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Up at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham

Up at the Villa (1941)

by W. Somerset Maugham

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I found Maugham's short novel to be a delight. Very well written, witty dialogue with characters who come to life on the page; what more could one ask for?

Mary Panton was widowed a year before in England. She is young, just 30, and has been spending several months getting herself rested and mentally restored in Florence at the small villa of an acquaintance. An older friend, Sir Edgar Swift, has been in love with her since Mary was a teen and he proposes marriage before he must leave for 2-3 days. He has just been offered the Governorship of Bengal and he would, despite being nearly 25 years older, very much like Mary to join him as his wife in India. Mary has just enough income from her late husband to get by. She knows she should marry for position and companionship this second time around; not for love like the first time. Sir Edgar would give her security and place.

We are told repeatedly by characters that Mary Panton is an uncommon beauty. It has been her chief asset in life and she is well aware of it. She does not however seem "stuck up." She knows her looks are a valuable asset just like having a particular skill or aptitude might be. She goes to a dinner that she had planned to attend with Sir Edgar, at his urging, and with a revolver in her purse as he insisted since he fears for road robbers and such outside of Florence. She really would have preferred to stay at her villa and dine alone. She has promised Sir Edgar an answer upon his return in three days and she really wants to decide what to do. But she goes and the dinner starts off well, and the dialogue is fun to read. I won't tell any more of the story.

Life unexpectedly gets very complicated and wild for Mary. I found this an excellent read - a real exciting page turner that moves along at quite a clip. Recommended. ( )
1 vote RBeffa | Apr 1, 2015 |
A charming novella about a widowed socialite on holiday at her friend's villa in Florence, Italy. Not widowed for long Mary Panton has another potential husband on the horizon. Edgar Swift a life long friend of the family and quite the older man visits Mary at the villa to propose marriage before heading off on a business trip. Mary tells him she will give him an answer when he returns. Before he goes he leaves his revolver with her "just in case" she needs it for protection. Would you call that foreshadowing? I think I would.

Mary dines out with some friends at a restaurant where they listen to an untalented musician that plays folk music for them. Her friend tries to set her up and so introduces her to Rowley she drops him off he makes a pass and proposes to her. She rejects him and laughs about it but says goodnight. Along her drive home she runs into the violinist from the restaurant and they get to talking and she invites him back to the villa to look at the artwork. Oh Mary what have you done? You might say things don't go so well.

I read this book earlier this year for Dewey's Read-A-Thon but just now posting a review. A good choice since it was short and read in one sitting.

This is book #2 in my Classics Club Book Challenge. Classics Club Page

How this book was acquired: Purchased earlier this year while visiting Monterey, California at Old Capitol Books bookstore.

Shelf Life: 8 months ( )
  missjomarch | Aug 13, 2014 |
A thoughtless choice triggers a tragic chain of events, unexpected insights, and steps into an unpromising future. Well-written; rings true; emotionally heavy. ( )
  slaterfamily | Jun 14, 2014 |
Well, that turned into more of an adventure than it looked like at first. (It's not just a society romance; there's a fair bt of adrenaline.) And it really did take less than an hour and a half to read - shouldn't have been fooled by the page count of 209. (This was another of the books I'd left unfinished earlier this year, which I'm trying to work through before the end of 2013.)

Another independent female character from later Maugham, flirting with unrespectability with the support of the narrator. And set at that curious point in twentieth century history where women could have a fair amount of adventure by themselves, yet reputation and who one married still mattered quite a bit. (Though, to be fair it would probably always be some cause for scandal if a high ranking government official's partner was mixed up in a suspicious death.

Also, an odd parallel with a book I read a few days ago, both novellas about glamorous Englishwomen in Italy: man commits suicide with an intent that's to one extent or another malicious, and a potential threat to her reputation.

Wonder to what extent Maugham based caddish Rowley on himself.

This was basically a throwaway bit of fun; Maugham is a very easy read, that clean style yet always with a couple of errors that stop him seeming too high-falutin. Classic popular fiction is what you'd have to call it, I guess. ( )
  antonomasia | Nov 18, 2013 |
W. Somerset Maugham was a master of the novel as well as the short story, and here he manages to cover the elusive middle ground. This is a very short novel, weighing in at a scant 209 Harry Potter-formatted* pages, and it reads like one. Not that that's a bad thing! Where other Maugham classics like Of Human Bondage develop slowly, refusing to be rushed, this book moves at a ripping pace.

Most of Maugham's formidable strengths are here, fully realized: an ear for authentic, snappy, gently funny dialogue; vivid powers of description; and above all, wonderfully believable characters. I think Somerset Maugham wrote female characters better than any male writer who came before him, not to mention many females who came before him and most males who came after. In addition, much like The Razor's Edge, Up At the Villa manages to poke a sardonic, yet affectionate finger at upper-class society. I think Maugham was the perfect author to chronicle the long, slow final decline of the British Empire.

All in all, this was a surprising, exhilarating, and very fun little book that I read in about three hours, and I highly recommend you do the same. It's an easy, worthy introduction to Maugham, or an excellent addition for someone who's already read one or all of his big three (Of Human Bondage, The Razor's Edge, and The Moon and Sixpence.)

* Huge typeface, huge margins, huge line spacing. ( )
1 vote benjamin.duffy | Jul 28, 2013 |
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The village stood on the top of a hill.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375724621, Paperback)

Now a major motion picture from USA Films starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Sean Penn, and director Philip Haas (director of Angels and Insects).

In Up at the Villa, W. Somerset Maugham portrays a wealthy young English woman who finds herself confronted rather brutally by the repercussions of whimsy.

On the day her older and prosperous friend asks her to marry him, Mary Leonard demurs and decides to postpone her reply a few days.  But driving into the hills above Florence alone that evening, Mary offers a ride to a handsome stranger.  And suddenly, her life is utterly, irrevocably altered.

For this stranger is a refugee of war, and he harbors more than one form of passion.  Before morning, Mary will witness bloodshed, she will be forced to seek advice and assistance from an unsavory man, and she will have to face the truth about her own yearnings.  Erotic, haunting, and maddeningly suspenseful, Up at the Villa is a masterful tale of temptation and the capricious nature of fate.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:36 -0400)

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A wealthy young Englishwoman who finds herself confronted rather brutally by the repercussions of whimsy.

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