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^β*^^^ W. Somerset Maugham: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, 1969-1997 Troy James Bassett University of Kansas LIKE THE RUSSIAN LITERATURE that springs from the pocket of Gogol's great-coat, much W. Somerset Maugham criticism springs from an article written by Edmund Wilson, later revised and reprinted in his Classics and Commercials, called "The Apotheosis of Somerset Maugham" (1946)—possibly the most cited article in Maugham criticism . Occasioned as a review of Maugham's regrettably bad novel Then and Now and his donation of the manuscript of Of Human Bondage to the Library of Congress, Wilson attacks Maugham's use of "banal language" and his judgment of "his betters"—Joyce, Yeats, James, and Proust—and he announces, "It has happened to me from time to time to run into some person of taste who tells me that I ought to take Somerset Maugham seriously, yet I have never been able to convince myself that he was anything but second-rate."1 He concludes by writing, "He is for our day, I suppose, what Bulwer-Lytton was for Dickens's: a half-trashy novelist, who writes badly, but is patronized by half-serious readers, who do not care much about writing."2 Wilson's attitude towards Maugham has become entrenched and accepted, even though his criticism is essentially ad hominem and, as he later admitted, it was based on an incomplete knowledge of Maugham's work.3 In fact, Wilson's article is representative of the traditional low regard for Maugham's work in academic circles. At the same time, Maugham has come to represent everything that Modernists resisted: as Joseph Epstein points out, "his writing was an affront to them. He was apolitical and he wrote dead against the grain of modernism , with all its difficulty, preferring instead to write as plainly as possible about complex things."4 Maugham also had popular and finan133 ELT 41 : 2 1998 cial successes that most Modernists did not enjoy, and which, whether true or not, give the impression of a compromised artistic integrity. This critical judgment has often led to a certain element of guilt in the minds of those who study and enjoy Maugham's works. To read Maugham, according to Wilson's position, labels one a "half-serious" reader and thus places one outside the critical establishment; to denigrate Maugham allies oneself with the critical powers that be.5 This guilt by association causes, inevitably, a defensive position in Maugham studies. Browsing a list of titles, we see "In Defense of Maugham," "The Case for Somerset Maugham," "Is It All Right to Read Somerset Maugham?" and Maugham: A Reappraisal. As Archie K. Loss points out, "too many of Maugham's admirers ... begin on a defensive note,"6 and because of Wilson and his allies this is necessarily so. Certain rhetorical strategies have developed in response to this negative attitude towards Maugham. Most critics feel that they must answer all the charges against Maugham or else concede certain truths: that he wasn't an innovator, that he wrote in a plain style, that he was popular, and that he had a caustic personality. Ultimately, it comes down to assessing Maugham's reputation and rating the "baggage" he carries into posterity: which works stand out and will likely be remembered? On this question, selections range from "none" to "all," and, if the following bibliography shows anything, it shows that the majority of Maugham's works are alive and well, even his supposedly minor works. Nevertheless this customary line of discussion, I think, has finally been put to rest. Gore Vidal's review of Robert Calder's biography offers an appraisal of Maugham's works that shows how pointless are the attempts to establish his reputation. A recent study of Of Human Bondage by Archie K. Loss begins by asserting the novel's importance —with no apologies. The publication of Ted Morgan's Maugham (1980) set the standard for Maugham biography. With the notable exception of Joseph Dobrinsky 's La Jeunesse de Somerset Maugham (1976), it supercedes all previous attempts at a Maugham biography—those of Anthony Curtis (1977) and Frederic Raphael (1976). Morgan's biography has the benefit of assistance from the Maugham...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 133-184
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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