Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Theme of Love in Maugham

D. V. S. R. Murty


Somerset Maugham is yet to become an accepted glory in English fiction, and the opinion is veering round the charisma of Maugham, a prolific writer of the twentieth century. Undoubtedly he is one of the most popular novelists of world-wide reputation. It is quite interesting to note that he has not been so much attacked by his detractors as ignored. At eighty Maugham complains: “I have seen essays by clever young men on contemporary fiction who would never think of considering me. I no longer mind what people think.” Moreover he avows: “I know just where I stand in the very front row of the second-raters.” There is a slow but steady understanding of his achievement which is no mean one in a world of fast changing values.

Richard Cordell points out that Maugham is a best seller South America, Turkey, Japan, Italy and Spain. He mentions that in 1959 more than forty thousand people mostly students and teachers thronged an exhibition of Maugham’s works in Tokyo’s leading book-store. Such world-wide popularity may not be a mark of greatness but obviously an indication of some uniqueness. There is a sincere appreciation of his novels, and one is ranked with David Copperfield and Anna Kerenina; and the tide is slowly turning in his favour.

William Rose Bennet calls Maugham “one of the world’s leading writers of fiction,” and remarks that his mind is “agreeable amusing and entirely civilized.” Glenway Wescott opines that Maugham is the only writer, who for more than a generation has held the respect and admiration of an “elite of highly cultivated sophisticated readers and of a sufficient number of good fellow writers”; and does not hesitate to declare that there is no twentieth century novelist who will be so widely read in the twenty-first century.

Somerset Maugham rouses the curiosity of his readers not so much by the stories current about him or by the facts that are shrouded in mystery as by the theme of love that pervades his novels from beginning to the end and illuminates the entire field like the moonlight on a clear night. Indeed Maugham shuts the most interesting part of his life from public view, and especially his contacts and association with the fair sex, who steal the show in his novels.

To man, critics he is the personification of mystery and concealment and is, therefore, called an ‘enigma’, ‘riddle’, ‘mystery’, ‘puzzling’ and so on; and the words are freely used time and again with the result that considerable interest is evinced in probing the darker regions or his life. According to Cordell the ‘irresponsible journalists’ are partly responsible for creating such an image which drew a world-wide interest, for Maugham is spoken of as a ‘sybarite’ and ‘gourmand’ and ‘a character out of Huysmans or the picture of Dorian Gray.’ The critics and readers, perhaps, tried to read him through his works as they knew pretty little about the part of life in which they are interested. Especially they know little about his love-life that went into his fiction so profusely, and it is still a mystery because he disenchants one, if one endeavours to pinpoint him. Fact and fiction, love and romance are so blended that one can be hardly differentiated from the other, and this seems to be the abarcadabra of Maugham’s art.


Darwin’s Origin of Species ushers in a new epoch; and the myths are exploded, and Man is bowled out or his pride of place. He is no more the noblest creation, but is simply a product of evolution. The ideas let loose by Darwin smacked off disbelief in religion and doubt about the authenticity of the Bible; and gave a leg up to science. Science is the god of the moderns and he is reason and physical facts. The ideas of science are called in to analyse man especially his psyche, and a new science has stepped in to fill up the gap. A new dimension is added to literature by psychology without which modern literature cannot be apprehended. The human psyche is dissected and is divided into the conscious and the unconscious. They constitute the ego, which is identical with the conscious flow of our thoughts, the expressions we receive and the sensations we experience.

The ego was explored by great psychologists like Freud and Jung. Freud opened new vistas with the conception of repression. According to him the so-called forgotten experiences ale not completely forgotten, but are repressed. There is also a conscious attempt to repress the unpleasant or not so pleasant experiences, and consequently there is resistance. The repressed and the resisted find an outlet in the dreams, and the most repressed and resisted is the ‘libido’ which is meant a totality of sexual desire for Freud. The sexual preoccupation of childhood and the consequent repression conflict with the healthy growth of personality, and give rise to inhibitions, which form the basis of character. Psyche, therefore, is impulse and inhibition; and a liberation from them is a panacea for all human ills.

The modern psychology made inroads into fiction, and the shutters were down on the novel of incident and character. The novel, whose aim is to laugh mankind out of their follies and foibles reached its highest watermark in the eighteenth century. Fielding, the father of the English novel, relieves a whole humanity before the reader’s mind, and makes a clean breast of vanity and hypocrisy. Hypocrisy’s long history seems from Blifil, and Fielding shows human nature in close ups and in vast expanses. The historic battle between Molly and Mrs. Brown or the plight of Joseph Andrews when brought to the coach ate but a few examples to illustrate the superb art or Fielding. The growth of the Industrial Revolution and the can. sequent fall of moral standards arrest the attention of writers like Goldsmith who display the dangers and deleterious effects, when a lovely woman stoops to folly.

Jane Austen makes a significant step forward by projecting the “aspects of the human situation from a point of view” and introduces romantic love. Marriages are contracted for money and social standing. She insists on treating love as the only allowable basis of marriage, because loveless marriages lead to conflict and frustration. Illegitimacy, seduction, adultery and open keeping of a mistress are familiar matters, though condemned. Her treatment of ‘sexual attraction’ reflects her firm view that a turning loose of strong impulses and intensely emotional states results in moral degeneration, and so they must be curbed, controlled and regulated. The Sense and Sensibility clearly illustrates the need for control of passion and the refusal to yield to it.

The Victorian Age breaks new ground in the field of love. Dickens is content to “make’em (people) laugh, make’em cry, make’em wait” with his humanitarian novel. Hardy thinks that pleasure is an “occasional episode in the general drama of pain” and takes wind out of the sails of the reader by incidents like a husband selling his wife. He makes his novels interesting love-stories, where love is a ‘sexual combat’. But Meredith treats love as “a leading episode in the drama of life, the most critical passage in the making, testing and ennobling of men and women.” It is Thackeray, who goes the whole hog to satirise love and marriage, for people married for rank rather than for love. There is an honest and sincere attempt to analyse relationships based on love, and his Rebecca heralds modern women like Violet Whitefield, whom Shaw congratulates for being a mother before becoming a wife.

The impact of psychology on literature is perceptible in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The writer and the life around him are degenerated; and the writer lives a low life, and reflects the same in his novels. France stole the march, and novelists like Flaubert and Zola took people by surprise. Zola’s first English publisher was a casualty of the Eighties, and he was imprisoned and ruined. There was a consorted effort to suppress erotic literature, and prosecutions to suppress it gave rise to underground erotica. The erotic novels increased in numbers, and grew steadily all through the first half of the twentieth century.

The twentieth century is significant in letting loose the seamy side of life in fiction. The growth of science and technology completely revolutionised life on earth. Consequently there is the breakdown of public values. The novelist, a product of the new civilization, reflects, what he perceives in society, which is immoral. Therefore the modern novel is in the ordinary sense ‘immoral’ or ‘amoral.’ Its tendency is to encourage its readers to get what they can out of life while it lasts, and to miss no ‘experience’. It appears like a canker worm, which eats out the moral life and purity of the youth. There is hue and cry against such novels, and “the Clean Books League” sprung up, and it was followed up by “decent literature drives” in the United States of America during 1957-’58.

The changed status of women playa vital role in providing material for modern fiction. There is the decline of home as a centre for the family members, when women competed with men in every walk or life. The loveless homes created a big gap in their lives, and they sought to fill it up outside the home. Especially women have ample opportunities to satisfy their thirst for sex outside the wedlock. The modern novelist turned the searchlights on their behaviour and attitude. So Percy Wilson rightly remarks that there is the “exploiting as well as the understanding of sexual behaviour and sexual motivation” by modern novelists.

Hence we have a Lawrence or a Farrel or a Hytes. Lawrence points out love-paralysis, and suggests remedies, which are as dangerous as the disease. Farrel puts in the mouths of the infants description connected with the “forbidden acts” to show the curiosity of the children and the repression highlighted by Freud. Hytes shows nymphomnia at its heights tracing the sexual motivation in worldly actions too. Modern fiction, thus, has exploited psychology full, for the themes.


Somerset Maugham is Dantesque in suggesting a noble fusion of the sexual and the religious in society, for it is the only way to the healthy growth of the society. He is essentially a thinker, and not to find imagination, philosophy and progress in him is to lack them. Maugham was at cross-roads at the beginning of his life, and he could have peace and tranquillity at the end, and it is manifestly a perfect growth of the artist to that rounded perfection, where doubt and dispute, depression and distraction, and yearning and spurning disappear like fog before sun. He grappled with the problem of life from his eighteenth year, and he read many writers to find the meaning of life. He thought that right and wrong were mere words, and were for selfish pragmatists. Bertrand Russel appeared to him a sure guide for sometime; but he was forced to depend upon himself ultimately. He exults in Kant’s philosophy for a while because he says that all human actions suggest an Author or Cause, and it is, therefore, morally necessary to believe in God. None-the-less the problem of God troubled him much. He could not find any reason for the existence of evil. He remained an agnostic because he could not penetrate the mystery. But Maugham felt the presence of God, when he sat in a deserted mosque in Cairo. There is the dispelling of disbelief and a development of an attitude to life. A novelist without an attitude to life or without having a significance in life can neither write Catalina nor stop writing novels with such a fine literary work which sums up the artist’s entire world throwing light on the cardinal principles of life that help win peace in this troubled world.

Every man is the prisoner of his own private consciousness, which is the product of his memories. When he is left alone, the past impinges on his mind, and he feels the loneliness which is unbearable. The easiest way to escape from it, is to seek the company of the opposite sex, which naturally develops into sex-relationship. Love is not possible between them, for it is much more than passion, and it seeks something higher and nobler. The looked-up ego cannot come out to share the pleasures and sorrows of others. To Maugham “real love surrenders, real love is selfless, real love is tender”, and he could find no real love in the world. People marry also for convenience, and not for love, and it knocks the very bottom out of human happiness. To Lawrence marriage must make “one complete body out of two incomplete ones.” Maugham says: “Marriage is an affair of perpetual compromise, and how could they be expected to compromise when egoism was of the essence of their natures?” People have ‘sexual desires’ only because there is the death of love. Writing on Fielding Maugham says: “Sexual desire is an animal instinct, and there is nothing more shameful in it than in thirst or hunger, and no more reason to satisfy it.” Unbridled sexual hunger or thirst, though sought for pleasure and escape, is the root cause of many mental and bodily ills. There is absolute need to control the passion to regenerate love, and Maugham comes to the conclusion when he writes his last novel.

Passion shoots up with Liza of Lambeth, and there is the death of love and Mrs. Craddock marks it. After the death there is the exploration to find out a lasting basis for love, but Maugham stays into a magician’s world, and is caught in love’s spell. The human bondage follows, for passion keeps Philip in bondage, and the novelist breaks it at the end. Then there is unbridled adultery, which seems to be a stately pleasure boat, which goes into the matter of sex with a fine toothcomb. After the orgy there is realisation that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of by the novelist. He understands that life is but walking on a razor’s edge. There is wooing and choosing for a happy life based on understanding and sacrifice. Ultimately the love-cripple is uncrippled with the help of religion and ‘Catalina’ illustrates it. Love and religion must go hand in hand for a moral regeneration, and it is Maugham’s theme of love.

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