Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Quotes: Theatre (1937) by W. Somerset Maugham

[Roger and his mother:]
She gave him her delightful and disarming smile.
‘Darling, I think you’re talking nonsense.’
‘Of course you do. You don’t know the difference between truth and make-believe. You never stop acting. It's second nature to you. You act when there’s a party here. You act to the servants, you act to father, you act to me. To me you act the part of the fond, indulgent, celebrated mother. You don’t exist, you’re only the innumerable parts you’ve played. I’ve often wondered if there was ever a you or if you were never anything more than a vehicle for all these other people that you’ve pretended to be. When I’ve seen you go into an empty room I’ve sometimes wanted to open the door suddenly, but I’ve been afraid to in case I found nobody there.’
‘D’you think I am only sham?’
‘Not quite. Because sham is all you are. Sham is your truth. Just as margarine is butter to people who don’t know what butter is.’
‘Don’t you love me?’
‘I might if I could find you. But where are you? If one stripped you of your exhibitionism, if one took your technique away from you, if one peeled you as one peels an onion of skin after skin of pretence and insincerity, of tags of old parts and shreds of faked emotions, would one come upon a soul at last?’

[Julia on Charles:]
With him she sought to be neither gay nor brilliant, she was tender and wistful. Her heart ached, notwithstanding the scintillating performance she had given during the day; and it was with almost complete sincerity that with sighs, sad looks and broken sentences, she made him understand that her life was hollow and despite the long continued success of her career she could not but feel that she had missed something. Sometimes she thought of the villa at Sorrento on the bay of Naples. A beautiful dream. Happiness might have been hers for the asking, perhaps; she had been a fool; after all what were the triumphs of the stage but illusion? Pagliacci. People never realized how true that was; Vesti la giubba and all that sort of thing. She was desperately lonely. Of course there was no need to tell Charles that her heart ached not for lost opportunities, but because a young man seemed to prefer playing golf with her son to making love to her.

[Julia on Charles:]
It was not that she had any scruples about being his mistress; if he had been an actor who loved her so much and had loved her so long she would not have minded popping into bed with him out of sheer good nature; but she just did not fancy him. She was very fond of him, but he was so elegant, so well-bred, so cultured, she could not think of him as a lover. It would be like going to bed with an object d'art. And his love of art filled her with a faint derision; after all she was a creator, when all was said and done he was only the public.

[Charles waxing philosophical:]
“It’s hard not to be impatient with the absurdity of the young; they tell us that two and two make four as though it had never occurred to us, and they’re disappointed if we can’t share their surprise when they have just discovered that a hen lays an egg. There’s a lot of nonsense in their ranting and raving, but it’s not all nonsense. One ought to sympathize with them; one ought to do one’s best to understand. One has to remember how much has to be forgotten and how much has to be learned when for the first time one faces life. It’s not very easy to give up one’s ideals, and the brute facts of every day are bitter pills to swallow. The spiritual conflicts of adolescence can be very severe and one can do so little to resolve them.”

When a woman’s amorous advances are declined by a man she is apt to draw one or two conclusions; one is that he is homosexual and the other is that he is impotent.

“ is so short and love is so transitory. The tragedy of life is that sometimes we get what we want.”

[Julia on her affair with Tom:]
It was no good not facing the truth, he didn’t love her, he was her lover because it gratified his self-esteem, because it brought him various things he cared for and because in his own eyes at least it gave him a sort of position.

[Julia winning Tom back with one of her finest performances:]
    “You’re everything in the world to me. You know that. I’m so lonely and your friendship meant a great deal to me. I’m surrounded by hangers-on and parasites and I knew you were disinterested. I felt I could rely on you. I so loved being with you. You were the only person in the world with whom I could be entirely myself. Don’t you what a pleasure it was to me to help you a little? It wasn’t for your sake I made you little presents, it was for my own; it made me so happy to see you using the things I’d given you. If you’d cared for me at all they wouldn’t have humiliated you, you’d have been touched to owe me something.”
    She turned her eyes on him once more. She could always cry easily, and she was really so miserable now that she did not have to make even a small effort. He had never seen her cry before. She could cry, without sobbing, her wonderful dark eyes wide open, with a face that was almost rigid. Great heavy tears run down it. And her quietness, the immobility of the tragic body, were terribly moving. She hadn’t cried like that since she cried since she cried in “The Stricken Heart.” Christ, how that play had shattered her. She was not looking at Tom, she was looking straight in front of her; she was really distracted with grief, but, what was it? another self within her knew what she was doing, a self that shared in her unhappiness and yet watched its expression. She felt him go white. She felt a sudden anguish wring his heartstrings, she felt that his flesh and blood could not support the intolerable pain of hers.

The critics admired her variety. They praised especially her capacity for insinuating herself into a part. She was not aware that she deliberately observed people, but when she came to study a new part vague recollections surged up in her from she knew not where, and she found that she knew things about the character she was to represent that she had had no inkling of. It helped her to think of someone she knew or even someone she had seen in the street or at a party; she combined with this recollection her own personality, and thus built up a character founded on fact but enriched with her experience, her knowledge of technique and her amazing magnetism. People thought that she only acted during the two or three hours she was on the stage; they did not know that the character she was playing dwelt in the back of her mind all day long, when she was talking to others with all the appearance of attention, or in whatever business she was engaged. It often seemed to her that she was two persons, the actress, the popular favourite, the best-dressed woman in London, and that was a shadow; and the woman she was playing at night, and that was the substance.

The peaceful habits of the two old ladies, the routine of their uneventful existence and their quiet gossip, excited her compassion. Nothing had happened to them for years, nothing now would ever happen to them till they died, and then how little would their lives have signified. The strange thing was that they were content. They knew neither malice nor envy. They had achieved the aloofness from the common ties of men that Julia felt in herself when she stood at the footlights bowing to the applause of an enthusiastic audience. Sometimes she had thought that aloofness her most precious possession. In her it was born of pride; in them of humility. In both cases it brought one precious thing, liberty of spirit; but with them it was more secure.

[Julia in the end:]
    ‘What is love beside steak and onions?’ she asked. It was enchanting to be alone and allow her mind to wander. She thought once more of Tom and spiritually shrugged a humorous shoulder. ‘It was an amusing experience.’
    It would certainly be useful to her one of these days. The sight of the dancers seen through the archway was so much like a scene in a play that she was reminded of a notion that she had first had in St. Malo. The agony that she had suffered when Tom deserted her recalled to her memory Racine’s Phèdre which she had studied as a girl with old Jane Taitbout. She read the play again. The torments that afflicted Theseus’ queen were the torments that afflicted her, and she could not but think that there was a striking similarity in their situations. That was a part she could act; she knew what it felt like to be turned down by a young man one had a fancy for. Gosh, what a performance she could give! She knew why in the spring she had acted so badly that Michael had preferred to close down; it was because she was feeling the emotions she portrayed. That was no good. You had to have had the emotions, but you could only play them when you had got over them. She remembered that Charles had once said to her that the origin of poetry was emotion recollected in tranquillity. She didn’t know anything about poetry, but it was certainly true about acting.
    ‘What nonsense that was that Roger talked the other day, and poor Charles, who seemed to take it seriously. He’s a silly little prig, that’s all.’ She indicated a gesture towards the dance room. The lights had been lowered, and from where she sat it looked more than ever like a scene in a play. ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” But there’s the illusion, through that archway; it’s we, the actors, who are the reality. That’s the answer to Roger. They are our raw materials. We are the meaning of their lives. We take their silly little emotions and turn them into art, out of them we create beauty, and their significance is that they form the audience we must have to fulfil ourselves. They are the instruments on which we play, and what is an instrument without somebody to play on it?
    ‘Roger says we don’t exist. Why, it’s only we who do exist. They are the shadows and we give them substance. We are the symbols of all this confused, aimless struggling that they call life, and it’s only the symbol which is real. They say acting is only make-believe. That make-believe is the only reality.’
    Thus Julia out of her own head framed anew the platonic theory of ideas. It filled her with exultation. She felt a sudden wave of friendliness for that immense anonymous public who had being only to give her opportunity to express herself. Aloof on her mountain top she considered the innumerable activities of men. She had a wonderful sense of freedom from all earthly ties, and it was such an ecstasy that nothing in comparison with it had any value. She felt like a spirit in heaven.