Monday, 28 April 2014

W. Somerset Maugham in Frank Scully's Rogues' Gallery

Rogues' Gallery by Frank Scully
Rogues' Gallery by Frank Scully


Scully, Frank. “W. Somerset Maugham.” In Rogues’ Gallery. Profiles of My Eminent Contemporaries. Hollywood: Murray & Gee, Inc., 1943. 15-36.


This post is about a chapter in Frank Scully’s work, Rogues’ Gallery. Although Scully proclaims in the preface that the word portraits don’t come in any specific order, there must be some underlying principle that he uses to organize them. W. Somerset Maugham has the honour to occupy the first place.

W. Somerset Maugham - The First Rogue


For those, including myself, who are not familiar with Frank Scully, he is more famous as the author of Behind the Flying Saucers (1950), which turns out to be a hoax making Scully more a laughing stock than a denouncer of government conspiracies.

Though from superficial gleaning Scully appears to be a person not devoid of interest, I will only focus on his chapter on Maugham.

Most probably a parody on Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, Scully intends to describe his more famous contemporary subjects with humour, spiced with occasional twists of the knife.

Scully chips in biographical information from time to time in his narration, starting from his more recent meeting with Maugham in the elevator of the Beverly Hotel (of him being more or less slighted) to a flashback in 1927 when he first went to Villa Mauresque.

The big question is: Do we get to know more about Maugham after reading the chapter?

The short answer is yes, in terms of what Maugham wore and description of one of his luncheon parties.

Scully shines when he focuses on the trivial. His first encounter with Maugham is entertaining to read, recollection of jumping from one small talk subject to another.

It is when Scully tries to play the critic that mars his narrative. He appears to bear a grudge towards France at War, going back to it more than once to prove that Maugham knows nothing about France albeit having lived there for years, while he himself fares better on the subject.

Scully resents Maugham’s criticism of Arnold Bennett and can’t resist to be patronizing himself:
Maugham never seemed to learn that rich men and smart women were not rich in virtues nor smart beyond their wardrobes. (30)
It would seem that he hasn’t read enough of Maugham’s works or fails to get the points.

The conclusion is that Maugham was a dead duck by 1943. It would be interesting to find out what Scully thought about The Razor’s Edge published a year later, or "The Unconquered" printed in the very same year as his own book, when he put Maugham and Hitler together as having something in common.

A journalist by trade, it is embarrassing to read error like "Gerard Caxton" (21).

Rogues' Gallery by Frank Scully, signed for Father James Kelly
Rogues' Gallery by Frank Scully, signed
for Father James Kelly
The copy I read is a signed one, from Scully to Father James Keller, a Roman Catholic priest in the Maryknoll Order and founder of The Christophers. Scully was a religious man and something of a philanthropist himself.



Rogues' Gallery at AbeBooks
Rogues' Gallery at Amazon
Rogue's Gallery at Amazon.UK

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