The Verger Summary

What is the plot of "The Verger" by Somerset Maugham?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The plot of "The Verger" is simple, like those of many of Somerset Maugham's short stories. A man loses his low-paying job as a verger because it is discovered that he is illiterate, but he adapts to his problem by becoming a successful shopkeeper. He finds he is better off being illiterate. Maugham likes to write about the odd diversity of human characters. In fact, he traveled the world in search of unique characters who would provide inspiration for his stories and novels. "The Verger" is more of a character study than anything else. What is true for the hero of "The Verger" is not necessarily true for everyone; however, there are a lot of men like Maugham's Albert Edward Foreman who have little book-learning but plenty of worldly wisdom obtained through intelligent observation of the real world. Albert Foreman was happy because he did not aspire to social success even after he made a lot of money. He and his wife were both content to lead simple lives, unlike nouveau riche Jay Gould Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, for example.

According to Socrates in a myth he makes up in Plato's famous dialogue Phaedrus, the father of written letters was an old Egyptian god named Theuth. He brought his invention to Thamus, the king of Egypt, and explained how he believed it would benefit mankind. But Thamus, no doubt speaking Socrates' own opinion, was not impressed, as is shown in the following quotation from the dialogue:

And you now, the father of written letters [Theuth], are led by your affection to ascribe to them [written words] a power exactly the reverse of what their tendency is. The result of your invention will be this: in the souls of those who learn it, forgetfulness will have lodging through a want of cultivation of the memory; they will trust to writing, a thing outside themselves, and effected by external characters, and hence will not remember of themselves and from within. The elixir you have found is not an aid to memory, but to reminiscence. You provide your pupils with the show of wisdom, not true wisdom. Through you they will learn many things without instruction, and will hence appear to have much knowledge while for the most part they are ignorant, and hardly to be endured because they are grown seeming wise instead of wise.

Words are not things but reminders of things, or "aids to reminiscence," as Socrates says. We cannot understand a word unless we already know the thing the word represents.

Shakespeare's Hamlet is an example of a young man who has overindulged in reading. He is fluent in at least half a dozen languages, including Latin and Italian. Shakespeare seems to be implying that Hamlet's addiction to reading has caused mental confusion which makes it impossible for him to act decisively in the real world--a world which he discovers is not the same as the world described in books. When Polonius asks Hamlet what he is reading, the reply is revealing of Hamlet's changing attitude towards reading. He says:

Words, words, words.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Unfortunately I had to edit your question to meet the eNotes guidelines of one question per post. Maugham's "The Verger" is a simple tale about a simple man who does his duties with great joy and dedication.  Foreman has been the verger of his church for sixteen years, doing all the menial and manual duties of the vicarage. He loved his job and there were no complaints about him until a new pastor arrived and made a startling discovery--Foreman cannot read. While that fact has never interfered with his duties, the new preacher is appalled and immediately fires the verger.

Foreman goes on to start a very practical business, opening a tobacco store where he sees a need, and is amazingly successful. Years later, when Foreman was asked to sign some papers at the bank but could not read them, the banker was astonished at what this man had accomplished without the ability to read. When he asked Foreman what he would have done if he could read, Foreman gave a quick and simple answer: he would have been a verger.