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The Casuarina Tree (1926)

by W. Somerset Maugham

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1926. Maugham, English novelist, short-story writer, and playwright is best remembered for his novel Of Human Bondage. The Casuarina Tree contains six stories by Maugham including: Before the Party; P. and O.; The Outstation; The Force of Circumstance; The Yellow Streak; and The Letter. See other titles by this author available from Kessinger Publishing.… (more)
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W. Somerset Maugham

The Casuarina Tree

Collins, Hardback [1930s]

12mo. 254 pp. Preface "The Casuarina Tree" [pp. 7-8] and Postscript [pp. 252-54] by Maugham.

First published by Heinemann, 1926.

Contents

The Casuarina Tree

The Letter [Apr 1924, Cosmopolitan]*
Before the Party [Dec 1922, Nash’s Magazine]
P. & O. [Feb 1923, International Magazine, as “Bewitched”]
The Outstation [Jun 1924, Cosmopolitan]
The Force of Circumstance [Jan 1923, International Magazine]
The Yellow Streak [Aug 1925, Cosmopolitan]

Postscript

*Date and place of first publication.

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

This old and battered Collins edition, with heavily sunned spine and bumped corners, dates from the early days of my Maughamian passions when I was anxious to acquire everything written by him and didn’t much care about the edition. Later I got a Heinemann edition, but the Collins remained a personal favourite. It has been one of my travel volumes. I have read, on beaches or busses, each of the eight pieces at least half a dozen times; some of them a full dozen. I have never grown tired of them. Here follow a bunch of random reflections on re-reading that may serve as a supplement to my now almost seven-years-old review.

To begin with a bit of publishing history, the Collins story is interesting in itself. In 1930, Messrs. William Collins Sons & Co. was granted a license from Heinemann to publish five Maugham titles – The Moon and Sixpence (1919), The Trembling of a Leaf (1921), The Painted Veil (1925), The Casuarina Tree (1926) and Ashenden (1928) – at prices not exceeding one shilling (1s.) throughout the world with the exception of the United States. The license lasted for seven years and Collins made the most of it. The five titles were reprinted altogether 20 times at one shilling; 12 reprints more enjoyed the super-bargain price of seven pence (7d.; 1s.=12d.). These prices are staggeringly low. Compare with Heinemann’s Colonial Edition of The Moon and Sixpence (7s.) or the first editions of The Casuarina Tree and Ashenden (7s. 6d.). It is fascinating to speculate about the vast new markets which these cheap editions must have reached, particularly in the colonies.[1]

I needn’t waste time on Maugham’s supreme ability as a story-teller: even his detractors admit that; with a condescending smile, no doubt, but they do admit it. I merely want to add that I envy anyone who reads these stories for the first time. Maugham’s ability to create, build and relieve tension is second to none. Nor am I going to be concerned with the popular theory that Maugham’s stories are nothing but thinly disguised reports of real events. I have dealt elsewhere at length with this vexing issue and enough is enough. What I want to address in the desultory paragraphs that follow is Maugham’s gift for evocative language, haunting atmosphere and complex characters. This is sometimes overlooked even by his admirers.

The six stories in this volume, all of them among Maugham’s finest, amply show that simplicity is not the same thing as superficiality. It’s all a matter of taste, of course, but I am often amused when Maugham is compared unfavourably because he did not practice the turgid verbosity of Henry James and Joseph Conrad or the affected sentimentality of Scott Fitzgerald and D. H. Lawrence. (I don’t even care for the question of form. That Maugham wrote a different type of story than Chekov’s plotless snippets, Mansfield’s shapeless impressions or Woolf’s tedious fantasies is completely irrelevant.) For my part, while reading Maugham, I am often surprised how effective simplicity is. Much like Maupassant, his self-confessed model, Maugham achieves maximum effect with minimum of means. There is no room for improvement.

Consider several examples of purely descriptive writing. The first one is the opening paragraph of “The Letter” – and a superb character sketch of Singapore in the 1920s. The other two excerpts come from “The Force of Circumstance” and “The Outstation” and attempt to describe the oppressive heat during the day and the refreshing beauty of the night in the tropics, respectively.

Outside on the quay the sun beat fiercely. A stream of motors, lorries and buses, private cars and hirelings, sped up and down the crowded thoroughfare, and every chauffeur blew his horn; rickshaws threaded their nimble path amid the throng, and the panting coolies found breath to yell at one another; coolies, carrying heavy bales, sidled along with their quick jog-trot and shouted to the passer-by to make way; itinerant vendors proclaimed their wares. Singapore is the meeting-place of a hundred peoples; and men of all colours, black Tamils, yellow Chinks, brown Malays, Armenians, Jews and Bengalis, called to one another in raucous tones. But inside the office of Messrs. Ripley, Joyce & Naylor it was pleasantly cool; it was dark after the dusty glitter of the street and agreeably quiet after its unceasing din.

Under the breathless sun of midday it
[the river] had the white pallor of death. A native was paddling along in a dug-out so small that it hardly showed above the surface of the water. The colours of the day were ashy and wan. They were but the various tones of the heat. (It was like an Eastern melody, in the minor key, which exacerbates the nerves by its ambiguous monotony; and the ear awaits impatiently a resolution, but waits in vain.)

The air was scented with the sweet-smelling flowers of a tree that grew at the entrance to the arbour, and the fireflies, sparkling dimly, flew with their slow and silvery flight. The moon made a pathway on the broad river for the light feet of Siva's bride, and on the further bank a row of palm trees was delicately silhouetted against the sky.


This is nothing if not atmospheric writing. Lovers of florid experiments may despise it, but for me it works perfectly well. I can hear the din of the Singapore streets and feel that maddening heat. These examples are all violently out of context, though. In the course of the complete stories, the Maugham effect is far stronger.

“P. & O.” is not only an extraordinary story, with a large cast of vivid characters and rather macabre plot, but one of Maugham’s finest attempts of conveying an atmosphere, in this case the sinister atmosphere on a ship which carries a dying man, bewitched by a native woman, through the Indian Ocean. (The story was first published in a magazine as “Bewitched”.) Maugham doesn’t miss a single detail of the uneasiness that spreads aboard and finally turns into malaise: the additional vibrations from forcing the engines (hoping to get rid of the sick man in the next port), the quarrels over trifles, the spooky stories about mysterious incidents in the East that the passengers suddenly remember, the frantic but futile communication with other ships and the land. The atmosphere alone makes the story worth reading, yet there is so much more to it. “P. & O.” is one of Maugham’s most perfect and most haunting stories.

The short story is, by definition, no place for characterisation. The space limitations tend to encourage vivid rather than complex characters. Maugham disagreed and created some remarkably complicated human beings.

Mr Warburton from “The Outstation” is, for me, one of the greatest characters in fiction of any length invented by anyone. Maugham may have been a bit of a snob himself, but he had quite enough sense of humour to see the ridiculous side of the passion for titles. I surmise it amused him to create a character who “was not a timid snob, a little ashamed of being impressed by his betters, nor a snob who sought the intimacy of persons who had acquired celebrity in politics or notoriety in the arts, nor the snob who was dazzled by riches; he was the naked, unadulterated common snob who dearly loved a lord.” Maugham probably considered it a challenge to make such a person sympathetic by counterbalancing his single great vice with several solid virtues. Mr Warburton’s integrity, honesty, humour, charm and, above all, deep love for the natives more than compensate for his ludicrous snobbishness (and considerable vanity). He is certainly worthy of standing beside Elliott Templeton from The Razor’s Edge (1944), Maugham’s last major novel, and Thornton Clay from Our Betters (1923), one his most brutal comedies, two characters that should be insufferable but, in Maugham’s hands, are in fact sympathetic.

Maugham is equally successful with secondary characters. The limited space doesn’t seem to be a problem for him. In “Before the Party”, a flawless blend of comedy and tragedy, he describes the mother, the father and the sister with succinct comprehensiveness. You get a perfect picture of their trivial personalities and dull lives in just a few sentences. The mother deliberates whether or not to wear the feathers her dear son-in-law, now deceased, brought from the Far East. The sister’s most important occupation is delicate and diplomatic: she is the secretary of a ladies’ golf club. The father is a lawyer who has repeatedly complained what a nuisance that party is, but secretly he is dying to go there and mix with all those refined fellows. The canon’s garden party, really a bunch of people drinking and gossiping their heads off, is by far greatest excitement they will ever know.

In general, Maugham’s best writing is reserved for his characters. Sometimes it is quite poetic, for instance “a notion dawned on some remote horizon of her consciousness and like the morning sun suffused her soul with a tender, blissful glow”, but usually it is revealing in a more objective way. Significant gestures and glances are always noted, as are changes in the voice and bits of dialogue. If you want examples of intensely dramatic scenes that lay human nature bare, read the one between Mr Joyce and Leslie Crosbie in “The Letter” or those between Doris and her husband towards the end of “The Force of Circumstance”. Maugham is even sharper when he goes straight into the heads of his characters, combining the poetic with the prosaic with unprecedented success. This is how he describes the moment when Robert Crosbie, knowing yet nothing about the contents of “The Letter”, suddenly realises, dimly but firmly, that his wife isn’t quite as innocent as she pretends:

Then something seemed to dawn in that slow intelligence of his. His mind was darkness across which shot suddenly a flash of lightning, and though the succeeding darkness was as profound, there remained the memory of something not seen but perhaps just descried. Mr. Joyce saw that Crosbie's big red hands, coarse and hard with all the odd jobs he had set them to, trembled.

A common accusation against Maugham is that his characters are types rather than individuals. The best I can say about this is that it’s not serious. Comparison of “The Outstation” with “Mackintosh”, one of the stories in Maugham’s previous collection, The Trembling of a Leaf (1921), will show why.

Both stories feature stern but just residents, one in Samoa and one in Borneo, with a singular soft spot for the natives. Both stories also include harsh conflicts with new assistants whose personalities the old residents find incompatible. So much for the similarities: the differences are much more significant. There is nothing aristocratic or snobbish about Walker – on the contrary, he is democratic and common. Neither does Mackintosh, his antagonist, bear even the slightest resemblance to Cooper, the nemesis of Mr Warburton. Mackintosh is a bookish fellow who hates Walker because he considers him a vulgar philistine. Cooper is a “colonial” who has developed an intense dislike for everything English, especially titled persons and their sycophants. And, of course, I hardly need add that the endings, though both of them include murder by the natives, have nothing in common. So, here we have a broadly similar major theme – the clash of personalities between a resident and his assistant – worked into completely different stories with characters that no more resemble each other than raspberries resemble strawberries.

Incidentally, Cooper, though on purpose drawn more sparsely, is a penetrating study of the hypersensitive young man who develops an outward shell of arrogant self-assertiveness. Again, this may seem like a stock figure common enough in fiction, yet Izzart from “The Yellow Streak” is a very different variation of the same theme. The two characters have rather different backgrounds. Both are colonials, but Cooper was born and educated on Barbados, while Izzart is a child of the Far East with one fourth native blood in his veins (his mother is a half-caste). Izzart is a central character and the struggles with his conscience, his effusive insecurity and his panic-stricken mind, are powerfully portrayed. “The Yellow Streak” is my least favourite story here, yet what a stirring masterpiece it is! The terrifying description of the Bore, just as many others throughout the whole book, comes almost word for word from chapter “1922” of A Writer’s Notebook (1949):

[Cf. the musical metaphor from “The Force of Circumstance” quoted above:]
In the early morning the colours are brilliant, yet tender, and then as the day wears on they grow tired and pale. They are then only the various tones of the heat. It is like a Chinese melody, in the minor key, which exacerbate the nerves by its monotony. The ear awaits a resolution which never comes.

[A Writer’s Notebook:]
The jungle. There is no sign of a pathway and the ground is thickly strewn with decaying leaves. The trees grow dense, trees with enormous leaves and trees with the feathery foliage of the acacia, coconut trees and the areca palm with its long, straight white stem, bamboos and wild sago like huge bunches of ostrich feathers. Here and there, white and naked, is the skeleton of a dead tree; and its whiteness against all the green is startling. Here and there, rival kings of the forest, tall trees, with profuse and heavy foliage, soar above the common level of the jungle.

Then there are the parasites, great tufts of green leaf growing in the fork of a tree, flowering creepers that cover a tree like a bridal veil; sometimes they wind a sheath of splendour round the tall trunks and throw long arms of flowers from branch to branch.

In the early day all this green is blithe and exhilarating. There is nothing sombre or oppressive in it, but in the passionate wildness of all that growth a strange excitement. It has the daring abandon of the maenad rioting along in the train of the god.


[“The Yellow Streak”:]
The trees, bamboos, wild sago like huge bunches of ostrich feathers, trees with enormous leaves and trees with feathery foliage like the acacia, coconut trees and areca palms, with their long straight white stems, the trees on the banks were immensely and violently luxuriant. Here and there, gaunt and naked, was the bare skeleton of a tree struck by lightning or dead of old age, and its whiteness against all that green was vivid. Here and there, rival kings of the forest, tall trees soared above the common level of the jungle. Then there were the parasites; in the fork of two branches great tufts of lush green leaves, or flowering creepers that covered the spreading foliage like a bride's veil; sometimes they wound round a tall trunk, a sheath of splendour, and threw long flowering arms from branch to branch. There was something thrilling in the passionate wildness of that eager growth; it had the daring abandon of the nomad rioting in the train of the god.

This “nomad” in the last sentence of the last quote seems to be a corruption of the original “maenad” which certainly fits the context better. This is a nice example how Maugham’s non-fiction can illuminate his fiction not only in vaguely speculative ways, but even on purely linguistic level. Interestingly enough, the corruption appears to be widespread. The first edition of The Casuarina Tree has “nomad”. So do the original editions of The Complete Short Stories (Heinemann, 1951; Doubleday, 1952) and all later editions of Collected Short Stories (Penguin, 1963; Pan, 1975; Vintage Classics, 2000). One of the very few editions – possibly the only one – that does have “maenad” is the 1976 collection titled Sixty-Five Short Stories (Heinemann/Octopus, reprinted in 1988).

Much has been written about Maugham’s racism. Many a reviewer has mentioned it as if it was so obvious as to need no mention. This is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse, not seeing the wood for the trees, making a mountain out of a molehill, and so and so forth pleasant idioms. In short, it’s nonsense. No writer with any racist streak in him could have written a story like “The Outstation” or created a character like Mr Warburton – or like Ong Chi Seng, the suave assistant lawyer from “The Letter”. The latter, with his elaborate politeness, elegant clothes and smooth movements, is one of the most memorable characters in all of Maugham’s short fiction. The most “racist” thing the author has to say about him is that he is inscrutable. But it’s not racism to say that two races are different. It’s racism to say that one is better than the other. Maugham often said the former, arguing that the white man can never know a Chinese or a Malayan as he knows another white man, but he never said, or even implied, the latter. Some of his characters may have, but that is a different matter.

Last but not least, the six stories that make The Casuarina Tree debunk the myth that Maugham is a gloomy and pessimistic writer who didn’t have one good word to say about his fellow human beings. This is, of course, tosh, but it’s nothing short of astonishing how often people read with their hearts and their guts – in short, with everything but their brains. Leaving aside Maugham’s prodigious sense of humour, which crept into nearly everything he wrote, some of his stories here are surprisingly – at least for the superficial bookworm – life-affirming and uplifting. Unless you are an envious and ill-bred fellow who identifies strongly with Cooper, you can hardly finish “The Outstation” without a smile. “The Yellow Streak” works up to a heated climax, then resolves into a humorous plea for tolerance. Who of us, indeed, is entirely free of the yellow streak?

But the best example is “P. & O.” which ends with Mrs Hamlyn’s cathartic experience. She gains a new strength to cope with her life, new compassion and magnanimity from which she would benefit as much as those around her. “We should allow those we care for to be happy in their own way”, she writes to her unfaithful but considerate husband, “and we should care for them enough not to let it make us unhappy.” This is as good a motto for Maugham’s works in general as anything. So are the words of Mrs Tabret, a woman of the world not unlike Mrs Hamlyn:

Nurse [bitterly]: No one could say that you had much trust in human nature.
Mrs Tabret: I have a great deal. As much, in fact, as experience has thought me is justified.[2]

___________________________________________________________
[1] Raymond Toole Stott, A Bibliography of the Works of W. Somerset Maugham, Kay and Ward, 1973, pp. 70-1, 314.
[2] From the play The Sacred Flame, written, first produced and first published in 1928. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Sep 16, 2016 |
Short stories about life and struggles in the tropics. Excellent material, excellent story-telling. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Jul 3, 2016 |
W. Somerset Maugham

The Casuarina Tree

Heinemann, Hardback, 1928.

12mo. viii+311 pp. Cheap edition. Original preface The Casuarina Tree [vii-viii] and Postscript.

First published by Heinemann, 1926.

Contents

The Casuarina Tree

The Letter
Before the Party
P. & O.
The Outstation
The Force of Circumstance
The Yellow Streak

Postscript

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

This is the second mature (written after 1920) short story collection of W. Somerset Maugham. Just like the first it contains six rather long pieces with complex and vivid characters if not always very intricate and unpredictable plots. Just like The Trembling of a Leaf (1921), there is not even one short story among the six in The Casuarina Tree that I would hesitate to describe with such strong words like "brilliant" and "masterpiece". The only difference actually is the locale. All these stories are set in the Far East but none of them takes its plot and characters to the South Seas.

But this is by the way. Infinitely more important is the fact that here appears for the first time the topic Maugham is perhaps most famous, or infamous if you like, for: his merciless depiction of the vacuous lives and the violent passions of many planters, district officers, colonial servants, administrators and the like. His detached, cynical penetration into their minds and the rather cool observation of some of the hottest human emotions won him a great deal of hatred among the builders of the British Empire in the Far East. They obviously did not have the resources to read for pleasure and, should they find a fictional character who is somewhat similar to them, to profit from the author's perceptiveness, intuition and shrewdness rather than being vexed with him.

Small wonder that this short story collection contains a preface and a postscript almost entirely dedicated to the art of fiction and how the mundane real life is dramatized into it. Maugham always said that all he could claim about his characters was that he saw them coherent; he never claimed that the picture he had drawn was a truthful one; he never claimed that it was not partial; he never made futile claims for objectivity. All the same, he was often accused and always harshly criticized for portraying real people much worse than they really were. Not long before publishing this short story collection he had to make changes in the names of his characters in The Painted Veil twice because he was threatened with libel.

At one time, it was distinctly dangerous for Maugham to travel through the Federated Malay States because a great many white people there were so outraged by their rather stupid and dull outlook in his stories that they were ready to lynch the author. It never occurred to them that they are far too insignificant for the purposes of fiction. Nor was it up to their intelligence to benefit from some of the most masterful characterisation in the history of the short story. I do think it is worth quoting a part of the postscript of The Casuarina Tree for it contains a perfect example of Maugham's justly caustic sarcasm on the topic:

With the exception of Singapore, a city too busy with its own concerns to bother itself with trifles, imaginary names have been chosen for the places in which the action is supposed to be conducted. Some of the smaller communities in the countries washed by the China Sea are very sensitive, and their members agitated if, in a work of fiction, a hint is given that the circumstances of their lives are not always such as would meet the approval of the suburban circles in which contentedly dwell their cousins and their aunts.
[...]
Living, with all the East about them, as narrowly as in a market-town, they have the market-town's faults and foibles; and seem to take a malicious pleasure in looking for the originals of the characters, especially if they are mean, foolish or vicious, which the author has chosen for the persons of his stories. They have small acquaintance with arts and letters, and do not understand that the disposition and appearance of a person in a short story are dictated by the exigencies of the intrigue. Nor has it occurred to them that actual persons are much too shadowy to serve as characters in a work of the imagination. We see real people only in the flat, but for the purposes of fiction they must be seen in the round; and to make a living personage it is necessary to combine suggestions drawn from a dozen sources. Because a reader, unprofitably employing a useless leisure, recognizes in a character one trait, mental or physical, of some one he knows and is aware that the author has met, it is silly to put the name of this person to the character described and say: here is a portrait. A work of fiction, and perhaps I should not go too far if I spoke more generally and said, a work of art, is an arrangement which the author makes of the facts of his experience with the idiosyncrasies of his own personality. It is an unlikely, and unimportant, accident if it happens to be a copy of life. [...] Facts are but a canvas on which the artist draws a significant pattern.

As for the title The Casuarina Tree, the preface with the same name is dedicated entirely to its origins. Maugham facetiously tells us about an analogy between the Casuarina trees' conquest of bleak swampy lands which is followed by the immense variety of the jungle and the intrepid adventurers who had opened the wide spaces of the Far East for the next "more varied, but less adventurous generation" of English colonists. Later he was excessively disappointed to find out that the facts he had been told about the Casuarina tree are in fact false. But he was determined to keep the title. So he just changed the analogy, finishing in a very amusing way. It should be noted that this short preface also makes it clear that Maugham did have a certain amount of affection, or at least admiration, for all these planters and administrators whose dull lives but violent passions he revealed so well in his stories:

... and I remembered that the Casuarina tree stood along the sea shore, gaunt and rough-hewn, protecting the land from the fury of the winds, and so might aptly suggest these planters and administrators who, with all their shortcomings, have after all brought to the peoples among whom they dwell tranquility, justice and welfare, and I fancied that they too, as they look at the Casuarina tree, grey, rugged and sad, a little out of place in the wanton topics, might very well be reminded of their native land; and thinking for a moment of the heather on a Yorkshire moor or the broom of a Sussex common, see in that hardy tree, doing its best in difficult circumstances, a symbol of their own exiled lives. In short I could find a dozen reasons for keeping my title, but, of course, the best of them all was that I could think of no better.

Yet, when it comes to character depiction of all these English gentlemen and ladies or developing plots out of their lives, Maugham's candour is really brutal indeed. But it is also extremely convincing and believable. It is touching and affecting. It makes the most compelling read I can imagine. Some people might find here, and be utterly appalled at, another attitude Maugham was so notorious for: his misogyny. I have never felt this myself in his writings but I keep reading a great deal about it in every biography of Maugham; I guess I am a misogynist too.

But certainly it is true that women are for the most part at the center of the plot in four of the six short stories in The Casuarina Tree. Sometimes women are killers (as in undisputed masterpieces like "Before the Party" and "The Letter"), sometimes women are evil witches (like in "P. & O.", one of Maugham mysterious stories which explores the unknown in a quite compelling way) and sometimes women are cruel and heartless creatures who ruin the life of the delicate and sensitive Empire builder ("The Force of Circumstance", one of the most heart-rending stories Maugham ever wrote). Puritans and moralists, of either sex, may despise these stories and the man who wrote them, but even they would find it a very hard job to deny their mastery. Maugham's penetrating vision into human nature is simply astounding; the depth and verisimilitude of his characterization is the result of long years of toil and, to my mind at least, can hardly be equalled, let alone surpassed.

"The Yellow Streak" is something of an exception because this is the only story here without a tragic end. It is also the only one deeply rooted in facts but, as the author states firmly in the postscript, it is fiction nonetheless and he did not have any intention of vicious portraying of his companions. For he used an experience of his own. A detailed account of how Maugham and his secretary and companion, Gerald Haxton, were nearly drowned in one of the big rivers in the Far East can be found in A Writer's Notebook (1949). The short story itself contains one of the best descriptions of how panic-stricken person must feel like when he is about to meet his Maker as well as revealing and fascinating account of stricken conscience with all its pangs and pains.

"The Outstation" is the only short story here in which the tragedy is quite free of women. It is perhaps the greatest masterpiece of them all. The two principal characters are utterly different and drawn with truly remarkable insight. In Mr Warburton Maugham created an unforgettable epitome of snobbishness, never surpassed later in his oeuvre but surely equalled by Elliott Templeton in The Razor's Edge (1944). Despite their despicable adoration of the aristocracy and titles, both characters are almost unimaginably more complex, and with many redeeming qualities, than they look at first glance.

Some say that Maugham was a snob. Sure he was. He could never have created so real and so vivid snobs on paper had he not been a kind of snob himself. He was a good many things besides, a very skilful dramatist for example. The plot of "The Outstation", albeit simple, has a rare building of tension until the final tragedy. No doubt a great deal of that is due to Maugham's perfect sense for dramatic effect and his almost unique ability to focus the reader's attention on the action until the climax arrives if it were the most natural thing in the world, yet with shattering force. Strangely enough, although most climaxes in Maugham's stories are quite expected and not at all surprising, they are invariably so brilliantly written, so well prepared psychologically and with so intense a dialogue, that they always leave me dazed for quite some time after I read them.

In short, if you are a Somerset Maugham admirer and you have not yet read The Casuarina Tree, you have not read anything at all. If you do not generally care a packet of pins about Maugham but love reading short stories, this collection should be a treat for you. But only if you are not oversensitive person too much dedicated to soap operas! As usual, Maugham prefers to delve into the darkest passions and obsessions of the human animal, rather than to stay on the sunny surface basking in sugary romances. For my own part, this is one of the chief things that make him so compelling to read; the other one is his immaculate style.

Some may complain that this is not a true picture of life. Maugham never claimed it was. He also pointed out, many years later in the preface to The Complete Short Stories (1951), that the reader must not draw the conclusion that such tragic incidents as those he narrated were of common occurrence in the colonies; no, the great majority of the white people there led their monotonous and dull lives entirely dedicated to their work, little circle of acquaintances and trifle pleasures that are typical for most people all over the world. But who wants to read about this? It would be a suicide out of sheer boredom. It is enough that you live a boring life, there is no need why you should also read about it. Even the stupidest person has some instinct of self-preservation. Besides, what is the point of reading fiction at all if it cannot give you a real thrill and to make, at least for a while, all your fears more vivid than ever? Searching for a life philosophy in reading is all very well, but without making your blood boil or freeze it is hardly worth your time and energy.

Somerset Maugham knew all this far too well. His short stories in general, and these six in particular, are hard to resist since they have virtually no weak points: plots and characters, dramatic action and philosophical reflection, and a great deal more are skilfully intertwined and written in the most readable style possible. What more could any lover of the art of fiction want?

Well, this one was supposed to be short... ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Oct 17, 2009 |
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1926. Maugham, English novelist, short-story writer, and playwright is best remembered for his novel Of Human Bondage. The Casuarina Tree contains six stories by Maugham including: Before the Party; P. and O.; The Outstation; The Force of Circumstance; The Yellow Streak; and The Letter. See other titles by this author available from Kessinger Publishing.

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