Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is narrated in the lucid, fluent, and idiomatic English that one usually finds in Maugham, who is not known for figurative language or for poetic passages. However, one passage from the story, that describing the narrator’s response to the playing of Lea Makart, has been noted as one of Maugham’s most artful. It is filled with images, associations called up by the music, and flights of imagination, leading up to generalized impressions. Its rhythm is artfully complex. The plot reveals extensive use of foreshadowing and irony.

However, Maugham’s narrative art is perhaps most evident in the narrator, a type often designated a Maugham persona because he bears a striking resemblance to the author. He is an established and successful author who moves with ease in upper-class society. He is tolerant, urbane, skeptical, and somewhat detached. The narrator interacts with the characters, advising them, even disagreeing with them but never becoming insistent or intense. Some of his comments are only for the reader, differing from those he addresses to the characters. He sizes up situations and characters in frank and critical revelations to the reader.

The narrator tells the story in episodes, beginning with a leisurely account of his acquaintance with Ferdy Rabenstein. A series of episodes exploiting dramatic conflicts then follows, with effective and sparkling dialogue. It is typical of Maugham that much of this dialogue occurs during dinners with Ferdy, with the Blands, and with George. Maugham’s early success as a dramatist appears to have exerted a strong influence on his later fiction.