Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Chicago. Illinois’s largest city, which in the early twentieth century was one of the most prosperous of midwestern cities and a major center of the rapidly expanding industrial economy of the United States. In W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, Chicago symbolizes rising American materialism. By setting the novel’s opening scenes there, Maugham emphasizes the materialism that his young seeker, Lawrence Darrell, seeks to leave behind him. The narrator—Maugham himself—first meets Darrell at the Chicago home of Mrs. Bradley and her daughter Isabel, to whom Darrell is engaged. The Bradley home is located on Lake Shore Drive, in a wealthy section of Chicago near the Lake.


*Paris. France’s capital city and an old center of European civilization contrasts with the newness of Chicago. Long associated with high society and the arts, the Paris of this novel is two very different places. On one hand, it is the socially elite city loved by Elliott Templeton, Maugham’s friend and Mrs. Bradley’s brother, where fashionable and aristocratic people gather. On the other hand, it is home to artists and intellectuals, many of whom live unconventional, bohemian lives. Paris thus offers two kinds of alternatives to the materialistic American Midwest. Elliott’s apartment is in the elegant Left Bank. Lawrence Darrell, on the other hand, takes a dingy room in the Latin Quarter, a section of Paris near the Sorbonne, the famous French university, and home to students and nonconformist artists. Paris and the other places in Europe suggest the bohemian alternative to materialism and elegant but...

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The Razor's Edge Historical Context

Stock Market Crash of 1929

In the 1920s, America was increasingly prosperous. Spurred by the massive growth in the...

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The Razor's Edge Literary Style

Structure and Narrative Technique

The structure of the novel is quite complex. It covers a period of twenty-four...

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The Razor's Edge Literary Techniques

The Razor's Edge advances Maugham's art of fiction in two significant ways. He continues to rely heavily on natural dialogue and...

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The Razor's Edge Social Concerns

No novel better illustrates Maugham's lack of social concern than The Razor's Edge, a novel that sold more than two and a half million...

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The Razor's Edge Compare and Contrast

  • 1919: In the aftermath of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles is signed. Austria and Hungary are separated; Yugoslavia is...

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The Razor's Edge Topics for Further Study

  • Larry Darrell is changed by his experiences during World War I. Today, psychological trauma caused by war is called post-traumatic stress...

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The Razor's Edge Literary Precedents

The Razor's Edge was written during the Second World War, when people were seeking values in a world shaken by cataclysm. Works with a...

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The Razor's Edge Related Titles

Among Maugham's numerous stories and novels, many include the narrative persona, like that of The Razor's Edge, or an exotic setting...

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The Razor's Edge Media Adaptations

  • The Razor's Edge was made into a movie by Twentieth Century Fox in 1946, directed by Edmund Goulding, with Tyrone Power...

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The Razor's Edge What Do I Read Next?

  • Maugham's short story "The Fall of Edward Barnard" (in The Trembling of a Leaf: Little Stories of the South Sea Islands, 1921) has...

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The Razor's Edge Bibliography and Further Reading


Beach, Joseph Warren, "Maugham Considers Mystics," in W. Somerset Maugham:...

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The Razor's Edge Bibliography

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Brunauer, Dalma. “The Road Not Taken: Fragmentation as a Device for Self-Concealment in The Razor’s Edge.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 8, nos. 1-2 (March, 1987): 24-33. An original and penetrating insight into the psychology of spirituality in the novel.

Connolly, Cyril. “The Art of Being Good.” In The Condemned Playground—Essays: 1927-1944. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1945. Maugham is praised for his handling of major characters, especially his sensitive portrayal of Larry Darrell, and for his determination to use his narrative talents in the service of truth.


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