HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

W. Somerset Maugham by Ivor John Carnegie…
Loading...

W. Somerset Maugham (edition 1970)

by Ivor John Carnegie Brown

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations
421,664,912 (3.25)None
danielx's review
Ivor Brown (1891 - 1974) was a prominent British drama critic who published a wide range of books on the theatre, poetry, and Shakespeare. Between 1925 and 1935, he had reviewed quite a number of Somerset Maugham's plays for two leading periodicals (acc. to Charles Sanders' W. Somerset Maugham: Annotated Bibliography of Writings). Thus, in 1970, when no reputable biography of Maugham had yet emerged, he was a reasonable choice for a contribution about the author for the International Profiles series of books. Now that a number of detailed biographies on Somerset Maugham are available, this work will likely get little attention. It does offer in very concise form a survey of Maugham's life and his literary contributions, along with photographs that have never been reprinted elsewhere in book form. Overall, I find myself ambivalent about the book.

This work consists of five chapters. Chapter 1, "The Life," is a serviceable but brief (12 page) biography that summarizes the life and accomplishments of the author. While containing no obvious errors, it offers no more (and perhaps less) than one might find at Wikipedia or other online sources. Chapter 2 "The Writer" focuses on the historical context of his fiction. I enjoyed and learned from the brief account of the literary mileu in which Maugham was writing. Of particular note is how many of the writers who were highly regarded during Maugham's career (including Meredith, Galsworthy, Wells, and Kipling) are seldom read today. However, I was surprised at how little attention was given in this book to the content of Maugham's work, and the fact that his travel writing and other non-fiction was ignored.

Chapter 3, "The Playwright" deals with Maugham's career writing for the theatre. Knowing relatively little about drama, I learned from this chapter as well. I enjoyed Ivor Brown's sardonic comments about how the pretensions of capital- D "Drama" evolved from "plays," a trend resisted by Maugham (who saw the theatre as a form of entertainment, not education). One excellent feature of this chapter is the included photographs of the characters on stage for each of a number of the plays. On some pages, the author juxtaposed photos of a single play or film as shown in different productions over the years. Thus, on one page we can see "Rain" in the 1928 version with Glora Swanson in the leading role, the 1932 version starring Joan Crawford, and the 1953 film with Rita Hayworth.

Chapters 4 and 5 are respectively entitled "Belief and Opinion" and "The Man". These are the weakest chapters in the book. Mr. Brown engages in too much amateur psychologizing, seeking to explain Somerset Maugham's personality by reference to his early life, and trying to read his fiction as autobiographical. I found his attempts at analysis pretentious and even arrogant (he judges Maugham as wretched and miserable from his appearance in photographs and paintings; he informs us that in Maugham, "emotional disturbance" was a lifelong condition; and so on). What's more, he informs us about Mr. Maugham's sexuality (which in 1970 was not widely known). The final pages of the book are of no value; they contain an extremely brief "Summary of Events" that fails to mention Maugham's literary accomplishments, a haphazard list of his books and plays, and a minuscule bibliography.

Whether the few positive elements of this small work balance the negative ones will be a matter of opinion. There are more definitive sources of information available, although the photographs herein are rather good. ( )
4 vote danielx | Jun 13, 2012 |
All member reviews
Showing 2 of 2
Ivor Brown (1891 - 1974) was a prominent British drama critic who published a wide range of books on the theatre, poetry, and Shakespeare. Between 1925 and 1935, he had reviewed quite a number of Somerset Maugham's plays for two leading periodicals (acc. to Charles Sanders' W. Somerset Maugham: Annotated Bibliography of Writings). Thus, in 1970, when no reputable biography of Maugham had yet emerged, he was a reasonable choice for a contribution about the author for the International Profiles series of books. Now that a number of detailed biographies on Somerset Maugham are available, this work will likely get little attention. It does offer in very concise form a survey of Maugham's life and his literary contributions, along with photographs that have never been reprinted elsewhere in book form. Overall, I find myself ambivalent about the book.

This work consists of five chapters. Chapter 1, "The Life," is a serviceable but brief (12 page) biography that summarizes the life and accomplishments of the author. While containing no obvious errors, it offers no more (and perhaps less) than one might find at Wikipedia or other online sources. Chapter 2 "The Writer" focuses on the historical context of his fiction. I enjoyed and learned from the brief account of the literary mileu in which Maugham was writing. Of particular note is how many of the writers who were highly regarded during Maugham's career (including Meredith, Galsworthy, Wells, and Kipling) are seldom read today. However, I was surprised at how little attention was given in this book to the content of Maugham's work, and the fact that his travel writing and other non-fiction was ignored.

Chapter 3, "The Playwright" deals with Maugham's career writing for the theatre. Knowing relatively little about drama, I learned from this chapter as well. I enjoyed Ivor Brown's sardonic comments about how the pretensions of capital- D "Drama" evolved from "plays," a trend resisted by Maugham (who saw the theatre as a form of entertainment, not education). One excellent feature of this chapter is the included photographs of the characters on stage for each of a number of the plays. On some pages, the author juxtaposed photos of a single play or film as shown in different productions over the years. Thus, on one page we can see "Rain" in the 1928 version with Glora Swanson in the leading role, the 1932 version starring Joan Crawford, and the 1953 film with Rita Hayworth.

Chapters 4 and 5 are respectively entitled "Belief and Opinion" and "The Man". These are the weakest chapters in the book. Mr. Brown engages in too much amateur psychologizing, seeking to explain Somerset Maugham's personality by reference to his early life, and trying to read his fiction as autobiographical. I found his attempts at analysis pretentious and even arrogant (he judges Maugham as wretched and miserable from his appearance in photographs and paintings; he informs us that in Maugham, "emotional disturbance" was a lifelong condition; and so on). What's more, he informs us about Mr. Maugham's sexuality (which in 1970 was not widely known). The final pages of the book are of no value; they contain an extremely brief "Summary of Events" that fails to mention Maugham's literary accomplishments, a haphazard list of his books and plays, and a minuscule bibliography.

Whether the few positive elements of this small work balance the negative ones will be a matter of opinion. There are more definitive sources of information available, although the photographs herein are rather good. ( )
4 vote danielx | Jun 13, 2012 |
Ivor Brown

W. Somerset Maugham

International Profiles, Hardback, 1970.


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

This is one of these books which you have to start reviewing with a very important point about the rating: it is based more or less solely on the illustrations. For so small and so thin a volume, the book is lavishly illustrated with fascinating photos of Maugham in different periods of his life as well as people and places related to him. The photos themselves are certainly worth getting the book.

If I had to rate the text only, however, I doubt that it would have received more than one star. What Ivor Brown wrote is supposed to be a short but comprehensive overview of Maugham's life, works and personality. It is not the problem that the piece is of completely inadequate length to discuss even superficially so complex a subject, although considering this Ivor Brown could well have saved some of his digressions, particularly in the section dedicated to Maugham's theatrical works. The writing is rather indifferent and does not consist of anything but the usual cliches about Maugham, just collected at one place. No attempt whatsoever for deeper analysis of any of Maugham's works and or his personality than the usual hackneyed ones has been made here. The most original thought is just another cliche: Maugham's misery through the 1950s which apparently is all too obvious for Mr Brown in the photos of Maugham and in the famous portrait by Graham Sutherland. It is not at all obvious to me. Maugham's productivity of his late years, although not the same as earlier of course, was still remarkable and he never ceased to travel; those days were also glorious in terms of parties and guests in Villa Mauresque. I don't see how this points out to any misery. Maugham didn't not become senile, if that's what Mr Brown means, until the last very few years of his life, certainly by 1962 when his notorious memoirs Looking Back and the album of his picture collection with his commentaries (Purely for My Pleasure) were published, he was not. Mr Brown's completely personal opinion of Maugham's condition through the 1950s does not seem to rely on anything but pure gossip; people are always ready to make a mountain out of a molehill, namely to transform a several occasions of bad mood into personal misery.

Another highly original thought of Mr Brown is the claim that sometimes Maugham is open to a ''charge of inconsistency''. In this case Mr Brown himself has caught the great writer and he is as pleased as Punch. He quotes The Summing Up where Maugham states that ''art, if it is to be reckoned one of the great values of life must teach man tolerance, wisdom and magnanimity.'' ''Teach?'', questioningly raises his eyebrow Mr Brown, wondering what happened with the writer who claimed that fiction is no place for propaganda. The example is so trivial and easy to refute, it is downright embarrassing that Mr Brown thought sufficiently well of it as to write such dud for publication. Surely Maugham didn't mean that art should be used as propaganda for teaching people, but rather that people in general, or least those who possess the gift for aesthetic appreciation, should teach themselves tolerance, wisdom and magnanimity from their contact with great art. This was one of Maugham's favourite and most consistent notions; he developed it fairly early in his life, long before the time for writing The Summing Up was ripe, and never changed until his death. It is refreshing that from time to time Mr Brown makes sincere attempts to think, but he might just as well have saved himself the trouble.

If you want a very short and rather superficial and prejudiced account of Somerset Maugham's life and work, written in a dull and drab style, this is the right book. If you want something much deeper, serious and perceptive about Maugham, I recommend you should have a look at Wilmon Menard's The Two Worlds of Somerset Maugham (Sherbourne Press, 1965), Garson Kanin's Remembering Mr Maugham (Atheneum, 1966) or Anthony Curtis' books about Maugham, The Pattern of Maugham. A Critical Portrait (Hamish Hamilton, 1974) and the lavishly illustrated Somerset Maugham (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977). But the ultimate source about William Somerset Maugham remains all these short stories, novels, plays and essays, 40 books or so overall, he wrote during his life. They may not give you many facts of his life, but they will certainly provide you with a complete picture of his unique personality save the most intimate details physically which are nobody's business but Mr Maugham's; moreover, they are of no consequence at all. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Nov 17, 2009 |
Showing 2 of 2

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
2 pay

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (3.25)
0.5
1
1.5
2 2
2.5
3
3.5
4 1
4.5
5 1

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 91,619,154 books! | Top bar: Always visible