The Luncheon

Describe the use of irony and humour in "The Luncheon" by Somerset Maugham.

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his story "The Luncheon" Maugham focuses on depicting a single character, as he does so often in his short stories. The woman the narrator takes to luncheon at one of the most expensive restaurants in Paris is exploiting him mercilessly by pretending an interest in his writing which she probably doesn't really feel. At the same time, Maugham, who was twenty years younger at the time of the luncheon he is describing, is pretending to be urbane, gallant, and sophisticated. He has to keep up a smiling, insouciant facade while inwardly he is suffering agonies when his guest, who claims she never eats anything for luncheon, orders some of the most expensive things Foyot's has to offer, including salmon, caviare, and champagne. The fact that she orders everything a la carte probably makes her feel she is just nibbling tidbits.

Part of the irony derives from the fact that the narrator has never dared to go to Foyot's by himself because he is living on a very small income; and further, he has to watch his voracious guest devouring gourmet comestibles while he has to pretend he only wants a mutton chop and a glass of water.

No doubt Maugham is writing about a real-life incident that occurred many years earlier when he was a struggling writer. As he says in his story:

I had a tiny apartment in the Latin Quarter overlooking a cemetery and I was earning barely enough money to keep body and soul together. She had read a book of mine and had written to me about it.

He must have realized, after the fact, that he had been "taken" by this greedy woman who completely understood his financial circumstances. He concludes his tale by saying:

But I have had my revenge at last. I do not believe that I am a vindictive man, but when the immortal gods take a hand in the matter it is pardonable to observe the result with complacency. Today she weighs twenty-one stone.

A "stone" is fourteen pounds, so the woman would weigh 294 pounds--which is not surprising, considering her appetite and what she regarded as "never eating anything for luncheon."

Maugham actually did become a man of the world. He traveled all over the globe looking for interesting characters and picturesque settings. In his day he was the world's most successful writer. His fans enjoyed his writings because he shares his curiosity about human nature and his love for far-away places. In "The Luncheon," the reader has the feeling of having visited one of the best Parisian restaurants and perhaps even having sampled some of the best French cuisine.