Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham-New York Times Review

I am posting the link to this review of The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham not because of any particular interest in the biography itself but because of a comment made by the reviewer.  David Leavitt notes of Maugham's medical training that, "It was here that he learned the physician’s art of observing the suffering of others, if not with dispassion, then at least with sang-froid; an art he would exploit in his fiction."  This, in addition with the quote from the biography he utilizes of Maugham's that invention "wasn't his strong suit", reminded me very strongly of the novel I recently reviewed on this site Vexation by Elicia Clegg.  Maugham would visit places of suffering to gain material for his stories.   This is similar to the role played by the Grandfather in Vexation.  While Grandfather's act of utilizing people's suffering is more extreme because he actually forces people to act out the suffering he wants to depict, it is in the end a similar idea.  Both sought out the suffering of others to make up for a lack of ability to imagine such pain themselves and use it for profit.  I found it surprising to see so soon after I had finished Vexation to find another book identifying this same moral problem in the role of the writer when it is not one that I have previously encountered before.  This possible connection alone makes me more interested in what would have before been just simply another biography of an old writer I had never heard of.

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