In Chapter XXXIV of W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence , Blanche drinks oxalic acid, a chemical compound found in nature used in artistic as well as industrial activities that can be toxic if consumed. The story's narrator, an unnamed observer of the lives of Maugham's characters, describes...
In Chapter XXXIV of W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence, Blanche drinks oxalic acid, a chemical compound found in nature used in artistic as well as industrial activities that can be toxic if consumed. The story's narrator, an unnamed observer of the lives of Maugham's characters, describes the deterioration of the relationship between Dirk Stroeve, a markedly unaccomplished artist, and his wife, Blanche, who becomes a tragic object torn between her husband and the mercurial figure of Charles Strickland. Strickland, an unusually unlikable major character at the center of the story, has abandoned his family in favor of living the life of the struggling artist in Paris. Strickland is cold, detached, and uses Blanche for her beauty while facilitating the dissolution of the Stroeves' marriage. When Blanche drinks the acid that will slowly but surely kill her, it is a fatal but dramatic gesture of defiance against her objectification by the artist with whom she had become infatuated. The full measure of Blanche's tragic fate is encapsulated in the following passage from this particular chapter, in which the narrator has accompanied Dirk to the hospital only to be confronted by the marked indifference of the medical establishment in whose hands Blanche's life is hanging:
"There was in his tone a frigid contempt. It was obvious that to him Blanche Stroeve was only a unit to be added to the statistical list of attempted suicides in the city of Paris during the current year. He was busy, and could waste no more time on us. He told us that if we came at a certain hour next day, should Blanche be better, it might be possible for her husband to see her."
Blanche does not regain her strength and succumbs to her self-inflicted injuries. Maugham's thinly-veiled depiction of the artist Paul Gauguin illuminated the dispassionate approach to the artist's subjects while emphasizing the human toll that approach could exact.