In his quest for purity and spiritual freedom, Larry's aescetism becomes a kind of obsession. He studies Eastern religions, exercises denial and hopes that he will find 'wealth in want.' When he comes back after about five years in India, he comes across Sophie, a childhood friend, whose personal choices have been nothing like his own. Larry's spiritual pride is his undoing; he thinks he can "save" Sophie by marrying her, but Sophie makes one last choice of her own - suicide, though manipulated into doing so.
The juxtaposition of opposite characters is the spice in the pudding, so to speak, when it comes to this book. How the wealthy and the poor, the ascetic and the epicurean, the young and the old, the jetsetter and the marginal deal with financial precarity is one subject treated throughout. Maugham has the gift of making the most outlandish characters somehow still seem believable, though Larry is the least "credible" of them all. He is just too "good" to be true.
Larry's celibacy seems more in keeping with his character profile at first glance, but once his extremist nature is disclosed, such excess of virtue (as wanting to marry a vile woman to 'redeem' her) is not as aberrant as all that. Much as his going off to strange exotic places and self-denial through privation and discipline, Larry is still just "doing his thing."