The Summing Up

W. Somerset Maugham wrote a great book titled, The Summing Up. It is a biography of sorts in that it’s about himself and his philosophy and experience writing books and plays. Reading this book is like having one long conversation with a person of diverse experience and knowledge. In fact, I recommend a glass of whiskey while you’re enjoying the text, just to properly set the mood.

Maugham started life in odd circumstances, having been raised by an uncle in France but then going to England where he became a physician. This training and his early experiences in poor hospitals provided him with material for Liza of Lambeth. He took up writing full time and became quite a sensation in both the theatre and the world of publishing. At one point he had several plays onstage simultaneously.

What I enjoyed most about Maugham’s reflection on life was the honesty. He takes a hard look at his own desires, how they played out, and how they became something other than he expected. He doesn’t simply make a list of accomplishments or brag about them. He delves into the background, motivation, and even into how some of them were interpreted by the public and critics.

I’m not sure how popular his works are these days. I know that The Painted Veil was made into a movie recently. It was a good attempt but lacked the depth that the book contains. That book contains some of the best character development I’ve read, presenting all the subtleties and contradictions inherent in people. His other works, including Cakes and Ale, will probably seem dated and therefore quaint to today’s readers. But they’re worth a look as the stories tend to be timeless.

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Published in: on October 1, 2008 at 7:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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