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Up at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
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Up at the Villa (original 1941; edition 2004)

by W. Somerset Maugham

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Waldstein's review
W. Somerset Maugham

Up at the Villa

Vintage Classics, Paperback, 2004.

8vo. 120 pp.

First published by Doubleday Doran, 1941.

===========================================

It is a shame to write a long review of so short a novel; or a novelette, as Maugham himself once called it, or a longish short story if you are fan of that genre. Biographers and critics have always been only too eager to pour venom over this work: badly written, superficial, unworthy of the mature Maugham, shameful thing to publish as late as 1941 when the author was the most famous British writer in the world and had such classics like Of Human Bondage and Cakes and Ale behind him. Fascinating criticism, no doubt, but all these gentlemen miss one very important point: Maugham's own opinion. As usual, he was by far his best critic, if a little too modest in this case.

To the best of my belief, the only place when Maugham wrote something about Up at the Villa is the preface to the third volume of The Selected Novels (Heinemann, 1953). It makes a diverting read indeed. Maugham starts with the amusing incident how a lady commissioned him to write a piece for her American women's magazine and when he told her about a subject that he had long thought about, namely a woman who gives herself to a man out of pure pity, she was delighted with it. But she was also dismayed at the final product for it was not at all, she claimed, what her readers would want to read. Willie Maugham, having a lot of fun out of this anonymous lady, informs us that he has always been like a putty in the hands of women in distress: so he took his manuscript back. He finishes with his usual candour, confessing that he never attached any great importance to Up at the Villa and he asks the reader for nothing more but to get an hour diversion from it. He was being too modest. For this ''novelette'' is much more than that.

The diversion is fully guaranteed, to start with, though the plot is certainly highly improbable. As a matter of fact, certain elements of the story are frankly incredible; Maugham himself admitted as much through the thoughts of his main heroine, Mary Panton: a ravishing beauty and not too mournful a widow who's using her friend's villa near Florence to recover, figuratively speaking, from the death of her husband, a confirmed drunkard if there ever was one. By the way, Mary is just another female character for whom Maugham is never given any credit by those who constantly accuse him of misogyny; his descriptions of her fresh colour and natural beauty, not to mention a good deal of compassion, must surely have been a pleasant thing for Maugham to write. Here she is in the remarkable company of two remarkably different men, both of whom incidentally offer her marriage: Sir Edgar, a typical empire-builder who has for many years been a star in colonial India and indeed has just been appointed a governor of Bengal; and Rowley Flint: scamp, rascal, womanizer and thoroughly bad lot according to the iron rules of society, but a guy with a surprising amount of pluck, determination and common sense. Duality of human nature always fascinated Maugham, stimulating him to create some of his most memorable characters, and so is the case here. In the center of this triangle from incongruous personalities lies the poor Austrian student and refugee Karl Richter.

Nothing more about the plot need be said except that it all takes place in just a few days and it has completeness and brevity which Maugham alone can give in so short a space. It is not stretching a point too much to suggest that in this ''novelette'' Maugham came as close to the perfect style as anyone could possibly hope to. Not a single superfluous word can one find, not a single superfluous comma even. Everything is perfectly and at the same time beautifully constructed, as if it were an organ work by Bach or a piano sonata by Mozart.

How Maugham could draw the main characters - Mary, Rowley and Edgar - so fully and so vividly in so small a space is well beyond me. Yet, he did. None of them is simple or boring, nor devoid of unworthy motives or noble qualities. Maugham misses nothing from either world: a glance, a gesture, a chuckle, a smile, or a word from the outside, and a thought, a fear, a relief, a nightmare, a suspicion, a reflection, or a dream from the inside. His dialogue is as perfect as anything, and so is his simply unmatched, and justly famous, ability to describe a dramatic scene in action and especially in conversation.

The second meeting between Mary and Edgar, to take just one instance, is surely one of the finest things Maugham ever wrote: both speak one thing but think quite another, until it finally comes to a showdown. Rarely have Maugham written with such subtlety and insight while maintaining a most remarkable brevity and succinctness, not to mention that his dialogue has an almost constant streak of humour. Even episodic characters like Karl Richter or the maid Nina, though somewhat flat by definition, have from time to time a penetrating and quite revealing observation dedicated to themselves. Even the simplest and least interesting of the main characters, Sir Edgar, is far from the mere bunch of virtues he seems in the beginning. Sure, he is noble, upright, courageous, firm, just, etc., etc. He is totally dependable but in the end he is a victim of his own integrity. Or at least he would have been, had Mary not been too honest with both him and herself. For all his virtues, Sir Edgar has all prejudices and narrow-mindedness of his class, even though it would never occur to him that they exist at all.

What of Mary herself? She has what most stunningly beautiful women so often lack, to begin with: character; but she is also surprisingly vulnerable, which is not a little touching, and, one suspects, not altogether insincere. Her singular compassion and deeply moving loving kindness always go hand in hand with a degree of hypocrisy and snobbishness that is not a little disconcerting, but a great deal more enthralling if you happen to be interested into the intricacies of human nature. In short, Mary Panton must rank among Maugham's finest attempts to look at the world through a woman's eyes.

Certainly the gem among the characters is Rowley. He is compelling from the very beginning to the very end of the story. One could hardly help liking him for his frankness and common sense, much less can one help admiring his determination to make the most of life or his showing a rare courage in the middle of a most shocking predicament. Maugham always loved drawing such creatures full of contradictions, perfectly worthless from a social point of view but a jolly nice company; having as bad a reputation as possible in the eyes of the virtuous but certainly devoted friends one can always rely on no matter how grave the trouble.

The beautiful thing about Maugham's writing, apart from the unparalleled force to bring to life such complex characters, is the fact that it is completely devoid of any moralising; it is full of understanding instead; cynical and cold it has often been called, sensible and compelling call it I. Rowley Flint is by all means one of Maugham's most enchanting creations, especially considering the very limited space at his disposal, rarely captivating combination of a jaunty rascal and a jolly good sport, no matter whether you want to have a drink and talk with him or to get rid of a highly inconvenient dead body with his help. Rowley's constant striving to taste every possible pleasure and break every rule there is in existence are, in a peculiar way perhaps, rather inspiring qualities. Maugham must have had grand time putting him down on paper. It was not for nothing that he gave him the unforgettable last words of the ''novelette'':

'So now what?'
'Well, if you insist on marrying me... But it's an awful risk we're taking!'
'Darling, that's what life's for - to take risks.'


Just like the monstrously incredible improbabilities of the plot, the inherent complexity of the characters comes under Maugham's pen so natural, with such a perfect symbiosis of narrative and dialogue, that I remain utterly convinced regardless of how unconvincing certain incident or motivation might seem at first glance. I venture to claim that no other writer but Somerset Maugham can give you so much in so little a space: dramatic and complete plot, wonderfully vivid and compelling characters, superb dialogue and even some short but evocative descriptions of nature: all that told in a rather breathtaking manner and in just 120 pages or so (indeed, the whole work takes only 74 closely printed pages in the third volume of The Selected Novels).

This is one of the things that makes Up at the Villa a masterpieces as far I am concerned: it can easily be read in one sitting of an hour or two, for it is compulsively readable, but the drama is so condensed and the characters are so intense that they stay with me for quite some time longer than that. And they always remind me how curious, inconstant, insecure and fascinating the human animal is.

Scorned by critics and biographers - one wonders if they read it at all - Up at the Villa is a masterpiece of fiction, whatever the genre, perfectly worthy of the mature Maugham. I do not believe anybody who cares about the works of the great British writer would be disappointed by this vastly neglected but quite charming and not a little thought-provoking trifle. Also, for newcomers to Maugham, Up at the Villa is an excellent beginning, perhaps the best one together with his short stories. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Jul 3, 2010 |
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Showing 19 of 19
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 |
I remember being in a café with a friend once when a guy walked in who obviously had some kind of mild disability to do with his legs – he hobbled over to a table and sat down heavily, and then looked around him at the greasy spoon with an air of deep depression. Amy stared at him and sighed and said, ‘I wish I was really really pretty so I could be a little moment of happiness in his day.’ I remember being surprised, because it sounded, somehow, like something a female character would say in a book written by a male author, rather than in real life.

This sort of cool assessment of how the other sex might see you is quite hard for anyone to pull off; and also, men and women experience it very differently. Hence you often hear men (Kingsley Amis among others) complaining that they can't understand why women find it so offensive to be seen as a sex object when they'd love to be seen that way – apparently not grasping the possibility that it's a lot easier to enjoy some well-intentioned sexual objectification if you're not being subjected to it 24/7 by society at large.

I am thinking about all this because Up at the Villa involves a character who has a similar impulse of – well, call it generosity or condescension, depending on your mood – concerning her own attractiveness, and which proves pivotal to the plot. She's a young window, who's just had two proposals of marriage, and doesn't feel particularly inspired by either of them. But it's made her very aware that she has something men want.

‘I should be a fool if I didn't know I was prettier than most women. It's true that sometimes I felt that I had something to give that might mean a great deal to the person I gave it to. Does that sound frightfully conceited? […] My poor Rowley, you're the last man I would ever have had an affair with. But I've sometimes thought that if I ever ran across someone who was poor, alone and unhappy, who'd never had any pleasure in life, who'd never known any of the good things money can buy – and if I could give him a unique experience, an hour of absolute happiness, something that he'd never dreamt of and that would never be repeated, then I'd give him gladly everything I had to give.’

If you're objecting that this sounds unworkable, or patronising, or that sex should be a mutual experience rather than something ‘given’ by a woman to a man, then this slim novella may well be for you, because it explores the possible consequences of this attitude in detail – not without a considerable touch of melodrama, but nonetheless in a way that raises some interesting issues.

The setting is the hills around Florence, sparsely but nicely described, and the period is apparently just before the Second World War, or possibly sometime near the beginning of it. The war itself is never mentioned, but the setting must be after 1938 because one character has fled Austria after the Nazi invasion, two of his friends having been shot in the process. (‘It all sounds rather horrible,’ comments our heroine…um, well yes, Mary, I suppose that's one way to describe the Anschluß, yes, ‘rather horrible’.)

Sexual politics among wealthy Brits abroad might sound like the height of inconsequential bullshit, but although this is a little heavy-handed in parts, I thought it was enjoyable. It's slight enough that you can bomb through the whole thing in a ninety-minute train journey – from King's Cross to Lincoln Central, say, including a change at Newark – and it makes me interested to read some of Maugham's better-known works. ( )
1 vote Widsith | May 29, 2013 |
A pleasing - if slight - tale. This is the fourth book I have read by W. Somerset Maugham, and follows Of Human Bondage, Ashenden and Christmas Holiday which were all excellent. I am now intent on reading all his works.

This is a long short story, or a short novel, and I read it in less than a day, and really enjoyed it.

The other books I have read by W. Somerset Maugham were, to one degree or another, autobiographical. I doubt this contains any biography - although the location (Florence and the surrounding countryside) are doubtless drawn from first-hand experience.

The story manages to touch on love, tragedy, violence, loyalty, career, responsibility, politics, and refugees. W. Somerset Maugham manages to pack a lot of plot into just 120 pages. ( )
  nigeyb | Apr 23, 2013 |
There's a particular kind of alchemy about the novella. Someone like Hemingway or Fitzgerald has a certain way of turning fewer than two hundred pages into a novel that seems much greater than the sum of its pages.

Sadly, there's none of that magic about Maugham's Up at the Villa. At least, not that I could find.

I really wanted to like this short novel - after all, I've heard such good things about Maugham. But no. Up at the Villa just didn't work for me.

You can read my complete review of Up at the Villa on my blog, Book to the Future - click here to take a look. ( )
  BooktotheFuture | Mar 29, 2013 |
There's a particular kind of alchemy about the novella. Someone like Hemingway or Fitzgerald has a certain way of turning fewer than two hundred pages into a novel that seems much greater than the sum of its pages.

Sadly, there's none of that magic about Maugham's Up at the Villa. At least, not that I could find.

I really wanted to like this short novel - after all, I've heard such good things about Maugham. But no. Up at the Villa just didn't work for me.

You can read my complete review of Up at the Villa on my blog, Book to the Future - click here to take a look. ( )
  BooktotheFuture | Mar 29, 2013 |
What makes a beautiful woman odious, especially to a politician whose star is rising?

The events of the story, quite simple and a joy to read, are ideal to set the stage for chapter eight. That chapter belongs to the best I have ever read, in the sense that the conversation is entirely plausible. ( )
  edwinbcn | May 9, 2012 |
Maugham has his characters making reflective comments about how to lead your life but it all feels either melodramatic or glib but then I guess his novels were to his readers what ‘Downton Abbey’ is to its audiences now – i.e. focused on relationships but never really developing characters – they’re all just types.

In this novel I think Maugham is suggesting that not following the required norms of the day could lead to a much more fully lived life – and I guess Mary’s emancipation would have seemed shocking to some when the book was published – but I’m not sure as it came out in 1941. This seems particularly odd to me as England was at war with Italy at the time, yet Mary is happily staying in a villa there. Maybe Maugham wrote the book before the start of the war yet publishing it in 1941 still seems strange. ( )
1 vote evening | Apr 13, 2012 |
Although a thin addition to the bookshelf, believe me when I say a lot can happen in a few pages! Marriage expectations, mundane life as you know it and throw away comments that evolve into opportunities. To all then be rudely interrupted by a suicide! Somewhat metaphorically with a weapon supposed to protect. I shall leave it to you to decide if it all amounts to protection in a wider sense of the idea. Then the disposal of the body and ensuing cover up. I suppose it would be true of the era that an unknown, poorly skilled, violinist would not be terribly missed and I suppose as well that is not the focus of the story. Or is it in a way? Whatever, the tale requires no deeper meaning to remain an enticing read and ends with the refusal of the expected proposal and acceptance of the more impulsive. You never do know what is around the corner do you?! ( )
  FloweringCabbages | Feb 9, 2012 |
This book is only 120 pages, so it is more of a long short story than a novel. All the events take place within a few days and there are just a few people to get to know.

A recently widowed young woman of refinement and stunning beauty, but little income, stays in the Tuscan villa of friends while she contemplates what to do with her life. Her first marriage had been a disaster; a love match with a wastrel who was killed in a drunken car accident. Now she ponders on whether to accept the proposal of a much older man, a friend of her parents who is upright and successful and whom she respects deeply but does not love. In an instant, a sudden out-of-character decision turns her world upside down and she is forced to turn for assistance from a charming young man with a reputation as a cad and a womaniser; a young man she had previously spurned.

The pacing of the story is excellent, starting off at the slow, languid speed that you might expect from a novel about the English upper classes in Italy in the 1940s and gradually speeding up until it feels almost out of control. There is not a wasted word and Maugham brilliant evokes a place, time and the psychology of the central characters.

A great read. ( )
  Jawin | Dec 28, 2011 |
Loved this novella by W. Somerset Maugham. Beautifully written didn't want it to end. ( )
  Elphaba71 | Nov 13, 2011 |
A woman is due to marry an older man with the expectations of high office. He goes away for a few days while she makes up her mind. In the meantime a younger man, somewhat of a bounder,also asks her to marry him. She refuses but later picks up a penniless musician,tales him back to her villa and makes love to him. When he wants a longer affair and she refuses,he shoots himself. The young bounder helps her to avoid the scandal by removing the body and covering up the shooting so that it does not connect with the woman in any way. Who does she marry in the end ?
This somewhat slight story is beautifully told and the area around Florence where it takes place is wonderfully described. and Maugham is as always a master storyteller. The female character acts is such an idiotic manner that the reader will feel little sympathy with her,and this is the main downside of the book. ( )
  devenish | Aug 2, 2011 |
A short goodread! Maugham centers his story around Mary, a young widow, whose previously unsuccessful marriage now finds her relaxing in her friend's villa in Tuscany. Here she is contemplating a new life and marriage proposal. An impusive act on Mary's part turns the tide of events and reveals the nature of people when confronted with the possible consequences of their actions.
Maugham is a master in depicting the strengths and weaknesses in people and being forthright in revealing their true character. ( )
1 vote linsleo | Jul 11, 2011 |
1 vote living2read | Jun 10, 2011 |
W. Somerset Maugham

Up at the Villa

Vintage Classics, Paperback, 2004.

8vo. 120 pp.

First published by Doubleday Doran, 1941.

===========================================

It is a shame to write a long review of so short a novel; or a novelette, as Maugham himself once called it, or a longish short story if you are fan of that genre. Biographers and critics have always been only too eager to pour venom over this work: badly written, superficial, unworthy of the mature Maugham, shameful thing to publish as late as 1941 when the author was the most famous British writer in the world and had such classics like Of Human Bondage and Cakes and Ale behind him. Fascinating criticism, no doubt, but all these gentlemen miss one very important point: Maugham's own opinion. As usual, he was by far his best critic, if a little too modest in this case.

To the best of my belief, the only place when Maugham wrote something about Up at the Villa is the preface to the third volume of The Selected Novels (Heinemann, 1953). It makes a diverting read indeed. Maugham starts with the amusing incident how a lady commissioned him to write a piece for her American women's magazine and when he told her about a subject that he had long thought about, namely a woman who gives herself to a man out of pure pity, she was delighted with it. But she was also dismayed at the final product for it was not at all, she claimed, what her readers would want to read. Willie Maugham, having a lot of fun out of this anonymous lady, informs us that he has always been like a putty in the hands of women in distress: so he took his manuscript back. He finishes with his usual candour, confessing that he never attached any great importance to Up at the Villa and he asks the reader for nothing more but to get an hour diversion from it. He was being too modest. For this ''novelette'' is much more than that.

The diversion is fully guaranteed, to start with, though the plot is certainly highly improbable. As a matter of fact, certain elements of the story are frankly incredible; Maugham himself admitted as much through the thoughts of his main heroine, Mary Panton: a ravishing beauty and not too mournful a widow who's using her friend's villa near Florence to recover, figuratively speaking, from the death of her husband, a confirmed drunkard if there ever was one. By the way, Mary is just another female character for whom Maugham is never given any credit by those who constantly accuse him of misogyny; his descriptions of her fresh colour and natural beauty, not to mention a good deal of compassion, must surely have been a pleasant thing for Maugham to write. Here she is in the remarkable company of two remarkably different men, both of whom incidentally offer her marriage: Sir Edgar, a typical empire-builder who has for many years been a star in colonial India and indeed has just been appointed a governor of Bengal; and Rowley Flint: scamp, rascal, womanizer and thoroughly bad lot according to the iron rules of society, but a guy with a surprising amount of pluck, determination and common sense. Duality of human nature always fascinated Maugham, stimulating him to create some of his most memorable characters, and so is the case here. In the center of this triangle from incongruous personalities lies the poor Austrian student and refugee Karl Richter.

Nothing more about the plot need be said except that it all takes place in just a few days and it has completeness and brevity which Maugham alone can give in so short a space. It is not stretching a point too much to suggest that in this ''novelette'' Maugham came as close to the perfect style as anyone could possibly hope to. Not a single superfluous word can one find, not a single superfluous comma even. Everything is perfectly and at the same time beautifully constructed, as if it were an organ work by Bach or a piano sonata by Mozart.

How Maugham could draw the main characters - Mary, Rowley and Edgar - so fully and so vividly in so small a space is well beyond me. Yet, he did. None of them is simple or boring, nor devoid of unworthy motives or noble qualities. Maugham misses nothing from either world: a glance, a gesture, a chuckle, a smile, or a word from the outside, and a thought, a fear, a relief, a nightmare, a suspicion, a reflection, or a dream from the inside. His dialogue is as perfect as anything, and so is his simply unmatched, and justly famous, ability to describe a dramatic scene in action and especially in conversation.

The second meeting between Mary and Edgar, to take just one instance, is surely one of the finest things Maugham ever wrote: both speak one thing but think quite another, until it finally comes to a showdown. Rarely have Maugham written with such subtlety and insight while maintaining a most remarkable brevity and succinctness, not to mention that his dialogue has an almost constant streak of humour. Even episodic characters like Karl Richter or the maid Nina, though somewhat flat by definition, have from time to time a penetrating and quite revealing observation dedicated to themselves. Even the simplest and least interesting of the main characters, Sir Edgar, is far from the mere bunch of virtues he seems in the beginning. Sure, he is noble, upright, courageous, firm, just, etc., etc. He is totally dependable but in the end he is a victim of his own integrity. Or at least he would have been, had Mary not been too honest with both him and herself. For all his virtues, Sir Edgar has all prejudices and narrow-mindedness of his class, even though it would never occur to him that they exist at all.

What of Mary herself? She has what most stunningly beautiful women so often lack, to begin with: character; but she is also surprisingly vulnerable, which is not a little touching, and, one suspects, not altogether insincere. Her singular compassion and deeply moving loving kindness always go hand in hand with a degree of hypocrisy and snobbishness that is not a little disconcerting, but a great deal more enthralling if you happen to be interested into the intricacies of human nature. In short, Mary Panton must rank among Maugham's finest attempts to look at the world through a woman's eyes.

Certainly the gem among the characters is Rowley. He is compelling from the very beginning to the very end of the story. One could hardly help liking him for his frankness and common sense, much less can one help admiring his determination to make the most of life or his showing a rare courage in the middle of a most shocking predicament. Maugham always loved drawing such creatures full of contradictions, perfectly worthless from a social point of view but a jolly nice company; having as bad a reputation as possible in the eyes of the virtuous but certainly devoted friends one can always rely on no matter how grave the trouble.

The beautiful thing about Maugham's writing, apart from the unparalleled force to bring to life such complex characters, is the fact that it is completely devoid of any moralising; it is full of understanding instead; cynical and cold it has often been called, sensible and compelling call it I. Rowley Flint is by all means one of Maugham's most enchanting creations, especially considering the very limited space at his disposal, rarely captivating combination of a jaunty rascal and a jolly good sport, no matter whether you want to have a drink and talk with him or to get rid of a highly inconvenient dead body with his help. Rowley's constant striving to taste every possible pleasure and break every rule there is in existence are, in a peculiar way perhaps, rather inspiring qualities. Maugham must have had grand time putting him down on paper. It was not for nothing that he gave him the unforgettable last words of the ''novelette'':

'So now what?'
'Well, if you insist on marrying me... But it's an awful risk we're taking!'
'Darling, that's what life's for - to take risks.'


Just like the monstrously incredible improbabilities of the plot, the inherent complexity of the characters comes under Maugham's pen so natural, with such a perfect symbiosis of narrative and dialogue, that I remain utterly convinced regardless of how unconvincing certain incident or motivation might seem at first glance. I venture to claim that no other writer but Somerset Maugham can give you so much in so little a space: dramatic and complete plot, wonderfully vivid and compelling characters, superb dialogue and even some short but evocative descriptions of nature: all that told in a rather breathtaking manner and in just 120 pages or so (indeed, the whole work takes only 74 closely printed pages in the third volume of The Selected Novels).

This is one of the things that makes Up at the Villa a masterpieces as far I am concerned: it can easily be read in one sitting of an hour or two, for it is compulsively readable, but the drama is so condensed and the characters are so intense that they stay with me for quite some time longer than that. And they always remind me how curious, inconstant, insecure and fascinating the human animal is.

Scorned by critics and biographers - one wonders if they read it at all - Up at the Villa is a masterpiece of fiction, whatever the genre, perfectly worthy of the mature Maugham. I do not believe anybody who cares about the works of the great British writer would be disappointed by this vastly neglected but quite charming and not a little thought-provoking trifle. Also, for newcomers to Maugham, Up at the Villa is an excellent beginning, perhaps the best one together with his short stories. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Jul 3, 2010 |
Short story warning of the perils of a holiday romance.
  risikat | Nov 4, 2009 |
Maugham is a master of portraying the colonial, class-ridden, late Victorian society of the English.

His themes explore the dichotomies between appearances, obligations, lust, love and impulse vs duty. Again, in this short novella the protagonist is faced with a moral dilemma that tantalizes the reader. The storyline defines the period, with the woman relying on her beauty and youth, and the male racked/restrained with duty and responsibility and honour. All this is bound together by the fear of rejection from the strict and unforgiving rules of Victorian society.

Maugham seems to like to portray women as delicate, silly and rather vacuous creatures - which can get a tad tiresome. Also, there is always the cad and the admirable gentleman, so I am always fully prepared for his stories to proceed along the moral highway of the era.

I still love reading him, though. The weaknesses, errors and human failings in his stories make them charming. His deceptively spare prose is a joy. ( )
1 vote kiwidoc | Feb 28, 2009 |
Read many years ago, but recently bought and read again. I like all of Maugham's books because of the way he describes the people. I can always recognize a little of myself, the weaknesses, the errors and trials of life. ( )
  Sevedb | Jul 12, 2008 |
spare but beautiful ( )
  justine | Oct 7, 2006 |
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