Posted by: billpurdue | August 14, 2012

Somerset Maugham’s Short Stories

When most people think of W. Somerset Maugham, they probably think of some of his best known novels, such as The Moon and Sixpence, Of Human Bondage, or perhaps Cakes and Ale. I regret to say that I have read none of these or any other full length novels by Maugham, but I am reading a collection of his short stories called Creatures of Circumstance. It first appeared in 1947 and is one of the books which was included in the “Companion Book Club” choices during the 1950s. The club was part of Odhams Press. I still have a few titles from that era, many with the original, rather plain, dust jackets.

 

I won’t go into Maugham’s life or write about his other works as this information is readily available on more than one website – just try the Wikipedia entry (there’s also a separate entry for a bibliography of Maugham: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Somerset_Maugham_bibliography.)

For an alternative potted biography of Maugham, try http://www.online-literature.com/maugham/

 

As for Creatures of Circumstance, I enjoyed the stories to begin with, but then the same themes seemed to be cropping up: the European aristocracy, dinner parties, marriages and affairs, forced marriages and the like. What’s more, the endings often appeared to be unsatisfactory – to me anyway. So I was about to leave the book behind (after reading about two thirds of it) and start something else when the themes became more varied. In ‘Winter Cruise’, a woman takes a trip from Plymouth to Haiti on board a cargo ship which carries a few passengers. For part of the voyage she is the only passenger: she dines at the captain’s table and soon turns out to be a crashing bore. The captain and the crew hit on a cunning plan to stop her getting on their nerves for the rest of the journey. ‘A Man from Glasgow’ is a spine tingling ghost story and ‘The Unconquered’ is a second world war story set in occupied France. A German soldier forces himself on a local girl. When he finds out she is pregnant, he tries to do the honourable thing, but she will have none of it, in spite of her parents being won over by the soldier. Many of the pieces are a story within a story: for example the narrator explains that someone he met a dinner party told him the story. It’s as if the writer wants to distance himself from the subject matter.

 

If you can get hold of a copy of this collection of short stories by a master short story writer, don’t be put off by the first few stories, it gets better.

 

 

By the way, when I checked Amazon for any currently in print editions of this book (it appears that there aren’t any), I came across another book called Creatures of Circumstance by Horace G Hutchinson, published by Forgotten Books (www.forgottenbooks.org). They use optical character recognition technology to reproduce old books (both fic. and non-fic) and make them available as free ebooks, Kindle ebooks or paperbacks. By the way, if you can deduce what it is all about from the brief blurb available on line for this title, you’re better than I am.

 

Need I mention that…

 

… what is described as the first adult novel by J K Rowling – The Casual Vacancy – is published on 27th September. The town of Pagford is in shock after the death of Barry Fairbrother, leaving a vacant seat on the parish council. Pagford, far from being a nice quiet town, is riven with feuds of one sort or another and a by-election sets off the biggest feud yet. Sounds good.

 

 

 

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