Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Maugham on Stories

By Charlie Kondek

My love affair with Somerset Maugham's writing continues. I recently scored a copy of Ashenden, a collected work of spy stories set during the First World War and based on Maugham's own experiences in the British secret service. If I ever had any doubts that Ian Fleming owes Maugham a debt for content and style, I can erase them. But besides that, the stories, some of which I have read in other collections, are just a treat. In fact, if you're meeting Maugham for the first time, this'd be a good place to start.

Would also like to draw your attention to some comments Maugham makes in the introduction to this work, which is copyright dated 1951 but which I suspect is much later due to the cover art and references to Fleming's larger body of work. Anyway, Maugham says in the preface:

"Fact is a poor storyteller. It starts a story at haphazard, generally long before the beginning, rambles on inconsequently and tails off, leaving loose ends hanging about, without a conclusion."

Why then, Maugham wonders, do some schools of thought insist that fiction resemble fact? That's okay sometimes, Maugham says, but Ashenden's purpose is "only to offer entertainment, which I still think, impenitently, is the main object of a work of fiction."

A man after my own heart and a pretty good articulation of my feelings about writing and literature. Keep in mind, these Ashenden stories aren't thrill rides - they are wonderfully composed stories about the people one meets in this line of work, and they ain't all Mata Haris and cavalry officers. Far from it.

Incidently, in that same preface Maugham points to de Maupassant as a master of this kind of storytelling, so I ran out and picked up a selected works.

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