Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 333

‘‘The Fall of Edward Barnard,’’ as well as many of Maugham’s other South Sea stories, were originally published in a commercial magazine. The story then appeared as one of six in the collection The Trembling of a Leaf: Little Stories of the South Sea Islands (1921). The volume was popular...

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‘‘The Fall of Edward Barnard,’’ as well as many of Maugham’s other South Sea stories, were originally published in a commercial magazine. The story then appeared as one of six in the collection The Trembling of a Leaf: Little Stories of the South Sea Islands (1921). The volume was popular with the reading public and received some critical acclaim. Louise Maunsell Field, in the New York Times, admires Maugham’s delineation of character, in which ‘‘there is a broader sympathy, a deeper, clearer comprehension, a finer tolerance than any shown in his earlier work.’’ Rebecca West, however, is more critical. Writing in the New Statesman, she censures Maugham for a ‘‘certain cheap and tiresome attitude towards life, which nearly mars these technically admirable stories.’’ She accuses Maugham of being cynical for satirizing the earnestness of Bateman Hunter in ‘‘The Fall of Edward Barnard.’’

During the 1920s and beyond, in spite of the fact that Maugham’s works in many genres enjoyed huge popular success, he was relegated by the British literary intelligentsia to second-rate status. For a while it became fashionable to denigrate his achievements. However, Maugham was more highly regarded in French, German, and American academic circles.

Maugham’s South Sea stories have withstood the test of time well. They are often rated as amongst Maugham’s best work, and some modern critics have commented directly on ‘‘The Fall of Edward Barnard.’’ Stanley Archer describes it as an ‘‘ironic and lighthearted sequel to Henry James’s novel The Ambassadors.’’ Forrest D. Burt draws attention to the similarities between three Maugham characters: Edward in ‘‘The Fall of Edward Barnard,’’ Strickland in the novel The Moon and Sixpence, and Larry in the novel The Razor’s Edge. All three characters reject ‘‘standard morality and traditional success in favor of the naturalness and spontaneity of life in Tahiti.’’ Finally, Archie K. Loss, in W. Somerset Maugham, comments that in all of the South Sea stories, ‘‘descriptive details are important in establishing both mood and character.’’

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Essays and Criticism