Friday, 28 March 2014

Home and Beauty by W. Somerset Maugham - First Edition


Home and Beauty by W. Somerset Maugham First edition, 1923
Home and Beauty by W. Somerset Maugham
First edition, 1923

Home and Beauty. A Farce in Three Acts (London: Heinemann, 1923)


Home and Beauty by W. Somerset Maugham is a hilarious play, written when Maugham was staying at the sanatorium at Nordrach-on-Dee to recover from tuberculosis of the lungs, produced on August 30, 1919, and published in book form in 1923.

The story itself is an old tale. Maugham is able to draw out all the comedy from the ridiculous situation. It must be fun to see it on stage.

Home and Beauty - Storyline


From the very beginning Maugham sets down the comic tone of the play. The character list prepares the reader for a feast of caricatures.

Home and Beauty by W. Somerset Maugham First edition, 1923. Character list.
Home and Beauty by W. Somerset Maugham
First edition, 1923. Character list.

The dear little thing Victoria lost her first husband William to the war. After a discreet year had passed, she married her husband’s best friend Frederick.

When the play opens, we are led to believe that Victoria is certainly a dear little thing, loved by all and sundry, but soon we realize that she is selfish and self-centred instead, cares for no one but herself. However, those who are around her humour her instead of contradicting her claim of sacrificing herself all the time for the benefit of her country.

The most inconvenient thing happens then. Her first husband turns out to be alive and his sudden appearance creates chaos in the house. Soon it becomes clear that instead of trying to fight for her, both husbands much prefer to get rid of her.

Victoria has other plans for herself. Unable to get used to the exigency of the war efforts, she has her eyes on Leicester Paton, an opportunist, who has done amazingly well during and after the war, and who shows every sign of wanting to marry her.

Of course then there is this little problem that she is already married to two husbands, how can she marry a third?

The third act is simply hilarious. I assume its success depends very much on the actors, whether they can take advantage of the comic effects that the text promises.

Home and Beauty - Brief Analysis


Home and Beauty
Home and Beauty
By W. Somerset Maugham

The title of the play is most probably taken from the song “The Death of Nelson,” in which it says: “For England, home and beauty,” celebrating an overtly patriotic sentiment following the Battle of Trafalgar. Patriotism in the play is a convenience for self-gain. As every war is, it is an occasion for advancing many individuals’ fortunes.

As usual, Maugham has more to say even at his most flippant and frivolous moments.

His satire is on human nature and society.
Frederick.
Organization means getting someone else to do your job for you if you can, and if you can’t, letting it rip. (127)

Mr. Raham.
If the law were always wise and reasonable it would be obeyed so easily that to obey the law would become an instinct. Now, it is not for the good of the community that the people should be too law-abiding. So our ancestors in the wisdom of their hearts devised certain laws which were vexatious or absurd, so that men should break them and therefore be led insensibly to break others. (160)

I get the same feeling as when I read Cakes and Ale, that Maugham must have a swell time writing it. The play transmits the mirth and delight the writer enjoys during its composition, words and ideas flowing out with ease from his finger tips (or better say, the tip of his fountain pen).

Maugham tells comic story with expertise, in full control of his art. I suspect that those who can laugh at themselves enjoy it more whole-heartedly. I don’t think there is maliciousness behind. Maugham is laughing along with us, at our common follies as human beings. But there is more, it is funny because he is sympathetic to his characters, fellow creatures that he is able to give his understanding and tolerance and acceptance, resisting the urge to change and mould them into something else. I think this must be what attracts his readers most.

His best comedies are those which he shapes with loving hands, such as "The Three Fat Women of Antibes,” which I never tire of listening to him reading it over and over again.

Humans are full of faults and vices, but Maugham is able to cast a loving eye on them and take them as they are.

Home and Beauty - First Edition


I am afraid the first editions of many of Maugham’s plays are a little dull. Published by Heinemann, there are the two bindings, cherry buckram and the cheaper (no less exotic appellation) champagne wrappers. Mine is the later.

However, a copy of one of these is by no means cheap. At the moment, copies are very scarce and prepare to pay over US$1,000.


Home and Beauty at AbeBooks

6 comments :

  1. This morning I had the Classic Movie channel on a film came on called "Three For The Show" from 1955. The opening credits stated "based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham." So with a little research I found it's based on this play, "Home and Beauty." I think there was a previous version of the film called "Too Many Husbands" but I think that may have been a silent film. "Three For The Show" is a wonderfully-produced Technicolor, high-budget thing with songs (but technically not a musical, because all the songs are part of the occupation of the characters as opposed to characters breaking into song at random).

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    1. I believe when Home and Beauty was first produced on stage it was named Too Many Husbands. I don't know anything about film versions though. I enjoy this play a lot. They are in fact producing it right now in Scotland. It's funny because this morning I read a review of it, and the reviewer wasn't amused at all by Maugham's humour, which he found dated. I am a bit puzzled by what Maugham's sexual preferences have to do with the play; the reviewer also added that if Victoria's two husbands were gay it would have made a more interesting story.

      http://www.heraldscotland.com/arts-ents/stage/making-the-best-of-shakespeare.130737050

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    2. Well, that just reveals what that particular reviewer's mind was in (the gutter). I thinks the implicit sexuality in it (ménage-a-trois) is quite enough for any normal person. The movie hints at this more so perhaps than the play? I haven't read it yet. Actually, it would've been absolutely banal if the two husbands were gay. {See what I did there?] That's the way a current writer would go if he was simply employed by a publisher to churn out the same garbage with different names and altered settings.

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    3. How about if the two husbands try to snatch away the potential third husband too? :-)

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  2. Yeah, maybe if all four of them had an all-out orgy on the stage that would satisfy the reviewer? Would that be 'modern' enough for him?

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