Maugham, W. Somerset: The Razor's Edge
(researched by Brian Scrivani)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
The first edition was published by Doubleday, Doran, & Co., Inc., in Garden City New York. It was printed at the Country Life Press in Garden C
ity, 1944.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The edition was published in black cloth.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
[vi], 346 pp. [unsigned I-II^16]- 176 leaves. p.[i], half-title; p.[ii], BOOKS BY | W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM [listing 28 non-dramatic and 19 dramatic works]: p.[iii], title;, p [iv], wartime control stamp | COPYRIGHT, 1943, 1944, BY THE MCCALL COMPANY | COPYRIGHT, 1944, BY W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM | ALL RIGHTS
RESERVED | PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES | AT | THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N.Y. | FIRST EDITION AFTER THE PRINTING OF A LIMITED EDITION OF | SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY COPIES; p. [v], fly-title; p [vi], blank; pp. I-343, text; pp. [344-346] blank.
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The book is neither edited nor introduced.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
There are no illustrations.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The book displays a classy appearance with a midnight black dust jacket, goldish lettering of the name of the author and the author's symbol, and off-white lettering of the
title. The print and margins are both average in size. The chapters begin one-third of the way down the page and the sections of each chapter are marked with bracketed roman numerals. It is bound in smooth black cloth, blocked in blind on front with author's symbol and on spine in lime yellow with head and tail ornamental bands and lettered: W. SOMERSET | MAUGHAM | The Razor's | Edge | DOUBLEDAY | DORAN. Cream end-papers; top edges c
ut and stained yellow, fore-edges uncut, lower edges cut or roughly trimmed. Leaves measure 19.7 X 14 cm.
The dust jacket consists of a black background with goldish and off white lettering on the front. The format is very similar to the title page, only it lacks the Katha-Upanishad quote, it lacks the publisher, place and date, and contains a Time Magazine
praise of the novel at the bottom. The spine of the dust jacket is the same as the spine of the book with the exception of |A NOVEL| inserted underneath the title. The rear cover contains a portrait of the author drawn by Gerald Kelly, R.A., and a praise of Maugham, his other works, and his writing style underneath the portrait.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The think, cream colored paper seems to be in relatively good condition considering the date of print of the edition. It contains cream end-papers; top edges cut and stained yellow, fore-edges uncut, lower edges cut or roughly trimmed. The leaves measure 19.7 X 14 cm.
11 Description of binding(s)
Smooth black cloth, blocked in blind on front with author's symbol and on spine in lime yellow with
head and tail ornamental bands and lettered: W. SOMERSET | MAUGHAM | The Razor's | Edge | DOUBLEDAY | DORAN. The binding is stitched.
12 Transcription of title page
[2-line quotation from Katha Upanishad]| The Razor's Edge |A NOVEL | BY W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM | Doubleday, Doran, & Co.,Inc., | GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK |[author's symbol on right on imprint with date below] 1944
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
Information unavailable.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Katha-Upan
ishad quote, "The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to salvation is hard.
Time Magazine Praise- "Deserves to rank after OF HUMAN BONDAGE and THE MOON AND SIXPENCE as one of Maugham's three major novels"
There was a special edition of 750 copies of the novel printed slightly before the first edition. Even before this the novel was serialised in Redbook in Dec.1943 and Jan., Feb., Mar., Apr., and May of 1944
The price of the 1st limited edition was $6.oo where the 1st trade edition was $2.75
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
There was a first limited edition of seven-hundred fifty copies. This edition has a Certificate of Limitation inserted with the following inscr
iption. This edition| is limited to seven hundred and fifty copies| numbered and signed by the author| of which this is| No. ... The rest of the pagination is the same, but the binding differs. Binding: Plum buckram boards, bevelled edges, blocked in blind on front with author's symbol; on flat spine black skiver leather label gold-lettered between ornamental cross bands: THE| RAZOR'S| EDGE |W. Somerset| Maugham| DOUBLEDAY DORAN. Plain end-papers; top edges cut and gilt, other edges uncut; leaves measure 21.2 X 14.3 cm. In slip case.
There was also a First English addition published by William Heinemann LTD in both London and Toronto.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
There are 750 copies of the limited first edition printed. There were then two other printings done, the American First Trade Edition and shortly after the English First Trade Edition.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
The date given is the first date of publication by each company Blakiston Company: 1944-1945 Triangle Books: 1946 Cardinal (paperbacks): 1955 Pocket (paperback): 1945 Continental Book Co: 1947 Penguin Books: 1954 Armed Services (oblong paperback):1945
6 Last date in print?
Viking Penguin books is still printing a mass market version and a Twentieth Century Classics Version as of 1999.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
All seven-hundred fifty copies of the limited edition were sold. Other figures were not available.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
No information available.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Dust Jacket Ad- "Deserves to rank after OF HUMAN BONDAGE and THE MOON AND SIXPENCE as one of Maugham's three major novels" - Time
New York Times Book Review Ad- The greatest story-teller of them all| tells one of his greatest stories... | full picture of the author| W. SOMERSET| Maugham| Lower left- Author's symbol The author who immortalized man's| Author's symbol quest for simple happiness in Of Human| Author's symbol Bondage- who portrayed so unforget-| tably the restless seeking of an artist in The Moon and| Sixpence- has written
a novel about a quest as thrilling| as any in fiction, and infinitly stranger. It is the story of| Larry Darrell, young American, who gave up home and| country, wealth and the woman he loved, to search across| continents for the answer to his great question. A novel of| deep significance that tells though one man's seeking| what all men have sought sincce the dawn of time.| At your booksellers (spacing), REGULAR EDITION $2.50| SIGNED, LIMITED EDITION $6.00 Lower right- The| Razor's| Edge| DOUBLEDAY, DORAN
Publisher's Weekly duel ad. "It looks as though Doubleday, Doran will have to| fight it out with Doubleday, Doran for first honors| on the April ficiton list. We'd put THE RAZOR'S EDGE, by W. Somerset Maugham,| in first place, but HOTEL BERLIN '43, by Vicki Baum, will give it a
run for it's money. THE| RAZOR'S EDGE is the best of Maugham's recent novels... HOTEL BERLIN '43 is definitely in the| bag as far as sales and rentals go." - Franc Ludlow, The Retail Bookseller Lower Left- Full picture of the book cover of Hotel Berlin '43| Published| April 1st| $2.50 Lower Right- Full picture of the cover of The Razor's Edge| Published| April 20th| TRADE EDITION, $2.75| LIMITED EDITION, $6.00| DOUBLEDAY, DORAN Garden| City, N.Y.
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
No information found
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
Movie- Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Released as motion picture in 1946. Closed Producer, Darryl F. Zanuck ; director, Edmund Goulding ; screenplay, Lamar Trotti. Actors- Tyrone Power- Larry Darrell, Gene Tierney
- Isabel Bradley, John Payne- Gray Maturin, Anne Baxter- Sophie MacDonald, Clifton Webb- Elliott Templeton, Herbert Marshall- W. Somerset Maugham, Lucile Watson- Louisa Bradley, Frank Latimore- Bob MacDonald, Elsa Lanchester- Miss Keith, Cecil Humphrys- H
oly Man, Harry Pilcer- Specialty Dancer, Cobina Wright- Princess Novemali.
A second movie version was released in 1984. The Screenplay was adopted by John Byrum and Bill Murray, and it was directed by Byrum. Actors- Actors- Bill Murray- Larry Darrell, Catherine Hicks- Isabel Bradley, James Keach- Gray Maturin, Theresa Russell-
Sophie MacDonald, Denholm Elliot- Elliott Templeton, Peter Vaughn- Mackenzie, Brian Doyle-Murray- Piedmont, Stephen Davies- Malcolm, Saeed Jaffrey- Raaz.
Book on Tape: Brilliance Corps ( located in Grand Haven MI) publishes a 4 sound cassettes (11 hrs.: analog, Dolby processed).
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Japanese- tr. Mitsuo Saito, Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1961
Japanese (also with The Moon and Sixpence) Kamisori no ha ; Tsuki to Rokupensu, tr. Tsuki Rokupensu, Tokyo: Kodansha, 1970
Norweigen- Knivseggen, Olso: Gyldendal, 1947
Spanish- El filo de la navaja, Barcelona: Plaza & JanÈs, 1994
German- Auf Messers Schneide: Roman, Berlin: B¸chergilde Gutenberg 1987
Russian- Uzornyi pokrov; Naverkhu na ville; Ostrie britvy, Moskow: Veche, 1993
Portugese- O fio da navalha, S?o Paulo: Abril Cultural, 1974
Chinese- Tëi tao pien y¸an, Tëai-pei shih Yang-ming-shan Hua-kang:Chung-kuo wen hua hs¸eh y¸an chëu pan pu, 1980
Italian- Il filo del rasoio, Milan, A. Mondadori, 1965
Checz- Na ostrÌ noze, Praha: Odeon, 1974
Swedish- Den vassa eggen, Stockholm: Bokf?rlaget Aldus Bonniers, 1961
French- Le fil du rasoir: roman, Paris: Plon, 1966
Vietnamese- LUíoíi dao cao, Saigon: BÙ QuÙc-gia Gi·o- duc, 1962
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
This book was serialized in Red Book in the vol. 82, no. 2, December, 1943./ vol. 82, no. 3, January, 1944/ vol. 82, no. 4, February, 1944./ vol. 82, no. 5, March, 1944./ vol. 82, no. 6,
April, 1944/ and vol. 83, no. 1, May, 1944.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
The theme of the novel was taken from an unproduced and unpublished play by Maugham himself, entitled The Road Uphill
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris, France on January 25, 1874 (Calder 1). His father, Robert Ormond Maugham, was a lawyer and English ambassador to France, while his mother, Edith Mary Snell Maugham, was
a captivatingly beautiful cosmopolitan woman. Maugham had begun to form a close relationship with his mother, but this was cut short after she died in complications of childbirth in 1882. Utterly distraught and deeply in debt, Robert Maugham died two a
nd a half years later of stomach cancer, leaving ten year old Willie (which was what Maugham preferred to be called at the time) and his three brothers orphaned (Calder 8). He then went to live with his paternal uncle, Henry Maugham, and his wife. While
with his uncle, Maugham was educated at King's School, Canterbury, Kent. His uncle wanted Maugham to enter the ministry, but the death of Maugham's parents had turned him toward atheism (Weintraub 28). He instead attended the University of Heidelberg
, Germany for a year, where he received his first true taste of literary works. He also met John Ellingham Brooks, who became not only a strong influence in Maugham's literary direction, but also his lover. However, in a year his German sojourn came to
an end and Maugham went back to England to study at St. Thomas' medical school, London. He qualified as a doctor in 1897 (Weintraub 28). Maugham had no desire to practice medicine (he actually had only studied it as a fallback career), and he began his literary career. From 1897-1914, a period which Maugham called this combined apprenticeship and transition period, Maugham wrote eight nov
els, fifteen plays, one collection of short stories, and a volume of non-fictional prose. His first success came in his novels, when Liza of Lambeth was published in 1897. The first of his true novels, Liza of Lambeth displayed the formula that the rest
of his novels would consist of, a mixture of personal experience, tradition, and instinct (Weintraub 29) . His main published works up to 1908 were all either novels or short stories. However, in 1908, Maugham had his first successful attempt with dram
a, and three of his plays, A Man of Honor, Schiffbrüchig, and Mademoiselle Zampa, received acclaim (Weintraub 31). Maugham then abandoned fiction for the next few years and continued to work with his drama. He wrote a handful of new plays, but they were
not as well received as his first few. Maugham was financially stable from his early success, and his failure in drama only drove him back to fiction. Maugham entered his finest period as an artist with the release of Of Human Bondage in 1915 (Weintraub 36). This semi-autobiographical cathartic tale of Maugham's childhood and school years gained great critical acclaim and pushed Maugham into the foref
ront of fiction writers. The next years of his life were a flurry of personal and creative happenings. He released The Moon and Sixpence (1919) and Cakes and Ale (1930) (Weintraub 36). He also published a large amount of short stories throughout the tw
enties that gave him authority as a short fiction writer. Meanwhile, in Maugham's personal life, he began to have an affair with Gwendolyn Maud Syrie Barnardo Wellcome, and although still married to her husband, she bore Maugham a child in 1915. The tw
o eventually married in 1917, but ultimately divorced in 1929 (Weintraub, 36). Maugham began writing plays again in the mid-twenties, culminating with Sheppey in 1933. However, it was proven again that Maugham the playwright was not as effective as Maugham the fiction genius, and he once again turned to fiction. WWII had a great e
ffect on Maugham, and from his enforced domicile came the novel The Razor's Edge (1944) (Weintraub 41). The novel was the story of a young American war veteran's quest for a satisfying way of life, and once again Maugham put great amounts of his own per
sonal experience with his disenfranchisement with life and the way society lived it. The novel became the fourth of Maugham's classics, and would be his last great work. In the later years of his life, Maugham attempted essay writing and an autobiography entitled "Looking Back." Before his death, Maugham burned all the unpublished manuscripts that he had and he begged friends to destroy his letters (Weintraub 41). He di
ed in Nice, France on December 15, 1965 (Britannica).
Calder, Robert. The Life of W. Somerset Maugham. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.
"Maugham, W. Somerset" Encyclopædia Britannica Online [Accessed March 26, 1999].
Weintraub, Stanley. Dictionary of Literary Biography Volume 10: British Dramatists, 1900- 1945 Part 2: M-Z. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Braun-Brumfield, Inc, 1982.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
After its release in April of 1944, The Razor's Edge was panned by many reviews, which found the novel as shallow and implausible. The writers of The Punch, a London literary magazine, called the lost American turned Eastern prophet Larry Darrell an "implausible, flat character." Malcolm Cowley states of the novel, "But for all its sex and saints and high society, 'Razor's Edge' is one of Maugham's weaker novels; better than 'The Honor Before the Dawn,' but a long step down from even Cakes and Ale. When you consider that his first book was published in 1897 and that, during a career of almost fifty years, he has produced very little first-class work? you sometimes wonder why people go on reading and reviewing him seriously." Cowley goes on to describe the heroine in the novel, Sophie MacDonald, as overly degraded and Larry Darrell as an unconvincing "Hindu Saint." However, Time Magazine contrasts this view of the character by saying, "even to those readers whose concern with the Absolute is strictly limited, Larry's quest will be neither implausible nor ridiculous. Despite his interest in extraterrestrial matters, Maugham remains throughout on very good terms with the world." The two main reasons for the bad press were Maugham's representation of American life and his attempt at religiosity. Maugham is quoted in a Time interview as saying, "I don't think one can ever really know any but one's own countrymen? I do not pretend that [the characters] are Americans as they see themselves; they are American seen through an English eye." Maugham's portrayal of American high society was depicted by critics as flat and unimaginative, and they stated that this detracted from the protagonist's rejection of the aristocracy and embracing of his new "faith." This "faith" is questioned by many critics because of the fact that Maugham is a man who denounced religion at a very young age, following the death of his parents. Cowley writes that "it is hard to imagine anyone more unsuited by temperament to write a religious novel," and he says that "his new book is advertised as 'the story of a man who found faith,' but the faith is unconvincing in itself and extraneous to the rest of the story." The Punch also harps on the fact that the religious discovery is unfulfilling and lacks the power to become an essential aspect in the novel. However, the times once again counteracts this review by stating that "Perhaps twenty years ago Maugham could not have written about either mysticism or Americans? Now age and art have refined his feelings to a vanishing point. The Razor's Edge is a crowning triumph of that virtuosity." The Razor's Edge became an instant commercial success. Receiving relatively poor reviews from critics seemed to have little effect on sales, which totaled 1,367,283 copies by the middle 1950's. It was Maugham's best selling book in the states, over Of Human Bondage and The Moon and Sixpence, which both received greater critically acclaim.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
After its release in April of 1944, The Razor's Edge was panned by many reviews, which found the novel as shallow and implausible. The writers of The Punch, a London literary magazine, called the lost American turned Eastern prophet Larry Darrell an "implausible, flat character." Malcolm Cowley states of the novel, "But for all its sex and saints and high society, 'Razor's Edge' is one of Maugham's weaker novels; better than 'The Honor Before the Dawn,' but a long step down from even Cakes and Ale. When you consider that his first book was published in 1897 and that, during a career of almost fifty years, he has produced very little first-class work? you sometimes wonder why people go on reading and reviewing him seriously." Cowley goes on to describe the heroine in the novel, Sophie MacDonald, as overly degraded and Larry Darrell as an unconvincing "Hindu Saint." However, Time Magazine contrasts this view of the character by saying, "even to those readers whose concern with the Absolute is strictly limited, Larry's quest will be neither implausible nor ridiculous. Despite his interest in extraterrestrial matters, Maugham remains throughout on very good terms with the world." The two main reasons for the bad press were Maugham's representation of American life and his attempt at religiosity. Maugham is quoted in a Time interview as saying, "I don't think one can ever really know any but one's own countrymen? I do not pretend that [the characters] are Americans as they see themselves; they are American seen through an English eye." Maugham's portrayal of American high society was depicted by critics as flat and unimaginative, and they stated that this detracted from the protagonist's rejection of the aristocracy and embracing of his new "faith." This "faith" is questioned by many critics because of the fact that Maugham is a man who denounced religion at a very young age, following the death of his parents. Cowley writes that "it is hard to imagine anyone more unsuited by temperament to write a religious novel," and he says that "his new book is advertised as 'the story of a man who found faith,' but the faith is unconvincing in itself and extraneous to the rest of the story." The Punch also harps on the fact that the religious discovery is unfulfilling and lacks the power to become an essential aspect in the novel. However, the times once again counteracts this review by stating that "Perhaps twenty years ago Maugham could not have written about either mysticism or Americans? Now age and art have refined his feelings to a vanishing point. The Razor's Edge is a crowning triumph of that virtuosity." The Razor's Edge became an instant commercial success. Receiving relatively poor reviews from critics seemed to have little effect on sales, which totaled 1,367,283 copies by the middle 1950's. It was Maugham's best selling book in the states, over Of Human Bondage and The Moon and Sixpence, which both received greater critically acclaim.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard. - Katha-Upanishad
This opening quote sets the tone for W. Somerset Maugham's final novel, The Razor's Edge. The quote is actually a translation of a Vedanta text, the Katha-Upanishad of the Taittiriya school of the Yajur Ved, which is a religious story in the Hindu cult
ure that culminates with a poor and pious Brahmana's search for enlightenment (www.hundunet.org). In Maugham's work, this quest is carried out by the novel's protagonist, Larry Darrell. However, the story is not only a search for faith, but also a sa
tirical view of high society and a reaffirmation of the American spirit. These factors thrust The Razor's Edge onto the bestseller list, and made it the most successful work of Maugham's great career. Maugham begins the story by confessing his apprehension about writing it. He states, " I have never begun a novel with such misgiving. If I call it a novel, it is only because I don't know what else to call it. I have little story to tell and I end ne
ither with a death nor a marriage" (Maugham 7). In fact, Maugham's beginning is entirely untrue. Maugham wrote The Razor's Edge in utmost confidence, as he was at the pinnacle of his career as both a playwright and a novelist. He was already well ren
owned for his two great works Of Human Bondage and The Moon and Sixpence, and he was living at the expense of his publisher, Nelson Doubleday, in South Carolina, to create a suitable environment for writing. Maugham already had the main plot for the stor
y devised. He took the idea for The Razor's Edge from two of his previous works, a short play by the name of The Road Uphill and a short story entitled The Fall of Edward Barnard (Stott 140). This gave him the main characters that he needed to drive th
e tale, and in South Carolina he created the medium for these player to perform. Bestsellers have certain consistent qualities that help generate their success. Maugham's novel utilizes these themes to the utmost. They style of a great majority of bestsellers is a narrative style. The Razor's Edge takes this one step further in t
hat Maugham himself is the narrator. Being a well renowned author, Maugham creates a greater sense of credibility with narrator. An author's "objective point of view" is brought up by characters throughout the novel, thus making the reader believe that
the narrator is simply an observer of the situation rather than a judge. The development of the characters in the novel is done through Maugham's interaction with them. As Maugham the narrator becomes more aquatinted with the characters, it filters di
rectly to the reader, slowly opening his or her eyes as the story progresses. Maugham also uses another best-selling technique by incorporating the sentiments of the time into his novel. He taps into the wartime attitude of the nation by making Larry a veteran of WWI. Though WWII brought the country together, it also created new
doubt in the mentality of the nation. America was trying to balance its social and economic accomplishments with a spiritual fulfillment that it had lacked since the dawn of industry. Accompanied by the eruption of the Second World War, following WWI, t
he supposed war to end all wars, these feelings left many American's questioning their faith in life. Larry, as well, comes to question life and society after his good friend gives his life to save Larry's. Seeing his friend die in front of him subseq
uently throws Larry into a quest for a new faith in God and life. He states of the event that, "the dead look so terribly dead when they're dead" (Maugham 57). Maugham uses this quote to explain Darrell's dilemma, if there is nothing when one dies, t
hen what is the point of living life. This captures the emotion of the time very well, with many young soldiers having the same feelings of longing for a meaning in life. When the war ends, Larry comes back a shattered man, and must rebuild his life through his quest for faith. Instead of striving for economic satisfaction in "the roaring twenties," Larry entrenches himself in philosophy books and great literature, search
ing to bring some sort of meaning into his life. When Larry is discussing his quest with Isabel, his fiancé at the onset of the novel, he tells her, "I want to make up my mind whether God is or God is not. I want to find out why evil exists. I want to
know whether I have an immoral soul or whether when I die it's the end" (Maugham 71). Isabel replies with, "But Larry, people have been asking those questions for thousands of years" (Maugham 72). This is exactly Maugham's drive. In a time of increas
ing secularism and doubt in American society, Darrell becomes Maugham's everyman, and the author tries to make Larry's quest universal to the questions that all humans hold. Joseph Warren Beach writes in his review of the novel, "The startling regressi
on to savagery which has marked our time is a challenge to the spirit which literature cannot ignore. We may look in fiction as elsewhere for efforts to set up a faith that can stand against the tides of history, supporting the will and conscience of man
against all dismal demonstrations of Malthusian economics and Machiavellian ethics" (Curtis 352). Darrell is Maugham answer to this call. The story is begins in the mid 1920's, and carries through the Great Crash of 1929 into the 1930's. It takes place in both Europe and America, with the main focus on Chicago, Paris, and London. There is a concentration on high society and elitism in t
he get rich quick era of the twenties, but Maugham ridicules it instead of glorifying it, coinciding with the feelings of the mid-forties. He does this by creating a cast of supporting characters who, each in his or her own way, show the faults of elitis
m in contrast to Darrell's purity of life. They are his tests, and he fights these temptations in a Christ-like manner. The most prominent of these personalities is Elliot Templeton. Rather than first introducing Larry, the great seeker of the novel,
Maugham first chooses to present Templeton. In a masterpiece of static character drawing, he paints the clear picture of Templeton, who is deeply entrenched in the world of the French aristocracy, the Paris high life, and the elitist society of the Rivie
ra. At the onset of the novel, Templeton is described as a distinguished man in his fifties, always well dressed and well mannered. Maugham describes his social endeavors as pretentious and self-serving, writing, "He was a colossal snob. He was a snob w
ithout shame. He would put up with any affront, he would ignore any rebuff, he would swallow any rudeness to get asked to a party he wanted to go to or to make a connection with some crusty old dowager of great name" (Maugham 12). After seemingly creati
ng a poor image of Templeton, Maugham writes, "If I have given the reader an impression that Elliot Templeton was a despicable character I have done him injustice. He was for one thing what the French call serviable? helpful obliging, and kind. He was g
enerous, and though early in his career he had doubtless showered flowers, candy, and presents on his acquaintances from an ulterior motive, he continued to do so when it was no longer necessary" (Maugham 14). Maugham's satirical apology gives the reade
r an even stronger sentiment of Templeton's snobbish social attitude. He is a supposed devout Christian, but even uses that to his benefit, gaining financial advice from well-to-do members of the cloth. Throughout the novel, Templeton criticizes Darrell
as a "lazy" character, unfit to marry his niece, Isabel, because he will not conform to his socialite background. Templeton rejects Darrell's quest as foolish and believes that he should conform to "the traditional ways" of society in order to make mil
lions and achieve a high social standing, Templeton's view of success and fulfillment. Isabel is the next character that Maugham uses to challenge Darrell. Isabel is Larry's fiancé. At the onset of the story, she is supportive of his decision to turn down the jobs he is offered in favor of his "loafing," which involves studying philosoph
y and literature in search of his answers. However, after Larry moves to Paris, she begins to lose patience with his idea of life. She confronts him about it, and eventually breaks off the engagement, telling Larry that she must live the life that she i
s accustom to. She turns away love in order to marry Larry's best friend, Gray Maturin, because he is a millionaire and will support her in her lifestyle. Through this, Maugham shows the pettiness of socialites. Eventually, Isabel regrets leaving Larr
y, and confesses to Maugham that she still loves him. However, she is molded by the conditions of moneyed American life, and becomes a chic, beautiful, greedy, heartless woman, typical of the well dressed, machine-tooled cosmopolitans that rule the "Amer
ican aristocracy." When Larry plans to marry another woman, Isabel devises a scheme and eventually winds up breaking up the marriage, displaying evidence that the money has changed her. She is Maugham's portrayal of a good natured woman destroyed by th
e greed of wealth. Larry comes to escape the clutches of elitism and attain the knowledge and fulfillment he desires through an encounter with a Hindu holy man in India. His meeting with Shri Ganesha, his understanding of meditation, and his acceptance of Brahma, Vishnu, a
nd Shiva bring him into a new spiritual path, which enlightens him to all the answers. After achieving his enlightenment in India, Darrell goes back to his friends a content and fulfilled man. Many critics of the novel say that Darrell should not be ent
rapped in a single religion, but throughout his life, Maugham had not only been an agnostic, but an anti-Christian, as is shown by his portrayal of Templeton's religious values (Weintraub 27). In addition, these critics fail to see that Maugham's poin
t is not that Vedanta is the means to salvation, but that a renouncing of elitism will not destroy economic success, and will help create spiritual contentment. These anti-elitist feeling coincide with the newly developing American shift away from the Horatio Alger type "rags to riches" novels, which involve well-born men who fall upon hard times (usually by becoming orphaned) but eventually rise to the top becau
se of their ingrained status and their lucky dispositions. After the depression, American's lost much of their "get rich quick" mentality and began to shift toward positive thinking and the power of the individual. Risk taking took new forms, drifting
away from monetary speculation and going in the direction of personal searching. Risks were now taken in the development of the person, and job security and individual drive were beginning to achieve favor in America. Rather than striving to be a millio
naire, American's now sought to achieve satisfaction in the ever growing middle class. Maugham has caught this exact concept by showing the shallowness of the elitist life and the true worth and value of the ever self-searching Darrell. Larry does come
from a privileged family, but he rejects his background and instead finds his happiness not through millions, but through personal worth and a steady living. However, the turn against elitism is more than just a backlash against the powers of money. Da
rrell's realization of the Vedanta principles led him to worldliness sought after by the American people (Curtis 359). Darrell has actually found the answers; he has come to terms with God and life, and found that he can live in society not in spite of this, but in accordance with it. Darrell completes the impossible task, he finds faith. In a review of the novel, Cyril
Connolly, a leading English literary journalist of the age, writes, "The novel is a considerable addition to the literature of non-attachment, and ranks with Huxley's Great Eminence and Heard's Man the Master as powerful propaganda for the new faith" (
Curtis 358). This faith is the realization of the new American Dream, to couple economic satisfaction with spiritual fulfillment. Maugham wrote this novel expressly for Americans, and he points out the weaknesses of their society through the characters
of Templeton and Isabel. However, he creates Darrell as an element of hope, a savior of society. Connolly writes, " Mr. Maugham never forgets the spiritual dust-bowl which every American carries within him, and which he vainly tries to irrigate with alc
ohol, statistics or labor-saving devices" (Curtis 361). Darrell is Maugham's answer for America. He is their messiah, and, in Maugham's eye, by following Darrell's example America can be saved. The Razor's Edge has been able to attain staying power in American literary society for the reason that its theme transcends time. As shown in other bestselling novels, such as Steinbeck's Winter of Our Discontent and Heller's Something Happened, the
theme of America attempting to find the balance between economic success and moral and spiritual happiness. In addition, as the West becomes more and more educated about eastern philosophies, Maugham Vedantan enlightenment becomes more accessible to the
general public. With greater religious acceptance in the later half of the twentieth century, the Hindu teachings have been embraced as feasible instead of disregarded as impossible (Owen, 103). Through Vedanta, Darrell finds peace in God and the world.
As long as mankind continues to question its place in nature and search for meaning in life, The Razor's Edge will captivate it and give it hope that a solution is attainable.
Works Cited
Curtis, Anthony and Whitehead, John. W. Somerset Maugham: The Critical Heritage. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987.
http://www.hindunet.org/upanishads/katha/
Maugham, W. Somerset. The Razor's Edge. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
Stott, Raymond Toole. A Biography of the Works of W. Somerset Maugham. London: Kaye & Woodward. 1973.
Weintraub, Stanley. Dictionary of Literary Biography Volume 10: British Dramatists, 1900-1945 Part 2.. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Braun-Brumfield, Inc. 1982.
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