The Summing Up, XV

Maugham makes a somewhat unexpected retreat from pomposity this chapter. He does not seek the reader’s sympathy, just emerges at the end of it a far more sympathetic figure than he seemed willing to present himself before. He discusses ill health, frailties, inabilities, as they effected him as a person and as a writer. There’s no biographic detail or anecdote, just a matter-of-fact presentation of information. Maugham’s idealism comes through as well, especially when he’s talking about the writer as an artist. An artist, Maugham writes, is a person “occupied with the arts.” He doesn’t like the term, but finds creator “pretentious” and craftsman lacking. To Maugham (much like myself), creator implies a “claim to originality that can seldom be justified.” He also has a wonderful observation about how fictional characters, as opposed to real life people, don’t act on impulse in the same way. Real people “are creatures of impulse,” he writes. And then ends up talking about his own regrets. Not specifically, of course. Purely from a writing standpoint, this chapter is the best written. Maugham’s more comfortable with his failings than he has been anything else. He also has a really sad passage about his really sad (apparently) sex life. I wish I wrote more about sex just so I could use the phrase “sexual congress,” but I don’t so I probably won’t get to use it any time soon.

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