Friday, December 14, 2007

One's own place

I kept my favorite quotation from The moon and sixpence by Somerset W. Maugham. Surely because it has some personal touch. This is about everyone trying to find its own place, like the Bohemians who never find theirs or at least are never satisfied and find everywhere a little bit of themselves.

"I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroudings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest."
(Chapter L).

You can find other quotations in this post.

The moon and sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

Some quotations from the wonderfully written The moon and sixpence by Somerset W. Maugham. It is followed by two questions, in need of answer.

"Only the poet or the saint can water an asphalt pavement in the confident anticipation that lilies will reward his labour."
(Chapter XIII)

About beauty:
"'Why should you think that beauty, which is the most precious thing in the world, lies like a stone on the beach for the careless passer-by to pick up idly? Beauty is something wonderful and strange that the artist fashions out of the chaos of the world in the torment of his soul. And when he has made it, it is not given to all to know it. To recognize it you must repeat the adventure of the artist. It is a melody that he sings to you, and to hear it again in your own heart you want knowledge and sensitiviness and imagination'"
(Chapter XIX)

On the difficulty in expressing oneself and being understood:
"Each one of us is alone in the world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and can communicate with his fellows only by signs, and the signs have no common value, so that their sense is vague and uncertain. We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them, and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellows and unknown by them. We are like people living in a country whose language they know so little that, with all manner of beautiful and profound things to say, they are condemmed to the banalities of the conversation manual. Their brain is seething with ideas, and they can only tell you that the umbrella of the gardener's aunt is in the house."
(Chapter XLII)

Once beauty is reached, it has to be destroyed. Neither the artist, nor anyone else can enjoy it again. And in any case beauty can be kept:
"'I think Strickland knew it was a masterpiece. He had achieved what he wanted. His life was complete. He had made a world and saw that it was good. Then, in pride and contempt, he destroyed it.
(Chapter LVII)

Here are my two questions:

1) Why the title The moon and sixpence?

2) The central character of the book is Charles Strickland and his life is loosely inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin. At least, that is what I read everywhere. The story is told by a narrator using the first person, which we might think is Somerset W. Maugham himself. Everything should just be a fiction: Strickland, Maugham's meetings with Strickland, etc. But strikingly, the first chapter refers in footnotes three different books which supposedly describe the life of Charles Strickland. One reference reads:

A modern artist: notes on the work of Charles Strickland, by Edward Leggatt, A.R.H.A. Martin Secker, 1917.

Is this a real reference? And is Charles Strickland then real as well? I was not able to locate any the books, so I am wondering if I am not just the victim of Maugham's ability to push the fiction to such a realism that he does not hesitate to cross the line and violate the fragile convention that footnotes and references are part of reality and out of the fiction. And the joke might just be on me!