Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “The Outstation,” Maugham avoids his narrator-character, or the Maugham persona, that appears so often in his fiction. The narration is from both the omniscient author’s and the limited character’s point of view; the latter occurs both for dialogue and for the character’s inner thoughts. Maugham’s narrative often shifts the point of view imperceptibly from the omniscient author to a more limited character perspective. The following passage describing Mr. Warburton is a good example: “The great whom he adored laughed at him, but in their hearts felt his adoration not unnatural. Poor Warburton was a dreadful snob, of course, but after all he was a good fellow.” In the first sentence, one hears the voice of the omniscient narrator. That voice quickly changes, however, to an unnamed representative of the upper class, “the great,” speaking to others of the same class in a decidedly colloquial tone.

One encounters in the story Maugham’s usual fluent, lucid, and idiomatic English prose. The structure relies on familiar dramatic episodes from Maugham’s fiction—scenes in which two opposing viewpoints are argued out at dinners or during other brief encounters. Ironically, the intense conflict between the main characters contributes only indirectly to Cooper’s death.