Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Hero by W. Somerset Maugham - First Edition

cover of The Hero by W. Somerset Maugham First Edition 1901
The Hero 1901
W. Somerset Maugham

The Hero (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1901)


This post is about a much ignored novel by W. Somerset Maugham, which probably deserves to be forgotten for all I hear, but quoting from the very same book:
If James had learnt anything, it was at all hazards to think for himself, accepting nothing on authority, questioning, doubting; it was to look upon life with a critical eye, trying to understand it, and to receive no ready-made explanations. (241)

This book that Maugham himself believes has no merit at all, even though he sees it as an honest piece of work and has taken a great deal of trouble with it, somehow holds a strange personal significance for me.

The first time when I read it it had struck a chord with me. Several incidents and scenes branded on my mind. I remember quite well the struggles that Jamie has to go through, the indecision, the changes he notices happening to his thinking, the inability to make others that he has left behind to understand, the helplessness of changing his environment, the uncertainty of his deeds. A terribly painful process of growing up.

Forgetting about the Boer War or Maugham’s attributed imitation of Thackeray or alleged one of the French novels, I believe the book has an enduring significance.

The struggle rings true till today. I believe that those who are taken by Maugham’s works, in contrast with the intellectual indifference of others, must have gone through certain events in their lives. These are what draw them to him.

Imagine how many children have fought against their loving parents, imagine the excruciating pain when realizing one’s idols falling into the ridiculous (not because of anything that the idols have done, simply that one has grown out of them; think of your first grade teacher), imagine coming back home after one or two years abroad living by yourself, all of a sudden finding yourself an exile at home.

The passive aggressive cruelty of the parents, the small town mentality, the rigidity of Mary. I have known such people. I can put a face to each and everyone of them. The most amazing thing is that Maugham was an orphan at ten; how well he portrays the possessive love of the devoted parents!

Perhaps the main flaw is that Maugham lets Jamie die, a too easy way out, or too hard. One needs courage to do that. I would assume that most people live on and become whatever they become, cynical or indifferent.

I have read comments about Maugham not portraying the psychological struggles of his protagonists, but I think there is a limit. After The Hero, Mrs. Craddock, Of Human Bondage, one moves on and draws a line. One simply can’t be suffering all the time. When Maugham wrote The Moon and Sixpence he was forty-five years old. Pain and struggles mellow with age, or else one never learns.

The style is that of the early Maugham, more elaborated with longer description of scenery. However, the description is a reinforcement of the feeling of the beholder instead of just being there for its own sake.

Maugham the author from time to time chips in though, lamenting or commenting on the goings-on, addressing the reader, which jerks you up a bit.

The Hero - First Edition


Title Page of The Hero by W. Somerset Maugham First Edition 1901
Title Page
The Hero by W. Somerset Maugham First Edition 1901

Well, another thing that adds spice to this book is that it took me four years chasing after it.

I don’t want to talk about the plot because I believe it is worth reading, so find it out for yourself! An ebook of The Hero is available.

The Hero is the first book with Maugham's signature Moorish symbol on the front cover, however, it was printed upside down! This was corrected and so created a second binding, with the symbol upside up.

Naturally, the flawed binding is more sought for and the price doubles that of the second state, although copies of the correct symbol are more rare.

There is also a binding in blue cloth without the symbol, which is not mentioned in Stott. It is recorded in Norman Moore's catalogue and some years ago was up for auction.

When I started collecting Maugham’s first editions, the price of The Hero was high already. With my vacillation and indecision I let, considered a posteriori, a golden opportunity escape me. That must have been roughly four years ago. The Hero, with the Maugham symbol upside down, was selling $700. After that, it went double the price. For some time, you had £800 for a copy of the symbol upside up and £1,200 for upside down. Then the latter was gone and the former went up to £850 and then it was gone too. Now, The Hero has disappeared from the market.

I always cherish the thought that one day I would walk into a dusty ancient second-hand bookshop and find that its shelves house treasures for 50¢ a piece. So far it is not to be.

Anyway, I got my book, with some troubles, but I got it. I learnt that in 2005 it was selling around US$10 with the symbol upside down. One needs foresight for those things.

I am content. I bought my book, read it again, and still love it.

As of today, I rest my case. I have basically all Maugham's first editions. For the ones that I am not satisfied with, I will just wait and stroll in and out unpromising second-hand bookshops, hunting for the treasures that hide in forgotten corners.

8 comments :

  1. Hi, I found a copy of Merry-Go-Round true 1st edition for under $10. I already have one, so I'm passing this on to maybe one of your readers who would like one at a ridiculously low price. http://www.ebay.com/itm/1904-THE-MERRY-GO-ROUND-W-SOMERSET-MAUGHAM-1st-EDITION-HARDBACK-/261391922365?hash=item3cdc2c34bd

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    1. Thanks Mike! This is a very good offer!
      And great to hear from you! (sorry for all the exclamation marks...)

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  2. Hey, I found another copy of "The Merry-Go Round" on eBay with a red binding. they claim it's a 1st edition. I requested to see more photos of it, and it is indeed "The Merry-Go-Round." Have you heard of this edition at all? I couldn't see the publisher's name on the binding. The listing is here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/The-Merry-go-round-Heinemann-First-Edition-1904-William-Somerset-Maugham-/350989971866?pt=Antiquarian_Books_UK&hash=item51b8a1f19a

    I suppose you could also request more photos.

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    1. It looks like an early rebound copy, since the binding is quite old looking and the Moorish symbol isn't present. Or the words have faded completely. I do have a copy of _The Painted Veil_ with the colour of the blocking completely gone on the cover. You can only see the words when you have it in your hand.

      Stott does mention another binding, but the colour is chestnut and the blocking in black. The description of the colour at times sounds vague to me, but then I think this one is obviously far from "chestnut." The chestnut one is supposed to be a remainder binding, so it is possible that they also had it in red.

      I checked at the Norman Moore's collection, but it doesn't mention this one either.

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  3. Hey, If you ever need to sell "The Hero", I'd perhaps be willing to buy this from you. Just figured I'd throw that out there for your consideration. Also, I found a copy of "The Explorer" 1st British (the novel) locally for less than the $995 on the internet, should I get it? I have the great, American 1st by Baker & Taylor.

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    1. Thanks, Mike. I'll certainly let you know if I decide to.

      I haven't seen a copy of the first UK edition of "The Explorer" below $1,000. One that is around $500 is rebound. So, if you intend to get it it would be more or less the price. Personally it is not one of my favourite novels and I am not very inclined to spend that amount of money on it, but this is only my opinion and due to financial restrictions. If I had the money, I would consider other books first.

      Any luck selling The Venture?

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  4. Hi. Oh yes I sold The Venture a couple of weeks ago for $250 to a James Joyce collector. It's been ages since I've read "The Explorer," but I think I remember liking it. The store I saw it in has it for $750. It's a tough decision for me right now, but then how many times has our hesitation broke our hearts when once we do finally decide it's gone? My email (in case you decide to sell "The Hero") is mikebenoit88898@gmail.com.

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    1. Congratulations on the sale!

      $750 so far is the cheapest I've seen. I do agree about chances slipping through our fingers when all we need to do is to close our hand. I still remember letting a copy of The Hero with upside down symbol gone for a price less than what I paid for mine. If you have the means, just go for it. At the moment, it seems that Maugham's books will go up rather than going down in market value in the foreseeable future.

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