Thursday, 17 October 2013

Looking Back - W. Somerset Maugham

Show Magazine July to August 1962 Looking Back - W. Somerset Maugham
Show Magazine July to August 1962
Looking Back - W. Somerset Maugham

"Looking Back." Show 2.6 - 2.8 (June, July, August, 1962)


I have finally got all the issues of the Show Magazine, in which W. Somerset Maugham's last memoirs "Looking Back" was published. This post will be about this very controversial piece of writing.

Looking Back at Eighty-Eight Years Old


It was with apprehension that I opened the magazines... It was truly quite an experience. Maugham left instructions that they were not to be re-published again, after its two serialized issues in the United States (Show) and England (Sunday Express).

So, what is the scandal? A lot has been talked about, the circumstance in which Maugham wrote it, conjecture that it was not written by him at all but by Alan Searle, how it cost him several friendships, how senile he was, how he defamed his ex-wife (much loved in some quarters), etc., but not too much content-wise, except a mentioning of an episode here and there.

However, Syrie Maugham appeared mainly in the July issue, among other things that happened in that period of his life. It is true that it is not too complimentary, but I would tend to think that she only made up a part, which may not even be a big one, of Maugham's life, and let's say, he had other fish to fry. What is special about it is that he is silent in The Summing Up about his more personal relationship with others, name-wise, and here he tells you straight up who's who (except Rosie), which is more expected in a conventional autobiography.

He is quite open about who he has slept with (the womenfolks), which is unusual in his other writings even to mention personal sexual relationship; he hints at his adventures in Germany, but no more than that.

For those who are interested in Maugham instead of (or more than) all the scandals, he talks about his childhood again, his experience in the wars and in his travels, without the novelization in his stories, but first-hand experience, and some episodes of his interaction with others, love, friendships, acquaintances. It gives one the feeling that he writes down what comes to his mind at the moment, the memories that have stood out and distinguish themselves from others. It ends in an experience that he cannot quite explain when he looks at "The Feast at the House of Levi" in Venice in 1958. There are also some interesting photos, showing his house, some memorabilia and such.

It is not easy to find a copy of the three issues. It took me months, with dedication, determination, and loosened purse strings, to get all of them. They are, from time to time, available on eBay. So keep looking!

"Looking Back" is now available online via My Maugham Collection Concordance Library. Enjoy!

15 comments :

  1. Hi. Another magazine you may want to look out for is the February 1922 issue of "ASIA: The American Magazine On The Orient." It contains a a few little short stories put together and given the title "Foreign Devils." It contains: "The Dinner Party" "The Taipan" "Mirage" "The Old-Timer" and "The Consul." I looked for these stories in subsequent publications and couldn't find them. I bought a copy of this for a pretty decent price (around $40) almost a year ago.

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    1. Thank you for this extraordinary piece of bibliographical information. It seems that Mr Stott made a pretty blunder when he stated that "Foreign Devils" was changed to "Dinner Parties" in book form. If what you say is true, and for now I will take your word, "Foreign Devils" was turned into no fewer than five sketches from "On a Chinese Screen", including the first-ever appearances of "The Consul" and "The Taipan", the only two pieces from this travel book that made it to "The Complete Short Stories".

      I suppose "Mirage" is No. XXXIV from "On a Chinese Screen", not the short story that was later included in "The Gentleman in the Parlour" (1930) and "The Complete Short Stories", and "The Dinner Party" is at least one part from "Dinner Parties" (in the book it consists of "I: The Legation Quarter" and "II: At a Treaty Port").

      If you could compare the magazine with the book -

      https://archive.org/details/onchinesescreen00mauguoft -

      and confirm that the five stories in it are at least substantially the same as "chapters" VI, XXX, XXXIV, XLV, XLIX, I would be most grateful.

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    2. Hi Alexander,
      Chipping in...
      Oops...You are right! I wasn't thinking about the Mirage in On a Chinese Screen at all. Of course the magazine was published in 1922 and the rest of the stories are from OCS. Thanks for pointing out the error.
      Let's see what Mike says.

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    3. Eminent Maugham scholars have been quilty of the same mistake, bigger if anything. In his Encyclopedia, Mr Rogal boldly asserted that "The Point of Honour" was first published in "On a Chinese Screen" and later reprinted in "Creatures of Circumstance" Sure it was - the title at any rate. Penetrating critics have not been immune to such mistakes, either. In his pamphlet from the Writers and Their Work series, Mr Brophy was convinced that "The Wash-Tub" was reprinted in "The Collected Short Stories" as "A Marriage of Convenience"?! The compilers of the Rothschild Catalogue said that "Novelist or Bond Salesman" first appeared in book form in "The Writer's Point" (1951) "and was the basis for a 1951 lecture of the same title", apparently unaware that the pamphlet is the lecture. Mr Stott surpassed them all with his sweeping statement that "The Lion's Skin" has never been reprinted in book form. All kinds of curious cases.

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    4. Hello,

      I checked the magazine to "...Chinese Screen." The stories are at least substantially the same. In "The Dinner Party" the nationality (Swiss) of the Banque Orientale was given in the book but the magazine simply calls him "The astute manager of the Banque Orientale." There are also some paragraphs and sentences that were re-arranged, or added to in the book. "The Old-Timer", and "Mirage" are exactly the same in both. Does anyone know which came first? I assume the magazine did, but I don't know.

      Also "The Back of Beyond" from Ah King was published in 1932 with the title, "The Right Thing is the Kind Thing" in a book called "Favorite Stories by Famous Writers,"

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    5. Yes, I think the magazine was published first, on Feb. 1922, while the book on 5 Oct. 1922. This is indeed a piece of interesting information.

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    6. Thanks for checking these details, Mike. Good to know that one more mistake in Mr Stott's bibliography is fixed. On the other matter, I may add that this version of "The Right Thing is the King Thing" is important because it is supposed to the first appearance of this story in book form, reprinted from Cosmopolitan (June 1931), and, according to Mr Stott (C14), "the author made a number of small revisions in the text" before it appeared in "Ah King" in 1933.

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    7. Yes, it's interesting to see his creative process at work. Wondering why he changed certain things, added others, etc.

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  2. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for mentioning the magazine.
    However, the stories that you mentioned are collected in On the Chinese Screen, except "Mirage," which is in The Gentleman in the Parlour.
    Sometimes I feel tempted to start collecting magazines too, but then it's too challenging for me at the moment.
    Cheers!

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  3. I have to catch up on the travel books.

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  4. On a somewhat related note - Stott's inaccuracy etc.: Can someone please explain the apparent binding variations for "The Bishop's Apron"? I've seen 3 so far, 1. Standard - what you'd expect with the Moorish symbol bottom right, gilt lettering both on the spine and the cover, publisher's name at bottom of the spine. 2. Colonial (?) with slightly different lettering on the spine and cover (and I believe no publisher's name on spine). 3. Library binding off the press (NOT re-bound) with a different font for the gilt lettering which is only on the spine (cover is blank) and without "Chapman & Hall" at bottom. The inside looks the same as number 1, with nothing indicating it's a colonial edition. Are they all technically first editions?

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    1. Hi Mike,
      The first one sounds like the true first. The colonial edition doesn't have the author's symbol, but it does have the publisher's ornament and name on the spine. As for the third one I don't know.

      As for first editions, I would say that the no. 1 is first edition, no. 2 is first colonial edition and no. 3, I have no idea.... What happens is that many times the first editions can go through different states and issues; then the first state becomes the "true first," in a temporal sense. And that when it's related to its market value can make a huge difference. But if we don't talk about that, it's an interesting process, how the book was first produced, when errors were detected, or when delays made changing the ads necessary, etc. Like The Painted Veil UK first, it's impossible. Fortunately, the US ed. came out first and I consoled myself by not bothering about getting a UK one.

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    2. Hi Mike,
      I found your no. 3. It appears to be a remainder binding. You can find more information in the Norman Moore catalogue: http://www.normanmoore.com/wsm/sectionA.htm
      It's under The Bishop's Apron.

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  5. Is there anywhere I can read the articles online? I am so curious to read this!

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    1. Hi Wendy,

      As far as I know there isn't any, but it was a long time since I searched for it last, which is definitely a pity! The back issues of Sunday Express are online, but I think you need to subscribe to it. I vaguely remember that you can search the archive for free and I did try, but somehow couldn't locate the articles. Again, if I remember correctly the subscription can be for one day only or something like that.

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