Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Chicago. Illinois’s largest city, which in the early twentieth century was one of the most prosperous of midwestern cities and a major center of the rapidly expanding industrial economy of the United States. In W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, Chicago symbolizes rising American materialism. By setting the novel’s opening scenes there, Maugham emphasizes the materialism that his young seeker, Lawrence Darrell, seeks to leave behind him. The narrator—Maugham himself—first meets Darrell at the Chicago home of Mrs. Bradley and her daughter Isabel, to whom Darrell is engaged. The Bradley home is located on Lake Shore Drive, in a wealthy section of Chicago near the Lake.


*Paris. France’s capital city and an old center of European civilization contrasts with the newness of Chicago. Long associated with high society and the arts, the Paris of this novel is two very different places. On one hand, it is the socially elite city loved by Elliott Templeton, Maugham’s friend and Mrs. Bradley’s brother, where fashionable and aristocratic people gather. On the other hand, it is home to artists and intellectuals, many of whom live unconventional, bohemian lives. Paris thus offers two kinds of alternatives to the materialistic American Midwest. Elliott’s apartment is in the elegant Left Bank. Lawrence Darrell, on the other hand, takes a dingy room in the Latin Quarter, a section of Paris near the Sorbonne, the famous French university, and home to students and nonconformist artists. Paris and the other places in Europe suggest the bohemian alternative to materialism and elegant but...

(The entire section is 674 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Stock Market Crash of 1929

In the 1920s, America was increasingly prosperous. Spurred by the massive growth in the...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Structure and Narrative Technique

The structure of the novel is quite complex. It covers a period of twenty-four...

(The entire section is 291 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Razor's Edge advances Maugham's art of fiction in two significant ways. He continues to rely heavily on natural dialogue and...

(The entire section is 192 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

No novel better illustrates Maugham's lack of social concern than The Razor's Edge, a novel that sold more than two and a half million...

(The entire section is 104 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

  • 1919: In the aftermath of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles is signed. Austria and Hungary are separated; Yugoslavia is...

(The entire section is 286 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

  • Larry Darrell is changed by his experiences during World War I. Today, psychological trauma caused by war is called post-traumatic stress...

(The entire section is 154 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Razor's Edge was written during the Second World War, when people were seeking values in a world shaken by cataclysm. Works with a...

(The entire section is 158 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Among Maugham's numerous stories and novels, many include the narrative persona, like that of The Razor's Edge, or an exotic setting...

(The entire section is 488 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

  • The Razor's Edge was made into a movie by Twentieth Century Fox in 1946, directed by Edmund Goulding, with Tyrone Power...

(The entire section is 41 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

  • Maugham's short story "The Fall of Edward Barnard" (in The Trembling of a Leaf: Little Stories of the South Sea Islands, 1921) has...

(The entire section is 254 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)


Beach, Joseph Warren, "Maugham Considers Mystics," in W. Somerset Maugham:...

(The entire section is 358 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Brunauer, Dalma. “The Road Not Taken: Fragmentation as a Device for Self-Concealment in The Razor’s Edge.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 8, nos. 1-2 (March, 1987): 24-33. An original and penetrating insight into the psychology of spirituality in the novel.

Connolly, Cyril. “The Art of Being Good.” In The Condemned Playground—Essays: 1927-1944. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1945. Maugham is praised for his handling of major characters, especially his sensitive portrayal of Larry Darrell, and for his determination to use his narrative talents in the service of truth.


(The entire section is 233 words.)