Monday, 7 October 2013

A Man of Honour - W. Somerset Maugham

cover of A Man of Honour - W. Somerset Maugham Heinemann, 1912
A Man of Honour - W. Somerset Maugham
Heinemann, 1912

A Man of Honour (London: Heinemann, 1912)


This post is about W. Somerset Maugham's first published play, A Man of Honour. We will look briefly at its content and the different editions, and a link to the free ebook version is provided at the end of the post.

A Man of Honour: A Tragedy


Besides being Maugham's first published play, it is also his first full-length play that was produced (by The Stage Society); it disappointed the author with its limited success: not exactly in the way he wanted it (bringing satisfaction, publicity, and financial gains), which he would have to wait five years more before he achieved all of these.

The story itself, believe it or not, still has its relevance today, even though the example that Maugham uses may have lost its significance. This is one of the reasons why Maugham's works have lasting interests for many.

Basil Kent, a well-educated gentleman, marries Jenny Bush, a barmaid, after he gets her pregnant. Although he does not love her, he thinks that it is the right thing to do. His heart belongs to quite another, a Mrs. Murray, a lady widow of the same kind as his. The marriage turns out to be a disaster and it is living hell for the unmatched couple. Basil is tormented by his regrets and his love for Mrs. Murray. It is too late when he recognizes the mistake he has made, against all worldly advice and common sense, blinded by his high morality. Nevertheless, the one who suffers most at the end is Jenny, who commits suicide when she sees that there is no way for her to gain Basil's love. Basil is left a free man. The play is left open-ended there, presumably it would be too much for the social sensibility at that time to see Basil united with Mrs. Murray on stage and live happily ever after.

The story itself is full of themes that recur in other of Maugham's works, such as class consciousness, the fallibility of the moral sense of right and wrong (especially when the individual is standing against the society), priggishness.

This story Maugham reworks into The Merry-Go-Round, published as a novel a year later, with more intricate plots and more characters. The emotions of Basil, Jenny, and Mrs. Murray are more developed in the novel, as the length allows. Then, the Basil-Jenny relationship is later revisited in Of Human Bondage and becomes the unforgettable Philip-Mildred duo, which is no longer so much about self-righteousness and honour, but human obsession and the loss of self-control. It is interesting to see how Maugham rewrites his characters turning them over the years into more mature ones, rounding them up to suit his fuller understanding of the human condition.

Maugham's plays are easy to read. One can pass a pleasant hour and finish them in a sitting.

A Man of Honour: Editions


The real first edition of A Man of Honour is hard to come by, published in 1903 by Chapman and Hall, only 150 copies exist. At the same time it was published as a supplement to The Fortnightly Review. The play itself was written much earlier, in Rome in 1898.

Then came the 1912 Heinemann edition. As Stott warns and explains in great details, the later edition (same for several other plays) by the Dramatic Publishing Company is posterior to Heinemann's, although the year registered on the copyright page is 1903.

A Man of Honour is one of Maugham's rare plays, a copy of the early editions is hard to find and expensive. If you come across one with a reasonable price for you, do grab it.

Please visit the free ebook - plays for a digital version.


A Man of Honour at AbeBooks.com
A Man of Honour (US ed.) at Amazon.com
A Man of Honour (US ed.) another copy at Amazon.com

2 comments :

  1. Hi, I found this on ABE. If anyone has $7000 laying around. It's the true first edition published by Chapman and Hall.
    http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=16540388951&searchurl=xpod%3Don%26podrfn%3Don%26bx%3Don%26pics%3Don%26podclr%3Don%26sortby%3D0%26kn%3Dmaugham++NOT+%28%22print+on+demand%22+OR+%22printed+on+demand%22%29%26an%3Dmaugham

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    Replies
    1. Oh gee... this is the time when I wished I were born with a silver spoon. On second thought, I always wish I were born with a silver spoon.

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