Speaking of Maugham

I’m reading The Best Short Stories of Somerset Maugham, and I’m so impressed and entertained by them. Some of them I’ve read before (“Rain,” “The Letter”), but many of them are new to me. I picked up the volume at the library, at random, because I like, periodically, to hear Maugham’s voice.

I just read “Lord Mountdrago,” and found it most compelling. Its insights into psychoanalysis are quite brilliant, and Dr. Audlin, an analyst who hates his profession and feels, at the end, “a strange, primeval terror of he knew not what,” is a fascinating study, as is the analysis of dreams, which underlies the story.

At one point, near the end of the story, the analyst says to Lord Mountdrago, his patient, “I have a notion that we’re none of us one self, but many. . . .If I were a priest I should tell you that it is your conscience that has adopted the shape and lineaments of this man [Griffiths, his nemesis] to scourge you to repentance and persuade you to reparation.” His “conscience” eventually leads to Lord Mountdrago’s suicide and Griffith’s mysterious death. Nothing is resolved, but so much is implied!

The analyst “knew all that Freud and Jung and the rest of them had written,” and studied in Vienna and Zurich. It’s evident that Maugham gave some serious thought to the possibilities — and limitations — of psychoanalysis.

On a writerly note, it’s interesting that Maugham starts all of his stories with a short, declarative sentence. The first sentence of this story is “Dr. Audlin looked at the clock on his desk.” It’s a very clean, precise, and effective technique.

I do love Maugham’s voice!

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