Стаття присвячена глибокому аналізу поетики оповідань Вільяма Сомерсета Моема. Авторка також приділяє значну увагу філософським поглядам письменника та його підходу до жанру оповідання.
The article is devoted to the deep analysis of the stylistic and linguistic peculiarities of W. S Maugham’s short-stories. The author of the article also touches upon the philosophical world outlook of W. S Maugham as a short-story writer and his approach to a short-story as a genre.
Key words: linguistic and stylistic peculiarities, short-stories, stylistic devices.
William Somerset Maugham (1874–1965) is one of the most popular and widely read English writers who is at the same time somehow looked down upon by the English critics. The reason is that they consider him to be a story-teller rather than a writer, an entertainer rather than an interpreter of life. Maugham himself attributed this to his lack of “lyrical quality”, his small vocabulary and failure to make expert use of metaphor in his work. Although Maugham became world famous he was never knighted. Maugham’s public view of his abilities remained modest; towards the end of his career he described himself as “in the very first row of the second-raters”.
Thus, the object of our article is the short-stories of W.S.Maugham, and the subject – the linguistic and stylistic peculiarities of his short-stories. The actuality and novelty of the article consists in the fact that Maugham’s creative output has long been slighted and is quite vaguely and dispersedly studied at present.
The main task we set in this work is to advocate the right of the English writer for originality, uniqueness and distinctiveness in the realm of the world literature.
Maugham wrote in a time when experimental modernist literature such as that of William Faulkner, Thomas Mann, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf was gaining increasing popularity and winning critical acclaim. In this context, his plain prose style was criticized as “such a tissue of clichés that one’s wonder is finally aroused at the writer’s ability to assemble so many and at his unfailing inability to put anything in an individual way” [10, p. 13].
At the beginning of his literary career Maugham was greatly influenced by French naturalism. Later on, his outlook on life changed. It became cool, unemotional and pessimistic. He says that life is too tragic and senseless to be described. A writer can’t change life, he must only try to amuse his reader, stir his imagination. The dramatic atmosphere within the boundaries of human’s existence, hidden behind everyday routine is shown in his works.
He wrote novels, short stories and plays and most of them had a great commercial success. His very early life in the French speaking society gave him a special mastery of that language and a special feeling for the great French writers of the 19th century whom he had been studying very carefully and admiring greatly.
S. Maugham understood that he hadn’t been endowed with lyric feeling and thus he set some tasks before himself: “I’ve decided to write without any intricate methods using very direct and unembellished manner. I had so much to tell that I couldn’t permit myself to waste the words. I wanted simply to show the bare facts. I’ve decided not to use adjectives. I thought that if I found the necessary, proper word I could do without epithets” [2, p. 360]. Maugham’s prose is devoid of metaphors it’s laconic and reserved.
“The most typical feature inherent in people is their incoherence. I don’t remember seeing an integral personality in my life” [4, p. 36]. Studying human’s nature during the whole life of his Maugham confessed that being already an elderly person he wondered at human’s mystery and he tried not to rely on his first impressions of a person. The author thought one shouldn’t expect too much of people.
Maugham thought that a human being is a toy in the hands of fate. That’s why the destinies of his heroes are rather uneasy, filled with sufferings and losses, they are lonely, nobody understands them and they are painfully looking for their own way in the world.
His mastery as a short-story teller consists in the combinability of suspense with deep psychology. It lies in merging the dynamic actions with the character development observations. Maugham said that studying the character was his profession. At the same time he also marked his inclination to dramatization in short-stories. This effect is achieved by means of the acuteness of the plot development. “I need some salt”, claimed the author, “the mood in a short-story is marvelous, but the mood only without anything else is like frame without picture. More or less I am a realist and try to be true to life as much as possible in my works. I thoroughly avoid everything that is weird and fantastic as well as the writer’s willfulness” [8, p. 20].
One more peculiarity of Maugham’s style is the author’s presence in everything he pictures and he is the narrator of the story. Sometimes S. Maugham is very shrewd and experienced in everything that is connected with people. He never strives for moralizing, scolding, teaching or reproaching. Sometimes he keeps the distance from what he is describing, and he may be rather cynical at the same time. On the other hand he is the narrator who doesn’t merge with the image of the author, but who is rather close to him.
Maugham didn’t belong to those English writers who observed Chekhov’s traditions. He himself emphasized more than once that he followed different principles and had another way of story building. He is captured by the acuteness of the intrigue, the disclosure of the mystery, but at the same time he isn’t a detective story writer.
Speaking about Maugham’s teachers, one should mention Guy de Maupassant, whose short-stories attracted Maugham’s attention by the skillfulness of their construction, the ability to ground the unexpectedness of the denouement by the inner character logic. These two authors may be compared by means of drawing the parallels between their short-stories “Rain” and “The Dumpling”. This connection is revealed in the system of characters, partially in the plot. In both of them the dignified representatives of the bourgeois society are opposed to a prostitute; the characters are shown in uncommon surroundings, that is during their trip. Both stories depict a small group of people, but their behaviour reflects the typical of the time social views and moral [6, p. 123].
S. Maugham produced some of the finest stories in modern English literature. They are usually very sincere, interesting, well-constructed and logically developed. No matter how many times you read them, they always give you the same feeling of freshness and excitement that you experienced on the first reading. And this is where Maugham achieves perfection: his stories are always fascinating. His most popular stories are “Rain”, “The Unconquered”, “Gigolo and “Gigolette”, “The Man with the Scar”, “The Luncheon”.
Since his early days S. Maugham took great trouble to develop a style to suit his natural gifts. “I knew, he wrote, that I should never write as well as I could wish, but I thought that I must aim at lucidity, simplicity and euphony. I have put these three qualities in the order of the importance I assigned to them” [1, p. 163]. The result for the reader is that it is very easy to understand what he meant.
Many of Maugham’s stories are set in foreign lands where the author was as easily at home as he was in his native England. They were inspired by his travels in China, Malaya, Borneo, Siam and many other countries. His stories are densely overinhabited: writers and businessmen, English aristocrats and officials, MPs and beggars, prostitutes and missionaries, Englishmen, Americans, the Chinese, the Japanese, Russians etc. And each of his heroes is a unique personality.
His rich experience of life and his acute insight into human nature gave Maugham an analytical and critical quality which found its expression in the vivid depiction of characters and situations.
Indeed the impression, which the reader forms of Somerset Maugham from his stories, is of a man who has been everywhere and known people of all classes creeds and races; who has no illusions or prejudices; whom nothing shocks. Yet he is always focused on the strangeness of human behaviour. Somerset Maugham’s style is quite approachable and direct. The reader rarely pauses at a memorable or striking phrase, for it is not the effect the author seeks. He tries to create the impression of a storyteller talking naturally and easily, rather than a “great writer creating literature”: hence his sentence-construction, which is not too complicated.
The technique of short-story writing always interested Maugham. He expressed his opinion on the subject in the following way: “I like a story that fits. I did not take to writing stories seriously till I had had much experience as a dramatist, and this experience taught me to leave out everything that did not serve the dramatic value of my story. It taught me to take incident in such a manner as to lead up to the climax I had in mind …” [7, p. 16].
Maugham has stated repeatedly that a story must have a beginning, middle and an end. “I should define a short-story as a piece of fiction that has unity of impression and that can be read at a single sitting. I should be inclined to say that the only test of its excellence is that of interest …” [11, p. 160].
Maugham believes that the charm of a story lies in its interesting plot and exciting situation, but we cannot share his opinion: his own stories, though they are indeed interesting and exciting, at the same time convey deep thought, keen observation and sharpness of characterization. These very qualities assure Maugham an outstanding place in the annals of literature and in the hearts of all who love good stories [9, p. 12].
The most favourite stylistic device of Maugham is paradox. A pious person turns out to be an implacable predator and a debauches rude drunkard – a kind weak-willed and spineless person (“The Vessel of Wrath”); the only person who follows his calling and preserves the adherence to his ancestors’ traditions not trying to be different from what he in reality is, turns out to be a stranger among the natives (“The Alien Corn”); a husband kills a wife only because he loves her too much (“The Man with the Scar”) and a wife, who betrays her husband with his best friend sheltered by him in his own house in rotten times, is so much ashamed of her immoral ties, that prefers to kill her husband in order not to tell him the truth (“Footprints in the Jungle”).
All Maugham’s works are soaked with irony and sarcasm. The register of his laugh is wide – from the benevolent mocking to killing satire.
Giving him his due for brilliance of style and a pointed ridicule of many social vices, such as snobbishness, money worship, pretence to superiority, self-interest, etc., we realize, however, his cynical attitude to mankind. It is quite obvious that describing the corruption of modern society, he is not indignant but rather amused. His habitual attitude is expecting little or nothing of his fellow men. His ironical cynicism combined with sharp wit and power of observation affords him effective means of portraying English reality avoiding its seamy side.
Though Maugham does not give a broad panorama of contemporary society and does not go deep into social problems, he shows many different aspects of life. Every short-story of his is a piece of vivid realism, original, deep and exciting. He is equally at his best in his tragic stories and in his humorous ones.
Being quite objective and remote in his stories, Maugham often resorts to philosophical contemplations of more or less generalizing character: “It is strange that men, inhabitants for so short a while of an alien and inhuman world, should go out for their way to cause themselves so much unhappiness” [5, p. 19].
Maugham is impartial to his characters. They are neither all good nor all bad. “I cannot bring myself to judge my fellows; I am content to observe them. My observation has led me to believe that, all in all, there is not so much difference between the good and the bad as the moralists would have us believe … There is not much to choose between men. They are all a hotchpotch of greatness and littleness, of virtue and vice, of nobility and baseness… Selfishness and kindness, idealism and sensuality, vanity, shyness, disinterestedness, courage, laziness, nervousness, obstinacy and diffidence; they can all exist in a single person and form a plausible harmony” [3, p. 71].
Maugham’s characters speak impeccable English (“Lord Mountdrago”) or cockney (“The Creative impulse”), or some horrible accent (“The Tai pen”). They put in some words from the local dialects or some Spanish, German and Dutch phrases. Dialogues in his stories always sound very naturally and plausible.
The author uses different stylistic figures owing to which he gives exhaustive characteristics to his characters: “He bursts into a string of oaths both filthy and blasphemous” (epithet); “Jane Fowler is my cross” (metaphor); “It’s against all my principles to allow unskilled foreign labour to take the bread out of the months of honest and industrious people” (metonymy); “With the ferocity of an avenging angel she sought out of the good in her fellow-man” (comparison and oxymoron); “There was not a single thing to be said in his favour. The man’s presence is a public scandal. He’s never sober from morning till night” (hyperbola); “They had plenty of liquor on board and good stories to tell” (zeugma); “She grimly looked at on the bright side of things” (oxymoron); “He’s penniless and you are rich. You can’t be such besotted fool as not to see that he’s marrying you for your money” (antithesis); “He hadn’t come out the tussle unscathed. He had a black eye and his mouth was cut and swollen” (litotes); “Mrs. Fower was amazed, exasperated and perplexed. She’s old and dowdy and dull” (gradation) etc. [12, p. 170]
In his sort-stories, Maugham mainly portrays the conflict of Europeans. A realistic portrayal of life, keen character observation, interesting plots coupled with beautiful, expressive language and a simple and lucid style, all place Somerset Maugham on a level with the greatest English writers of the 20th century.