Critical Overview

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The Razor's Edge had a mixed reception when first published in 1944. Joseph Warren Beach in The New York Times called it a "novel of ideas." He appreciated the skillfulness of Maugham's storytelling technique, commenting that "The story is carried forward with Maugham's usual deftness and ingenuity of manipulation." Cyril Connolly, in a positive review in New Statesman and Nation, called the novel "powerful propaganda for the new faith … the Vedanta of the West." He noted that an interest in mysticism and the spirituality of the East was not a new thing for Maugham, who despite being a worldly writer was also "fascinated by those who renounce the world." For Connolly, the best-drawn character was Elliott Templeton, whose career through the social world of London and Paris "Maugham paints with lingering tenderness, right down to the wonderful death scene which is a kind of farewell offering to his old corrupt world of Paris and the Riviera." Connolly admired the descriptions of India and also argued that Maugham succeeded in his hardest task, which was to convey the nature of mystical experience. But he thought the novel would have been more effective had Maugham not given Larry any specific religious system to embrace. Kate O'Brien in Spectator also praised the novel but thought that the depiction of Larry was a weak element. Maugham used "Larry too easily throughout, as a beautiful symbol, and never attempt[ed] to hack down to the bones of the man himself."

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Over the last fifty years, the novel has generally been accorded a high place in Maugham's work, although critics have also argued that the novel is flawed. Much of the criticism centers on the character of Larry. John Whitehead's comment in Maugham: A Reappraisal is typical of later verdicts (and differs from Connolly's view). Whitehead argues that Maugham was unable "to convince the reader that Larry underwent any real religious experience in India or had any true potential for saintliness."

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Criticism