Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Quotes: The Narrow Corner (1932) by W. Somerset Maugham


[Epigraph: Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, iii, 10:]
Short, therefore, is man's life, and narrow is the corner of the earth wherein he dwells.

[Complete first chapter:]
All this happened a good many years ago.

[Dr Saunders:]
I believe in nothing but myself and my experience. The world consists of me and my thoughts and my feelings; and everything else is mere fancy. Life is a dream in which I create the objects that come before me. Everything knowable, every object of experience, is an idea in my mind, and without my mind it does not exist. There is no possibility and no necessity to postulate anything outside myself. Dream and reality are one. Life is a connected and consisted dream, and when I cease to dream, the world, with its beauty, its pain and sorrow, its unimaginable variety, will cease to be.[1]

[Dr Saunders:]
I have never had any sympathy with the ascetic attitude. The wise man combines the pleasures of the senses and the pleasures of the spirit in such a way as to increase the satisfaction he gets from both. The most valuable thing I have learned from life is to regret nothing. Life is short, nature is hostile, and man is ridiculous; but oddly enough most misfortunes have their compensations and with a certain humour and a good deal of horse-sense one can make a fairly good job of what is after all a matter of very small consequence.

[Dr Saunders:]
Goodness. I know, it's shattering. One doesn't know what to do about it. It knocks human relations endways. Damned shame, isn't it?

[Louise:]
What right have people to make an image after their own heart and force it on you and be angry if it doesn't fit you?

They clambered by rickety steps on to the pier and walked along it. There was no one there. They reached the quay and after hesitating for a moment took what looked like the main street. It was empty and silent. They wandered down the middle of the roadway, abreast, and looked about them. […] The bungalows on either side of the road had very high roofs, thatched and pointed, and the roofs, jutting out, were supported by pillars, Doric and Corinthian, so as to form broad verandas. They had an air of ancient opulence, but their whitewash was stained and worn, and the little gardens in front of them were rank with tangled weeds. They came to shops and they all seemed to sell the same sort of things, cottons, sarongs and canned foods. There was no animation. Some of shops had not even an attendant, as though no purchaser could possibly be expected. The few persons they passed, Malays or Chinese, walked quickly as though they were afraid to awaken the echo.[2]




[1] Cf. the description of solipsism in The Summing Up (1938), lxvii:
The solipsist believes only in himself and his experience. He creates the world as the theatre of his activity, and the world he creates consists of himself and his thoughts and feelings; and beyond that nothing has being. Everything knowable, every fact of experience, is an idea in his mind, and without his mind does not exist. There is no possibility and no necessity for him to postulate anything outside himself. For him dream and reality are one. Life is a dream in which he creates the objects that come before him, a coherent and consistent dream, and when he ceases to dream, the world, with its beauty, its pain and sorrow and unimaginable variety, ceases to be. It is a perfect theory; it has but one defect; it is unbelievable.
[2] Cf. the description of Banda in A Writer’s Notebook [1949], Mandarin, 1991, “1922”, p. 200:
The streets of Banda are lined with bungalows, but the place is dead, and they are empty and silent. People walk about, the few you see, quietly, as though they were afraid to awaken the echo. No voice is raised. The children play without noise. Now and again you catch a sweet whiff of nutmeg. In the shops, all selling the same things, canned goods, sarongs, cottons, there is no movement; in some of them there is no attendant, as though no purchaser could possibly be expected. You see no one buy or sell.

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