Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Casuarina Tree - W. Somerset Maugham

The Casuarina Tree (London: William Heinemann, 1926)

This is the third collection of short stories that Maugham published. All the stories are related to "the English people who live in the Malay Penisula and in Borneo" as Maugham puts in the preface explaining the choice of the title. The story "The Yellow Streak" contains the detailed narrative of  a personal experience of Maugham in which he almost got himself drowned, an experience that he mentioned briefly in other occasions. 

The Casuarina Tree includes the following stories:

  • The Casuarina Tree
  • Before the Party
  • P. & O.
  • The Outstation
  • The Force of Circumstance
  • The Yellow Streak
  • The Letter
  • Postscript

As far as I know, the first edition is published by Heinemann; it has an impressive dust jacket which costs as much as it is worth. As an early work of Maugham, the price of first edition is not cheap, though still within the affordable range for a regular pocket.

The copy that I have is without the dust jacket and is a stated first edition; the sign of Maugham is pressed on the cover. An extra bonus that came with my copy is a newspaper cutting with Maugham's photo, which I use for my profile, which queried where Maugham was after his last known abode in France that the last reader left there. From the news report on the reverse side I gather that it must have been during the WWII. Probably at that time when Maugham was on his way back to England with other British subjects in France, an account of which is detailed in Strictly Personal. Pfeiffer mentions in his book that Maugham was thought dead at the time.


  1. That means Selina Hastings is wrong when she says in her book that the Postscript was added for the American edition? Lately I have been forced to go through the four full-scale biographies of Maugham again, and I have been appalled by their blatant sloppiness and, even more so, by their rehashing Maugham's own writings with minimum or no acknowledgement.

    Anyway, back to this collection, it's worth noting Mr Stott's sloppiness, too. He mentions some "author's note" on pp. vii-viii. The eponymous preface is on these pages in your edition, isn't it? It is in mine, which is Heinemann's cheap one from 1928, with pagination quite the same as Mr Stott's description of the First. Why he didn't mention the real title of the piece, as he did about the First American edition, but used a confusing generic title remains a mystery.

  2. The postscript is certainly in my copy. I haven't read the biographies as such. I usually search for the specific things I want, using them more like reference books.

    Talking about sloppiness, you may like to look at Meyers' on p. 144, when he talks about "The Fall of Edward Barnard." It's not even about the research on historical information, but the act of reading a text carefully. The same on p. 249 about "The Lotus Eater." Meyers has definitely confused some details of it with "Mayhew," which leads to a very uncomfortable question: how much has he confused about Maugham's life? especially when certain facts are not for easy public access. And somehow, those are the only pages that I have read. For all I know, perhaps those are the only ones with errors. I should have gone out to buy the lottery!

    Yes, the note is under the same title as the book.

    1. Speaking of author's notes, could you check another one in "Theatre"? First or First UK edition, it doesn't matter, according to Mr Stott it is there in both, on pp. v and vii, respectively. So far as I know, it is not in any modern edition.

    2. I have the UK second issue (didn't even know that there were all these differences! One of my early purchases without Stott). I think what Stott calls the author's note is this: "The characters in this novel are imaginary. The author has tried to fit them with names of his own inventions; if he has by chance hit on the name of any living person he offers his apologies for an accident which, whatever care is taken, must sometimes occur."

      The page doesn't have any title or anything, just this paragraph. If you like, I can send you a scan.

    3. Thanks. This must be it. Stott evidently used a generic title for something titleless, as he did several other times (for instance about the short note in "The Vagrant Mood"). Heaven knows why Vintage didn't reprint that note in the Vintage Classics edition. Perhaps because their source was The Collected Edition and there the note was dropped because of the preface. I sometimes think of writing to them and asking why they inexplicably omit two prefaces from this edition ("The Moon and Sixpence", "On a Chinese Screen") while reprinting all others, and couldn't this be fixed in future reprtints, but then I reflect I would probably get no answer and refrain from writing.

      No need to scan it. I trust you. Will include the note together with an acknowledgement in the Bibliography.

  3. I have read the biographies once from cover to cover out of curiosity. (They say it killed the cat and I can well believe that for it nearly killed me.) I have found very little - if anything - essential in them and also use them for reference, very occasionally. I had to go through them recently in order to fulfil another of my Maughamesque dreams (I'm a dreamer, you know), namely to compile "WSM: A Chronology of His Works and Life" (please note the order). I thought knowing with the greatest possible accuracy where Maugham was at any time of his life, what he did and, above all, which works of his were published or produced might prove illuminating. So far the attempt is not a success, and the biographies are just as shaky on chronological matters as they are on literary analysis. I wonder if the thing's worth completing at all, though for now I persist.

    I will certainly check those pages in Meyers. I have not read them since the first and only time I read the complete book. On the whole, the only thing in his hackwork I admire is his remarkably positive attitude to "Looking Back", a rare thing in Maughamology indeed. On the other hand, his homosexual analysis of "The Narrow Corner" is a true gem of ill-informed and totally misguided criticism.

    Thanks for confirming about the author's note.

    1. How interesting! I have started to compile a timeline too, about his work and his whereabouts, etc., but very slowly. I just add information when I come across some things. With the little that I have, I already find contradictions of where he was at a certain time. I think I have to go back and record my sources for each entry. I did think that it was straightforward, but apparently not.