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Up at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
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Up at the Villa (1941)

by W. Somerset Maugham

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Written during WWI and set in pre-war Italy, this is the tale of a young, widowed gentlewoman. Mary married for love only to watch her husband's disintegration; when he died, it was a mercy. She took what was left of their money and retired to the Italian countryside, where she led a quiet, fairly simple life amongst the well-to-do. At the beginning of the book she recieves an offer of marriage from an old family friend. Mary asks for a few days to consider the matter, which he thinks only suitable. She goes to dinner with friends that night and encounters two men: a sensual wastral who reminds her of her husband, and a high-strung, beautiful musician. That night, she is involved in a violent death. Her reaction, and the reactions of the men in her life, change her and her decisions forever.
Although this is a good book, it is a very short one. I feel like the characters were sketched in rather than drawn; although Maugham does his usual exquisite job of characterization, I still felt like the characters were more archetypes than real humans. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
These characters all seem too doomed for the story to seem all that captivating. The desperation is true, but the lengths gone to seem a bit improbably cinematic (soap opera). ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Terrific read. Interesting characters and intriguing dilemma. Set in Florence, a beautiful young widow finds herself in a compromising situation and seeks the help of an acquaintance of ill repute. What's not to love! ( )
  cjservis | Jan 17, 2016 |
[Preface to The Selected Novels, Vol. 3, Heinemann, 1953:]

Up at the Villa is a novelette. I had long had in mind its central episode, that in which a woman of uncommon beauty gives herself to a man she hardly knows, not out of love or lust, but out of pity. But it was just one out of perhaps a dozen ideas that now and then suggested themselves to me, that I thought about from time to time, but which for one reason or another I never used. One day when I was in New York the editor of a woman’s magazine asked me to lunch and told me that she would very much like me to write a short novel for her that could serialised in three or four numbers. I was in a good mood that day and, improvising as I went along, I proceeded to tell her in some detail a story centring on that particular episode. It pleased her and she commissioned me to write it. But when I had finished it and she read it, she was shocked. She said it wasn’t at all the sort of thing to suit her readers. I have never wanted to hold any editor to a contract when he was not satisfied with a piece of work I had presented to him, so I cheerfully begged the charming but naïve lady (I am putty in the hands of a woman in distress) not to give the matter another thought and withdrew the manuscript.

The story was Up at the Villa. It was easy and amusing to write. I never attached any great importance to it and it has surprised me to learn that in the Latin countries and in the Near East it has been one of the most popular of my books. I ask no more of the reader than that he should find in it an hour’s diversion.
  WSMaugham | Jun 13, 2015 |
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 |
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The villa stood on the top of a hill.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:32 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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

Legacy Library: W. Somerset Maugham

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