Friday, December 28, 2012

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham 

Charles Strickland is a well to do London stockbroker. He is apparently a happily married family man. Those who know him describe him as a dull, plain man, a hardworking stalwart of Edwardian England.
Inexplicably then he vanishes leaving telling his wife that he has gone to live in Paris. His wife stunned asks the narrator to find Strickland and tell him to return home. Rather reluctantly the narrator obliges.

What emerges in Paris is not a married man having one last fling with a paramour in a fine hotel but rather a burgeoning artist who has left the stifling conventions of London behind in order to pursue his innate calling.

As the novel progresses we learn that Strickland has risked all in pursuit of his art. He lives in dire poverty in Paris taking help from all who offer it. He travels to Marseilles where after an altercation he works his passage to Tahiti.

All of which sounds very virtuous and noble. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a character Strickland is totally dislikeable. He is arrogant, vein and irresponsible. His actions bring death and disaster upon those who love him most.  He cares nothing for his wife and children and less for the concerns and worries of others.

Written by Somerset Maugham in 1919 and based loosely on the life of painter Paul Gauguin, "The Moon and Sixpence", can said to be both a meditation on genius and a damning critique of Edwardian society.   


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