one story ("Red" which you can find in vol. 4) this first volume contains all other short stories from Maugham's first mature short story collection, The Trembling of a Leaf (1921), based entirely on notes taken during his travels across the South Seas in the end of the First World War. Indeed, this was just Maugham's second short story collection; the first, Orientations, had been published 22 years earlier, in 1899, and Maugham chose not to reprint any stories from it into his collected edition because he thought them immature and supercilious.

All these South Sea stories have common settings of course – Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii – but the similarities end here, except that all of them are written in a very fine style, rather more elaborate than what Maugham adopted later in his career, but with the same striking insight into human nature that makes his characters, and hence his stories, so compelling and fascinating yet at the same time convincing and believable. Everybody who reads Maugham's A Writer's Notebook, where most of his South Sea notes were published some 30 years after they had been made, would be surprised how much of these stories is firmly based on real people and real events. The famous prostitute Sadie Thompson and the pair crazy missionaries were real people whose physical descriptions Maugham took almost word for word from his notes. So were the basic facts of the story, its first part at least. The same is more or less true about The Pool, another of Maugham's masterpieces where the problem about marriages between white men and native women is explored to a great detail and with great perspicacity.

But Maugham, with his shyness, stammer and definitely introverted personality, could hardly have known all these thoughts, feelings, fears, passions and obsessions he wrote about. For example, he never spoke a single word with the real Sadie Thompson (but he had the audacity to use her real name in the story!) and he exchanged just a few words with the real missionary family. For creating his short stories he must have used a great deal of invention and imagination, although they all were firmly rooted into real persons and events. It is strange, considering how huge the human vanity really is, especially when it is wounded, that Maugham was never charged with libel for any of these South Sea stories. For my own part I would be very much flattered if an author uses me as basis of a character of fiction and would not mind at all if the character is pretty despicable; quite on the contrary, in this case the author's sensitivity and insight might tell me something new and interesting and useful about myself. But this point of view appears not to be shared by many.

Be that as it may, the five South Sea stories that form the backbone of the first volume of Maugham's Collected Short Stories are certainly among his best. The subtlety of characterization and the diversity of incidents make for a breathtaking read. The clash between the prostitute and the religious fanatic ("Rain"), or between the educated young clerk and the shallow and arrogant master of the island ("Mackintosh") are tremendously dramatic, to put it mildly, but never one-sided. Both have little if anything to do with "Honolulu", a strange mixture of funny main character and a rather spooky story. And finally, there is "The Fall of Edward Barnard", probably the greatest masterpiece of the group, an epic tale about spiritual revelation and personal transformation among the exotic lushness of the tropics. The theme is as old as the hills – the battle between civilisation with its inevitable technical progress and the danger of dehumanizing oneself – but the interpretation is so fresh, the characters are so vivid, the dialog is so much to the point, that once read, "The fall of Edward Barnard" is never forgotten.

But there is much more to enjoy here than these five masterpieces from the South Seas. Here is "Before the party", a pretty grim story about alcoholism and murder but one of Maugham's finest achievements about the British in the Far East. Other notable stories include "The Unconquered", the only one of all Maugham's tales which is set in occupied France during the Second World War, and a set of four "Spanish" stories – "The Romantic Young Lady", "The Point of Honour", "The Poet" and "The Mother" – exploring another world of violence and passion spiced up from time to time with charming humour and irony.

When one gets exhausted by the grimmest and most horrible sides of human nature shown so vividly, one can always turn one's attention to the highly amusing adventures of Nicky in Monte Carlo ("The Facts of Life"). If that is not enough for relaxing, there are several anecdotes that might help you to laugh your head off, like "The Ant and the Grasshopper", "The Three Fat Women of Antibes" and "Mr. Know-All". Or you might prefer the more sophisticated and perfectly elegant cynicism of "Louise" and the French marital complications in "Appearance and Reality"; both of them are simply hilarious.

To finish with the staggering variety of subjects and characters, here is the only one case, as far as I know, in the whole of Maugham's oeuvre when he wrote pure fantasy. The short story "The Judgement Seat" is set where nobody has ever come back from to tell us what it really is and one of the main characters is He whom half the mankind passionately believe in and the other half, with equal vehemence, deny existence.

What remains in the end, after numerous adventures through light and dark sides of human nature, are the wise words of "The Happy Man":

Life is full of compensations. ( )
4 vote Waldstein | Sep 26, 2009 |
This final classic collection reveals Somerset Maugham’s unique talent for exposing and exploring the bitter realities of human relationships in tales of love, infidelity, passion and prejudice. The stories range from “The Lotus Eater” where a man envisions a life of bliss in the Mediterranean, to the astringent tales of “The Outstation” and “The Back of Beyond” in Malaya and South East Asia. ( )
1 vote Helger55 | Apr 26, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140185895, Paperback)

China has been a wellspring of storytelling for over 2,000 years. Sadly, this fantastic literature is little known in the west outside the halls of academia, though a handful of recent 20th century authors have attained a respectable following. The stories in this volume date from the sixth century A.D. to the early part of the 20th century, and will give the listener a good feel for the subject. Astonishingly, the Chinese enjoyed from the earliest times many of the genres we take for granted today, from romance and love to adventure and satire.

Selections in Volume I:

THE WHITE MONKEY by Anonymous – A general's honor and self respect are on the line when his wife is kidnapped.

THE JADE GODDESS retold by Lin Yu Tang – Like a fine piece of exquisite porcelain, this wonderful story from the 6th century is a thing of delicate beauty. Will an artist put aside his creative gifts for the sake of love?

THE CANARY MURDERS by Feng Meng-lung – This twelfth century forerunner of the detective story attempts to sort out a string of mysterious deaths.

THE BOOK WORM by P'u Sung-ling – This is a humorous satire about a bibliophile who suddenly finds love.

K'UNG I-CHI by Lu Hsün – In this brilliant piece by the "Chinese Chekhov," an old fashioned scholar loses his way in life as modern society turns away from the kind of knowledge he treasures.

MR. PAN IN DISTRESS by Yeh Shao-Chün – War threatens the settled life of a provincial educator.

INTOXICATING SPRING NIGHTS by Yü Ta-fu – A look at the effects of a newly industrialized society through the eyes of a young scholar.

3 cassettes

Running Time: 4 hours 29 minutes


(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:43 -0400)

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