Saturday, 31 August 2013

Villa Mauresque par Floc'h & Rivière. Somerset Maugham et les siens : A Graphic Novel of W. Somerset Maugham's Life

cover of Villa Mauresque
Villa Mauresque. Somerset Maugham et les siens
Graphic novel of W. Somerset Maugham's life

Villa Mauresque par Floc'h & Rivière. Somerset Maugham et les siens (Paris: La Table Ronde, 2013)


This post is about an extremely interesting new book, a graphic novel of W. Somerset Maugham's life, by Jean-Claude Floch and François Rivière, published in May 2013. It is in French and maybe it will be translated in English in the future (especially with the upcoming 140 years sort of anniversary of Maugham's birth), but I doubt whether the front cover would remain the same in the English version...

Somerset Maugham et les siens


Just back from Paris, though I did not bring back with me any interesting old editions of Maugham's work (simply too many other things to do than going to hunt for books, except the obligatory trips to Shakespeare & Co. and the Abbey), I did come across this unusual book at L'écume des pages.

a page from Villa Mauresque showing Maugham in his room
Maugham dans sa chambre
This is a biography out of the ordinary, narrated in first person by Maugham himself and people who were close to him at some points in his life: his brother Frederic Maugham, Barbara Back, Beverley Nichols, Hugh Walpole, his nephew Robin Maugham, and his chef Annette. Some important people are missing, such as Gerald Haxton, Alan Searle, Syrie Maugham, or even Maugham's daughter, but I presume that the narrators are chosen based on what written records or interviews are available for the writer to put himself into their shoes for a moment.

a graphic representation of Maugham and Gerald's first meeting
Maugham et Haxton
I am not familiar at all with biographies of Maugham; I have read very few of them. What I do notice is the difference in tone from the ones I have read, especially when touching upon the sensitive subject of his sexuality. It is taken as very matter of fact in this book, together with other things that Maugham did which, though not outrightly condemned, were implicitly judged with the choice of words and the presentation of the facts in other accounts of his life.

This effect may have been achieved by the diverse viewpoints, very cleverly done, from the different narrators. The ending is sad and touching. One feels relieved and glad that Maugham was finally reunited with his beloved mother.

back cover of Villa Mauresque
Villa Mauresque, back cover
It is curious though on the back cover, of all biographies that have been published since, Anthony Curtis's is used. Is this a message from the French?

It amuses me a lot too that Mrs Frances van Buren Hale and Maugham's exchange is used to decorate the back cover!

This is not a book to look for details or information about Maugham's life, but it is a very joyful read, a tribute to the author for those who admire him.

Paris and Maugham


I did take the opportunity to visit some of the places reminiscent of Maugham. It would be foolish to entertain the idea that one could see the landmarks as he described. Nonetheless, I walked around the area where he lived and played as a child, the majestic boulevards, the view of the Arc de Triomphe, the statues and the trees in the Tuileries.

I walked to the British Embassy where Maugham was born, and saw something that I had not seen before in my travels. The side of the street in which the Embassy was was cordoned off; one could only walk on the other side of the street. A guard was posted there and when I was trying to take a photo of the Embassy I was seriously whistled at and told by gestures that photos were not allowed, as if the very air in that block was British soil and one would need a Visa to breathe in. One could almost wish that something happened to the Embassy to justify all these prohibitions, or am I forbidden to write this too? Not to mention, I could not take a good look at Maugham's father's office on the opposite side of the Embassy.

Otherwise, it was a delightful trip. Rue d'Odessa is the same "dingy narrow" street, only dingier and crowded; Montparnasse of course no longer has the "tranquil air of a provincial town." Café du Dôme is now an expensive restaurant that not even "small tradesmen" could afford every day. I did dine there as a treat and the oysters (perles de l'impératrice, such an extravagant name!) were unbelievable. La Rotonde just opposite offers more affordable food and more lively atmosphere, but the quality of the former is not the same as in the Dôme.

I stayed at the Lutetia, not from its mention in any of Maugham's works but from La posibilité d'une île by Michel Houllebecq, an excellent book for those into Sci-fi and dystopian fiction. It was recommended by Zygmunt Bauman as a book to look into if one was interested to know what the present society was frightened of. (By the way, if ever Bauman comes to lecture near you, do go.)



Villa Mauresque: Somerset Maugham et les siens at Amazon.com
Villa Mauresque. Somerset Maugham et les siens at Amazon UK
Villa Mauresque: Somerset Maugham et les siens at AbeBooks

4 comments :

  1. Hi, I'm not sure if you're interested (or knows someone who is) but I am selling a 1921 1st Am Ed of "Liza of Lambeth" on eBay. You can view it here, if. Interested: thanks-

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/321197576848?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649

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    1. Ray, I am posting your link and maybe someone would be interested. Thanks.

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  2. On the graphic novel, and the people who have hampered with, and for some, destroyed Maugham's legacy. Judging by all that I've read about Maugham written by himself AND by others including unscrupulous biographers, I can say that Maugham was not bisexual or gay. Unfortunately it has become accepted as fact that he was bisexual or mostly gay, but this was said by his dissenters AFTER he died, including his alcoholic gay nephew Robin whom Maugham found boring. Maugham had made some enemies in his time - Syries friends (who were rich and powerful), and H.G.Wells' sycophants in the literary world. Also you have to figure many were jealous of his success, Even Ted Morgan's biography can't be trusted all the way through. Morgan makes a lot of false assumptions based on no credible evidence. And I heard even nowadays people are still destroying Maugham's legacy with even more outrageous nonsense not based on any truth at all.

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    1. Hi Mike,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to comment.

      It is still difficult for me to understand the antagonism against Maugham. Recently I came across an old book of criticism by R.H. Ward in 1937. His theory is that critics find it impossible to place Maugham in a convenient category, which is troublesome, and so dismiss him. I find it an interesting idea, though the book itself is too long-winded. One has to decide whether it's worth taking the time to plough through and extract relevant ideas.

      It's certainly a refreshing point of view you are providing. I have to admit that I am too naive to take it for granted what have been said about Maugham. Only that on the other hand, I really don't care too much about his sexual orientation. I think what annoys me most is that his merit as a writer has not been fully appreciated, his books badly analysed so far, and only his life is burrowed into, from every angle. It is amazing, for those who care, to see how much he read, how wide his knowledge was, and especially how well he wrote. Many of his themes are still relevant today, which strike a cord, at least, in me, and I believe in many others too.

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