Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Loaves and Fishes (1924) by W. Somerset Maugham -- First Edition

Loaves and Fishes 1924, First Edition W. Somerset Maugham
Loaves and Fishes 1924, First Edition
W. Somerset Maugham

Loaves and Fishes. A Comedy in Four Acts (London: Heinemann, 1924)

Loaves and Fishes is a play by W. Somerset Maugham, written as early as 1903 but wasn’t produced until 1911. As a matter of fact, it was turned into a play from a novel of the same name written in 1902, and then a few years later, in 1906, it was again rewritten as a novel and became The Bishop’s Apron.

The story of Canon Spratte is a demonstration of Maugham’s resilience and determination to become a professional writer, working and reworking his materials, licking them patiently into shape.

I have only The Bishop’s Apron and the published Loaves and Fishes to compare. It would be interesting to see how the novel Loaves and Fishes is, if it is still somewhere. Stott only mentions the manuscript of the play Loaves and Fishes, which in his time was at The National Theatre as a gift from Maugham.

The Bishop’s Apron in many ways is superior to Loaves and Fishes. The plot is much tighter and the characterization is more rounded and convincing. Besides laughing at Canon Spratte, it is possible to sympathize with him, or even like him.

Maugham has retained in the novel many dialogues from the play, and indeed he is right, because those are precisely the better ones. Some of the exchanges, especially at the beginning of the play, are so uniform in their satirical tone that after a few minutes I bet the audience would be fed up with them.

Loaves and Fishes - First Edition

The play was produced on 24 February 1911 at the Duke of York’s Theatre. The play itself was published in 1924. As far as I know, it is not reprinted in any other edition.

At the moment, the first edition is still rather affordable. I have to admit that since last year my standard has somewhat changed, since many of Maugham’s first editions have shot up nothing short of “like mad.” A title like this one, which hasn’t been reprinted, is going to be hell to get, in spite of whether it is worth it or not content-wise.

Loaves and Fishes at AbeBooks
Loaves and Fishes at — this one looks quite promising
Loaves and Fishes at AmazonUK


  1. I didn't know that "Loaves and Fishes" started as a novel. Very interesting. May I ask about the source of this information?

    1. Hi Alexander,

      It's in Stott, p. 280 in my copy, Appendix I, when he talks about the manuscript of Loaves and Fishes, he says: "He neglected to mention that the play had been made out of a novel called Loaves and Fishes which he had put aside with the intention of rewriting."

      Calder also mentions it in Willie: "Late in 1902, he had given his agent the typescript of a novel called 'Loaves and Fishes' and a play called 'The Explorer'. When by June 1903 no publisher could be found for the former, Maugham rewrote it as a play, and it began an unsuccessful tour of theatre managers' offices" (77).

    2. Thank you for this very useful information. I definitely missed it. Novel-play-novel is almost as dizzying as Shakespeare's writing a part for a boy who acts a girl who pretends to be a boy.

      One question out of sheer laziness. Does Calder give any source for his claim? His book occupies one of the least accessible among my shelves (all biographies and critical studies of Maugham are there by design). Stott's book is handy, I just checked and I know he doesn't give any source.

    3. No, he doesn't give any. I assume it must be from a letter from Maugham to Colles or something like that. I check in Hastings' too, but she doesn't mention anything about this.

      This is one of the most frustrating things I find in Maugham's biographies, that they are not properly referenced, not even in Calder's. The studies I was more used to always cited, if from unpublished personal letters in archives, the archive, the number (or some types of identification) of letters, etc.

    4. Tell me about it! The Chronology I'm trying to compile has become a most frustrating business exactly on this account. From the beginning I thought it would make no sense doing the whole thing if everything in it is not meticulously sourced. Easier said than done. Large gaps and annoying contradictions abound. The biographers often contradict themselves, let alone each other.

      I too suppose that nearly everything about Maugham's life and character - except when it is a slightly expanded and very biased rehash of his own books, which is really, really often - comes from his private letters, virtually none of which have been published. But yes, references leave a good deal to be desired.

      I keep dreaming of "A Life in Letters" volume by Maugham, not unlike the one Messrs. Eisen and Spencer did for Mozart in the Penguin Classics series. Now that would be a nice reference work.

    5. Yes, that would be great! Since they have already violated his expressed will in allowing the quoting of unpublished materials and rendering assistance to biographers, another one would little disturb their sleep.

    6. Oh, by the way, just in case you are interested (well, not to buy them..., the price is crazy), they are selling a series of letters from Maugham to Wood Gray. Almost sure they are all with letter heads and dated, so you can see where Maugham was on those dates.

  2. Ha! I saw those letters too. Originally the price was double what he's asking now. But with his eBay photos of these letters you can read them so why even buy them?

    1. Was that so? I think now he is not auctioning them but have set the price to almost triple for buying.