Friday, 19 June 2015

The Cosmopolitan Mr Maugham: A Map

Photo by Howard Coster, 1936.

Somerset Maugham once said that the title of his first short story collection, Orientations (1899), “might serve as the general title of all my work”*. I tend to agree with this, but I think a better title would be Cosmopolitans (1936), another collection of short stories, nearly all of them first published in the famous Cosmopolitan Magazine between 1923 and 1929. Cosmopolitan settings are one of Maugham’s hallmarks.

But how cosmopolitan is he really? I have tried to answer this question by mapping the most interesting locales I could find in his books. I have not aimed at completeness, which is just a polite name for pedantry. It would be incredibly tedious to list all towns Maugham mentions in his travel books. It would also be pointless. It’s enough to know that Andalusia is an indispensable part from The Land of the Blessed Virgin (1905) and Don Fernando (1950), China from On a Chinese Screen (1922) and Burma from The Gentleman in the Parlour (1930). I have tried not to exclude significant mentions in other non-fiction works, for example Capri in The Summing Up (1938) or the South Seas in A Writer’s Notebook (1949), but on the whole I have concentrated on the fiction. The general criterion is that the locale in question must play some part in the plot, but there are plenty of exceptions. For example, “The Human Element” is set mostly in Rhodes, but it does include important episodes in Rome (where the first-person narrator is told the story) and London (Betty’s background), therefore I consider the inclusion of these places justified.

The years in brackets refer to the first edition in book form because this represents Maugham’s final thoughts (excluding, occasionally, the title). Exceptions were made for several short stories which remained uncollected during Maugham’s lifetime (for these the year of their first publication is given, never mind that it was in a magazine) and for all the plays (for which the year of first British production is given). In case of revisions, only the final version is mentioned; two or three exceptions were made when the revision was coupled with a change of locale (e.g. “A Marriage of Convenience” and “Cousin Amy”). Novels, plays or whole books are italicized, short stories or separate essays are put in quotation marks.

The map looks something like this.

*Preface to Liza of Lambeth for The Collected Edition, 1934. Reprinted in the Vintage Classics edition, 2000.

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