Sunday, 5 October 2014

For Services Rendered. A Play in Three Acts by W. Somerset Maugham - First Edition

W. Somerset Maugham - For Services Rendered (1932)
W. Somerset Maugham - For Services Rendered (1932)


For Services Rendered (London: Heinemann, 1932)


This post is about W. Somerset Maugham’s penultimate play, For Services Rendered, written more to please himself after his successful career was firmly established. After over eighty years, this play is to be put on stage once again in Nottingham to commemorate the First World War for the duration of one week.

For Services Rendered. A Play in Three Acts - Storyline


For Services Rendered was first produced at the Globe Theatre on 1 November 1932. It is a marvellous play. Although Maugham reiterates in his work that art should not be used for political ends, For Services Rendered contains heartrending social commentaries on the effects that war has on its people.

Fourteen years after the war, Maugham reexamined its impact on society while tension was building up between Japan and China, and when Hitler was rising in Germany.

Written with sincerity combined with adroit dramatic skills of a consummate playwright, For Services Rendered follows the Ardsleys, a typical higher middle class family in a hinterland township.

The father Leonard Ardsley is a solicitor in a small village. Though only one son went to the war, the whole family is inevitably and irrevocably affected.

Maugham skilfully scrutinizes each family member. Sydney, the son who became blind from injuries from the war, willingly absorbs all the attention due him and accepts the sacrifices that his unmarried sister Eva makes for him without squirms, taking for granted that she is to take care of him for the rest of his life, after losing her fiancé to the war.

Sydney’s physical blindness enables him to see his family with clear sightedness. He understands Eva’s desire to change her destined life and be married to Collie Stratton, the only likely candidate in their circle with the shortage of eligible man, a war hero but a very poor businessman, who is on the brink of bankruptcy and being arrested for fraud.

Lois, the youngest and unmarried, has the freshness of youth, which, however, will not last forever. At twenty-six, she is anxious not to follow the path of her spinster sister Eva and the other sister Ethel who, though married and has children, struggles daily to keep herself together with her husband, Howard Bartlett, whom she married because she was dazzled by him in uniform, though knowing fully that he is only a common farmer who possesses all the vices of the lower class, such as addiction to alcohol.

The Cedars, who have rented a house nearby for the season, introduce further complications to the family. William Cedar, though old and stout, is hopelessly infatuated with Lois. Having ample financial means he proposes to keep her as mistress with the intention to divorce his wife Gwen and marry Lois eventually.

Though repulsed at first, Lois slowly comes to the conclusion that that is better than seeing her life passing by in front of her eyes like Eva.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Ardsley is suffering from serious health problems that she is trying to ignore. She comes out as a brave and understanding mother, facing and accepting what circumstances have thrust upon the family even though she may not fully comprehend them.

Differently, Mr. Ardsley is left unchanged by the war. He upholds his pre-war principles and fails to understand, or simply chooses to ignore, the pain and struggles that are surrounding him.

Some of these people’s endings follow the inevitable logic, but Maugham still has surprises in store for his audience, which are poignant but perfectly credible.

All the characters are distinctly drawn and the dramatic tensions are remarkable. The frustrations and helplessness of these lost souls are portrayed with immense humanity. All have their faults and flaws, but we cannot help pitying them.
COLLIE: I suppose it doesn’t occur to you that when a fellow has served the country for twenty years in a job that’s unfitted him for anything else, it’s rather distressing and rather disgraceful that he should be shoved out into the world with no means of earning his living and nothing between him and starvation but a bonus of a thousand pounds or so? (49)

***


MRS. ARDSLEY: There is one thing I’m going to ask you to do for me.
PRENTICE: My dear, anything in the world.
MRS. ARDSLEY: I don’t want to suffer more than I need. We’ve always had a great deal of affection for one another, Charlie.
PRENTICE: I suppose we have.
MRS. ARDSLEY: You doctors are a brutal lot and there’s no end to the amount of pain you can bear in other people.
PRENTICE: I will do everything medical practice permits me to save you from suffering.
MRS. ARDSLEY: But I’m going to ask you to do something more.
[A long, intent look passes between them.
PRENTICE: I’ll do even that. (76)

Contemporary reviews were divided. For once Maugham was cheered by serious critics but left the general public unmoved.

The play was revived at the end of the Second World War, and later in 1979. It is still highly relevant today, although it may not seem so to the lucky part of the world, that war is no more than fleeting images in the news.

For Services Rendered is moving and successfully portrays the doom of a lost generation, people who are left to fend for their own against the irrevocable changes that society has gone through that render their upbringings useless and inadequate. Maugham reveals their poignancy, frustration, oppressiveness, and helplessness to the full.

For Services Rendered - First Edition


The binding of the first edition of For Services Rendered is a little different from earlier Heinemann plays, with smooth chestnut cloth, which is the same as his last play, Sheppey, published a year afterwards.

Prior to its publication in book form, For Services Rendered was serialized in Sunday Express from 13 November to 18 December 1932.

Copies of first edition are very cheap. Certainly a book worth buying.


For Services Rendered at AbeBooks



4 comments :

  1. I have a 1st American. I haven't gotten around to reading any of his plays yet. This may be the first one I read, after "Marriages Are Made in Heaven" of course. I agree, the way you describe it, it seems to be very relevant today - myself being a member of a lost generation X from the lower-middle class here in America where we've seen the generation before us prosper in a fair and just economy, and the generation after us utilizing their information age (internet) to NOT make the same life-altering mistakes we made.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mike,
      I can't help thinking about the society we live in today when I was reading the play, especially the discrepancy between our training and what we find when we are let out into the wild world. All seems so preventable if only one has insight, or perhaps not insight, but a more realistic view of what is going on.

      I started to read Maugham's plays quite late, and I do find a very pleasant surprise, especially not being very interested personally in the dramatic art.

      Delete
  2. I don't know about the first edition, but that's a beautifully crafted review of a great play. Maugham's dramatic versatility never ceases to astonish me. Take the "Great" War for example. Willie used it for a harrowing tragedy like "For Services Rendered" and for a genuine farce like "Home and Beauty". Some critical estimations of the former hilariously missed the point, for instance the hysterical Cecil Roberts in the "Daily Express" after the premiere ("a play of malevolent propaganda against those who live with courage and hope", he screamed) and the condescending St John Ervine in his 1935 essay (reprinted in one of Klaus Jonas' indifferent anthologies) who compared its use of dramatic devices to "Hamlet", no less, but concluded that all characters are "inert natures". Gotta love the critics!

    The best of Maugham's comedies - "The Circle", "The Constant Wife", "Our Betters" and, yes, "Lady Frederick" too - are certainly worth a revival or two. At least the middle two have actually been revived in recent years, but they don't seem to have survived. I also think that Maugham's other tragedy, "The Sacred Flame", is a very fine piece of theatre and a profound study of the human condition, never mind that Graham Greene lambasted it. Some parts in all these plays are terribly dated, of course. But once these are recognised, the rest is pretty timeless.

    I regret that Maugham's novels and short stories are little read today. I regret a lot more the complete oblivion of his plays.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Alexander.

      I agree that although Maugham's plays are dated because our society has changed so much, there is something that is always relevant, because their main concern is the human condition, as you said.

      I think the other critic, J.T. Grein, also missed the point. I don't think Maugham intends to put a potpourri of war victims in the play as an anti-war message. The tragedy of some of the characters may not have anything to do with the war, but that is precisely the point. I think Maugham is more interested in how his creatures react to the circumstances that are thrust upon them, and the post-war society was the one he was living in at the time.

      I enjoy reading his plays very much and I am glad that I decided to look into them, because I am never much interested in drama. I wish some day I would be able to actually see one of them enacted.

      I haven't read "The Sacred Flame" yet, or "The Constant Wife." Will look forward to do so.

      Delete