Monday, 15 April 2013

Chronicles of Barabbas 1884-1934 by George H. Doran

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George H. Doran

Doran, George H. Chronicles of Barabbas 1884-1934. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1935.


Chronicles of Barabbas is a memoir by George H. Doran, Maugham's American publisher since Of Human Bondage (1915), up to 1927 when the company merged with Doubleday and became Doubleday, Doran and Company. This post will review Doran's comments on Maugham on a personal level (such as how he played golf...) and as a professional writer.

Doran explains why he names his book so:
The legend runs that at one time Lord Byron had done some special favour for his publisher, the second John Murray. In acknowledgment and recognition of this favour Mr. Murray sent to Lord Byron a very handsomely bound copy of the Holy Bible. Repelled by this, under the circumstances, highly irrelevant if not completely hypocritical expression, Lord Byron returned the gift, making but one brief but significant comment. In the chapter in the Gospel by St. Matthew which reads: "Now Barabbas was a robber," Byron altered that one word which made the sentence to read: "Now Barabbas was a publisher." (8)
It is an interesting read on the authors whose works Doran published, among them Maugham, to whom Doran devotes a chapter. He goes over the books that he published with Maugham briefly. He has nothing but praises for the latter:
He [Maugham] has a clairvoyant power of analysis and an almost uncanny power of reading other people's thoughts. His criticism is incisive and illuminating. One day I asked him if he had read Hugh Walpole's Harmer John, which I had just published. "No," he replied. "Why should I? Jesus has already done that story so completely." To a greater degree than the meticulous and precise Arnold Bennett, Maugham is a master of craftsman, without, however, suggesting cogs in the machinery as did Bennett. Nor was he to be lured into the paths of journalism. He is a shrewd bargainer, with a proper and equitable appraisal of the value of his work for magazine or book publication or for the stage. But ever he is loyal to his producing friends. He is the friend and mentor of many young writers in whom he has discovered the divine spark, while he is impatient and contemptuous of the maudlin and inarticulate writer. (127-128)
The only complaint Doran has is the sole instance of unsportsmanlike behaviour of Maugham when he prevented the parody, Gin and Bitters, on his Cakes and Ale from being published in England (128). This is followed by some description of the Villa Mauresque and Maugham's hospitality, in contrast with the frugality in his personal habit.

Doran also describes Maugham's appearance and the person; we see Maugham being examined in his turn:
Maugham, in personal appearance, would give a first impression of being not exactly frail but distinctly precious. One would not think of him as an athlete or a sportsman, yet now in his late fifties he is a vigorous and practised sportsman in at least three directions. Seated on a high chair on top of his aquaplane, tethered to his speedy launch he skips over the Mediterranean at a speed of fifteen or twenty knots an hour, exhibiting a daring unsuspected of the artist and the student. He is not exactly a star tennis-player but he is a valorous contender and partner. Maugham's golf is strenuous, and reflects, as golf always does, the character of the player. He disdains the beaten path of the fairway, the "pretty," as the English will have it, adventuring to the right and to the left and to the slightly discovered bramble or gorse. As he emerges his sentences are scarcely printable, but on the putting green his accuracy restores his score to approximate par. So great is his zeal that I am inclined to think that he would almost rather win a hotly contended game of golf than write a new play. (130)
It is interesting to read about Maugham as the golf player, since he talks a lot already about card games, which litter all over his works. Doran goes on with Maugham the card player, the dramatist, the music lover, the art collector. For Doran, Maugham already "has achieved a certain immortality" (131).

Doran chooses Maugham over Lawrence:
Contrast him [Lawrence] if you will with W. Somerset Maugham. No one possibly could accuse Maugham of lacking in courage, for he is the boldest of realists, yet he has had the supreme courage to be a man and a gentleman in all his major expressions towards life. [...] Neither Maugham nor Bennett ever felt called upon to be a Messiah-like messenger to the oversexed or sterile women. It is rather a pity that for a time Lawrence has become somewhat of a cult; but witness the members of that cult. I do not know of one wholesome woman in the whole entourage of Lawrence. [...] My own analysis of Lawrence in much of his writing since the magnificence of Sons and Lovers is that he became impotent, or at least had developed a violent sex-inferiority complex and that his work, particularly his later work, was for the most part but the violent raggings of a miserably discontented man [and so on and so forth]. (233-234)
I don't believe in stepping on the other party in order to glorify your own; for those who are interested in Doran's views on Lawrence and other writers that came in contact with him, a free ebook is available. I find it worthwhile, especially when one is interested in the period and the people.




5 comments :

  1. Thank you for the link to this book. I've downloaded it and, skimming throught it in a Maugham-orientated way, it looks quite interesting (though sometimes I struggle with Doran's somewhat convoluted style: "were I given freedom of choice as to that book which I would first choose to have written had I the genius and wit").

    Once I thought of writing an essay on Maugham and Sports, but my complete ignorance of golf and bridge put an end of these noble thoughts. But as an avid tennis fan, I'm very curious how good on the court Maugham was. I suspect he would have beaten me in straight sets, and not very long ones either (say, 6-3, 6-2).

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  2. I just bought the first edition with dust-jacket of this book on ABE for around $20. I thought it would go well with my Grant Overton book. I really like the Doran editions of Maugham's books. I prefer Doran's printings of "The Explorer," and "The Magician" to any other. I also bought a reading copy of Doran's printing of "The Moon and Sixpence" - not the first American (in tan binding) but the second or third in the, more attractive, green binding with black lettering, for $5.00. One thing I've noticed recently is it's great to have first edition first printings, but sometimes you can't get through the whole book without causing major damage to the frail binding or tears to the dried pages. This happened to my "Of Human Bondage" first. It was in good shape until I got to the middle. Now I need to have the binding repaired. I'm not taking any chances with my "Moon and Sixpence." I'll read the true first at home, but I'll be bringing the reading copy to work with me.

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    1. It's very true, about the fragility of first editions. I only read mine at home and do so with extra care too. I rarely read any physical books nowadays, except Maugham's and the ones that have no ebooks. That's probably the second thing that I do that actually moves on with time.

      I personally prefer Heinemann's, because of the size, easier to hold.

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  3. Well I read this book. I simply couldn't get through all 400 pages of it. At around the 220 page mark I was thinking, "Okay, this book can end around here. No one cares 400 pages-worth what a publisher has to say." I got to page 310. Doran was a snob. He was a Canadian-American who took too many trips to England. Maugham would have satirized him. Doran, in this book, was obsessed with the wealthy and/or titled. He was also obsessed with Arnold Bennett - especially in his rich yacht days.

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    1. Doran sounds like a Maugham character all right. "No one cares 400 pages-worth what a publisher has to say." -- hahaha... Something about a publisher that's quite funny. Alfred Vallette, the founder and editor in chief of Mercure de France, was asked one day if he had read a certain book, and he said: "Good God, no. Isn't it enough that I published it?"

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