Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 995
*London. Capital of Great Britain in which the novel opens with several chapters satirizing the city’s domestic and literary worlds. Except for chance encounters in the streets, all the novel’s scenes are set in middle-class living rooms. Maugham’s London is a completely known world, in which original vision is impossible because everyone knows how they are supposed to behave, and, for the most part, do. Even the threats of the world—dullness, sarcastic insults, infidelity—are known, and may be dealt with. When Charles Strickland decides that he wants to paint and abandons his London home to do so, it is a scandal. Strickland goes to Paris, and the narrator is dispatched to bring him back, and to get rid of the supposed “other woman” his wife insists must have led him astray.
Strickland home. London home of Charles Strickland and his first wife, Amy, who attempts to advance her own ambitions as a hostess who supports the arts by hosting luncheon and dinner parties for rising writers. When the narrator visits Strickland’s home, he finds it “chaste, artistic, and dull” and reflects that there must be five hundred homes in London decorated exactly the same.
*Paris. Capital of France where Strickland settles in the Hôtel des Belges, a flophouse in which he lives in squalor. This place shows Strickland’s contradictory character. Although he spends his hours painting, seeking beauty, he does not care if he lives in filth. It is as if all settings are the same to him, because he sees the world differently. Nevertheless, Strickland’s Paris is recognizably romantic compared to London. Strickland and the narrator meet in cheap hotels, sidewalk cafés, and bars frequented by prostitutes, and here Strickland’s work first receives attention from other painters and gallery owners.
Strickland would not even enter a recognizable domestic space if he did not fall ill, a sign that for him these domestic spaces are for the weak. When Strickland is sick, another painter and his wife (Dirk and Blanche Stroeve) take him into their home to nurse him to health. Strickland destroys their home, and, as he recovers, he literally drives Stroeve from his own studio. When Stroeve finally asks him to leave, his wife Blanche says that she loves Strickland and wants to leave with him. Stroeve then abandons his studio to them. Blanche later commits suicide when she realizes that Strickland’s demoniac urge to paint will always keep her at a distance, almost worthless to him. These chapters indicate the essential split between artistic genius, which is wild, and the domestic, which is tame and familiar.
The narrator avoids Strickland after this, then meets him on the street. Strickland takes the narrator to his apartment; he is the only character other than Strickland or one of his lovers to be taken into Strickland’s space. The narrator spends pages both describing Strickland’s paintings and his own reactions to them and explaining to Strickland why he thinks Blanche’s love makes him so uncomfortable. Strickland calls him a “dreadful sentimentalist,” but within a week he leaves for Marseilles, indicating that he was waiting for this final recognition before he could move on to his next location, and next level of artistic development.
*Marseilles (mar-SAY). Port city in the south of France where Strickland goes after leaving Paris. The narrator himself never sees Strickland again after their Paris meeting; however, while later traveling through the South Pacific, he meets several people who knew Strickland. All accounts of Marseilles come from Captain Nichols, a sailor who knocked around Marseilles with Strickland. Strickland never entered a private home in Marseilles, but lived on the street or in shelters for the...
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