Monday, 13 January 2014

W. Somerset Maugham. A Study of the Short Fiction -- Review

cover of W. Somerset Maugham. A Study of Short Fiction by Stanley Archer
W. Somerset Maugham. A Study of Short Fiction
by Stanley Archer

Archer, Stanley. W. Somerset Maugham. A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993.


This post will look at a book of literary criticism of W. Somerset Maugham’s short stories. It is an interesting study, and upon finishing it, the reader would have wished for more.

W. Somerset Maugham’s Short Stories


This book contains three parts; only the first part consists of Archer’s analysis and criticism of Maugham’s short fictions.

The introduction is well-written, with Maugham’s life briefly and skilfully incorporated.

Insightful comments appear from time to time, such as the exploration of Maugham’s success in the theatre against the background of a society that is mature enough to laugh at itself.

The analysis of the collections of short stories is chronological, introduced by a brief summary of some of those that are considered by the critic as more important. Attempts have been made to group the stories together under themes or subject matters within the collections.

Inevitably, some of them give the impression of being hurried over. The ones that Archer stops to spend more time on often render interesting food for thoughts.

Dispersed in different parts is an analysis of the Maugham’s persona, tracing its gradual development. Unfortunately, the reader will need to pick them up from different places to form his/her own full picture.

One interesting point that Archer mentions is how the Maugham persona creates an intimacy with the reader by admitting his own mistakes and weaknesses. Taking this point further, one can see Maugham the author does the same thing in his prefaces or comments on his own works, humble and gently self-effacing, which Archer points out as handing his critics ammunition to attack him. This civilized tactics, so successful in a work of fiction, seems to fail to strike a rapport with the critics.

The rest of the book is devoted to extracts from Maugham’s comments on the writing of short fictions and what some of his critics have to say about the short stories.

It could be the structure of the Twayne’s Studies in Short Fiction to incorporate these two parts. Although it has its merits, allowing the reader to compare what the critic says and what the author himself says, and then get different points of view from some other publications as included in part 3.

However, I would have given the last two parts for more of Archer’s analysis, since the pieces selected in Part 2 and 3 are by no means complete and it is arguable whether they are the most representative.

It would be a book for those who are interested in intelligent comments on Maugham’s short stories.


W. Somerset Maugham. A Study of the Short Fiction at AbeBooks
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W. Somerset Maugham. A Study of the Short Fiction at AmazonUK

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