W. Somerset Maugham Drama Analysis
An examination of the body of W. Somerset Maugham’s plays must begin with a paradox: Maugham, who claimed that he could write nothing that was not based on his personal experience or on his observation of the experience and personality of others, came, as a playwright, as close as it is possible to come to the impersonality of T. S. Eliot’s objective correlative, the evoking of emotion by dispassionately presenting objects or situations without comment. Maugham achieved that aesthetic distance that makes his plays independent of whatever personal experience triggered them. It is hardly surprising, in an age devoted to the public confession and to the propagandizing of whole programs of social theory, that Maugham’s aloofness was mistaken for cruelty, cynicism, failure of nerve and of sensitivity, vacuousness, and simple avarice and mendacity. Indeed, Maugham’s assiduous cultivation of several public identities to mask his basic kindliness, his bisexuality, and his serious concern for the human condition, with its struggle for freedom in the face of the deterministic pressures that beset it from all directions (not the least of which were the conventions that condemned women to a demeaning social role), has hindered a full appreciation of his artistic achievement in drama.
Maugham’s statements about his own plays have tended to blur his intentions further rather than clarifying them. In The Summing Up, in one of his clearer statements...
(The entire section is 2303 words.)
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