The Razor’s Edge, while it purports to be a philosophical novel that deals with significant ideas, is largely a novel of character. Maugham’s gift for depicting characters and playing them out in contrast to one another reached its peak in this book.
Larry Darrell and Isabel Bradley represent two drastically different worlds, even though Larry was a part of Isabel’s world before he went to war. Isabel wants only to live well and to have children for whom she and her husband will provide all the perquisites of their class. Larry, on the other hand, is disaffected with the world he left when he went to war. He seeks spiritual nurture and growth, shunning all the material trappings that Isabel considers indispensable for survival.
Elliot Templeton is a comfortably fixed snob, who has fled his native United States largely because of its vulgarity. He complains that on a return visit, a taxicab driver called him “brother.” Elliot is an inveterate party-goer and sets great store in being invited to every party worth attending.
Elliot’s whole reason for living is knowing the right people and being accepted by them, or at least being included in their social events. Indeed, Elliot is a more memorable character than is the protagonist, Larry Darrell, although Larry is vital in setting up the philosophical framework within which the story must fit.
Even on his deathbed, Elliot’s social concerns are...
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