Saturday, 17 October 2015

Analysis: Bertha's Tragedy: Mrs. Craddock (1902) by W. Somerset Maugham

Mrs Craddock, 1955, New and Revised - W. Somerset Maugham
Mrs Craddock, 1955, New and Revised
W. Somerset Maugham

Mrs. Craddock (London: Heinemann, 1955)


I am very glad that finally I get to Mrs. Craddock. Note that my reference is not to the first edition. I do possess a first edition, which I will talk about and provide photo shortly. The reason why I put the 1955 edition is simply because it is the copy that I just finished reading, and thus the page numbers will be referring to it. It was some time since I bought this edition and hadn't got time to get to it till now.

New and Revised Edition VS First Edition


Before the New and Revised edition, Maugham had already made revisions in the Collected edition, which came out in 1937. According to Stott, Maugham did significant corrections in the Collected edition, besides printing the objectionable parts, considered immoral and shocking, taken out by Heinemann in the First edition. The differences of this 1955 edition are that the preface is expanded and further revisions done, as Maugham tells us himself. Another change is the disappearance of the puzzling Epistle Dedicatory at the beginning.

Mrs Craddock was published in 1902 by Heinemann, while Maugham was still struggling for the fame that he so desired. He didn't fare badly, considering, already having three novels and one collection of short stories published at the age of twenty-eight.

Mrs Craddock, 1902 first edition - W. Somerset Maugham
Mrs Craddock, 1902 first edition
W. Somerset Maugham

The First edition is nicely made, with gold-lettered title and Maugham's Moorish symbol blocked in black, heavy, with thicker papers than later editions. My copy was once recased; whoever did it had done a good job and I am grateful for that.

Epistle Dedicatory


This is an odd part of the novel, which Maugham never attempted to do again: a personal letter signed with W.M. to Miss Ley, one of the characters of the novel. The sentiment would seem to be of some significance to the author, but it doesn't add anything to the story itself.

Later in the preface to the New and Revised edition, Maugham tells us that as common practice, he based his characters on people he knew, except one, Miss Ley. It seems a trifle suspicious, that he goes out of his way to persuade us that Miss Ley is a product of a sleight of hand, created out of thin air, or better, from a statue that he saw, Agrippina in the museum at Naples.

Nevertheless, I can't help thinking exactly the opposite, that Miss Ley is most vividly copied from the author's memory, and she is going to appear again, two years later in The Merry-Go-Round (1904), playing the same role, as the worldly observer with a keen sense of humour, a moral support for the unfortunate and suffering protagonist who doesn't see eye to eye with society as a whole, a role that is subsequently taken up by Maugham's persona in later works.

If Miss Ley were based on a real person, then she must have influenced Maugham's world view in a very remarkable manner. According to Calder, the model is Mrs. G. W. Steevens, with whom Maugham "developed the close relationship so common between homosexual men and older women," void of sexual tension, as he puts it.1

The letter can be read in the first U.S. edition that is available on the Free eBook - Novels page.

This isn't the only letter in the novel. There is a chapter filled with exchanges between Bertha and Edward, and there are a few letters of Miss Ley, which is not an uncommon practice in novel writing of that time, or of any time.

Mrs Craddock - Analysis


Stott comments that Mrs. Craddock is one of the early novels, together with Liza of Lambeth, that is still readable at his time. Adcock praises it warmly in Gods of Modern Scrub Street.

It is a pity that it is rarely mentioned, or read, I presume, nowadays. When it comes to Maugham, I have a nagging feeling that I am so biased that my opinions can't be trusted. This is saying nothing really, since opinions presuppose biases anyway. Who knows, perhaps in an alternate universe, Maugham is worshipped as God and your humble servant is his prophet.

Bertha Ley, a young independent spirit, mistress of an estate, even though a crumpling one, has decided that she is to marry Edward Craddock, one of her tenant farmers, disregarding all class conventions.

This is one of Maugham's truisms that when a woman has decided to marry a man, he has no way to escape it.

Unfortunately, Edward is just an ordinary healthy guy, young and fresh and strong, and worlds apart from Bertha, a sensitive soul brought up in half a dozen European countries, who soon realizes that he cannot love her the way she wants him to.

The first stage of the marriage is disastrous. We witness Bertha's humiliations one after another. She longs to be the most important element in Edward's life, but Edward has many other important things in his life; Bertha is only one of them, and not in a very high place.

The tension between the two is managed so well under Maugham's pen. Bertha, filled with girlish daydreams, desires Edward with her whole body and soul. She wants manifestations that he lives only for her, delights in indulging her, places her above everything. A knight in shining armour from romance novels, who is willing to sacrifice his life just to please her. You know, one of those buggers who would risk his life to get a flower growing in the most inconvenient place on a hanging cliff for his lady, and breaks his neck.

Reality is Bertha's tragedy. Edward is down to earth, although he could have been more sensitive to his wife, he chooses his duties first and wouldn't budge an inch for Bertha's pleasures, which, on the contrary, he would gladly do for the rest of the world. It is almost as if because she is his wife, she is below everyone else in his priority; for him she is there, a stable element, a reassurance that he doesn't have to worry about. If only Bertha is the kind of wife that is happy about that, but she isn't.

This tension is expressed through physical terms, the bodily sensations that Bertha feels. It is almost as if Maugham is equating love with lust, but then for Maugham love means passion, without it it is only affection.2 If that is the case, some of his male characters are strangely asexual, which would mean that they are incapable of love, such as Edward, and later Michael in Theatre (1937).

The following passage about Bertha imagining the death of Edward and the sensuality excited by his corpse verging on necrophilia is compelling even for now:
She undressed the body and washed it; she washed the limbs one by one and sponged them; then very gently dried them with a towel. The touch of the cold flesh made her shudder voluptuously: she thought of him taking her in his strong arms, kissing her on the mouth. She wrapped him in the white shroud and surrounded him with flowers. (146)

It is surprising that this was not among the passages that were cut. I haven't compared the editions, but according to Stott who lists some passages, what were cut were words and phrases like "body," "flesh called to flesh."

Bertha becomes the prisoner of her own passion and she has lost her freedom. She is incapable of controlling her swinging moods. Such is the tragedy of the one who loves. At this point, it almost seems insignificant whom she loves; it is purely accidental that it is Edward. Maugham seems to say that love is independent of the object of affection; Bertha is her own victim, she is in love with love itself.

Later when Gerald appears, Bertha goes through the same anguish again, but I am precipitating.

After realizing that she will never make Edward love her as she wants him to, she devotes her whole being into her unborn child. One almost feels sorry for the future baby.

However, it is a stillbirth. Bertha has lost the outlet of her devouring passion, which is forced back onto Edward again. The anguish of Bertha is heartrending. A slightly more sensitive man may have lessened her pain.

Bertha knows that she can't go on like that and attempts to leave. The first time she can't stay away and rushes back in spite of herself only to find that nothing has changed. However, the separation opens her eyes to the transformation (normal ageing) that has been occurring to her husband. No longer the comely youth that he once was, Bertha suddenly sees Edwards as he is, and at that moment, she falls out of love without further ado.

Bertha's destructive passion will be found again in Philip's obsession with Mildred in Of Human Bondage (1915), several times amplified. Later, mellowed down and lightened up, we see it in Theatre.

It doesn't seem to be gender restricted, since we have Philip suffering the same. It comes and goes without apparent reason. We have no control over it. It hasn't much to do with the worthiness of the object. It is highly physical and strongly related to the senses. It almost sounds like a disease of some kind.

No matter whether one approves of Bertha, her portrait is sincere and one can't help feeling sorry for her.

When love wanes, Bertha finds herself unable to tolerate the stupidity of her husband. She leaves again, this times she thinks for good.

Then a new element comes in. When Bertha goes to stay with her aunt Miss Ley, a younger cousin appears, Gerald Vaudrey, a dashing philanderer to be placed in Miss Ley's hands so he couldn't do more mischiefs before sailing to Florida in a month.

In him Bertha finds her daydream realized, a man who is capacitated to love her in the way she wishes, with violent, devouring, abandoning passion, to love like there is no tomorrow.

Being much older and married on top of it, Bertha tries to resist. But how is she to do that? When cupid himself has materialized, a spark appears again, as if sent from heaven, a second chance that makes her life meaningful.

She is flattered at first, but then becomes consumed and is willing to dive into the sea of no return. Although she has been refusing Gerald's advances, after a stolen kiss in the last moment of farewell, Bertha is ready. She grabs her bag and means to join him at the station, to elope with him.

We hold our breath and look at her like Miss Ley (although Miss Ley didn't think she would do that), "Don't do it! You are making a fool of yourself!"

There she is, at the station, with Gerald who has pretty much given up the thought of her and ready for whatever adventures await him in the new continent. It is nice, you know, while it lasts.

Poor Bertha.

So now, what is she to do? She goes back to Edward. She returns to Court Leys (her home) and tries to forget Gerald.

Another tragedy awaits us. When Bertha's love has died, suddenly Edward becomes so lovable. All the little things that she would have taken for nectar now he does them. The very irony of life: "But things always come too late or come by halves" (276).

Maugham is by no means mean to Edward. We will look at that in another section.

Bertha's life continues, there isn't any choice about that. She did contemplate suicide, but it was a too complicated business.

That is not the end of the story though. More things are going to happen, but I will leave it here. It is a book well worth reading.

I VS The World


I just told a very sentimental story. You are justified to say, so what?

As usual there is more to Maugham's works. I will pick one that he has so well expressed in Mrs. Craddock.

This theme is one that Maugham kept being preoccupied with throughout his literary career, the tragedy of human "incommunication," and how the individual situates, in this case, herself in a society that doesn't share her view.

Bertha's tragedy, besides her painful and unfulfilled love affairs, is the disconnection between her and her surroundings. Even at the very beginning when she thought that she had found love, Maugham tells us of her inability to fully express herself:
It is terrible to be desirous of saying all sorts of passionate things while convention prevents you from any but the most commonplace. (6)

Maugham's protagonists suffer from this frustration in establishing a link with their fellows. Later we will see this again in The Moon and Sixpence (1919), which contains one of the most moving passages in his works.

The problem of Bertha is more articulated. There is a lot of Maugham in her. After a foreign education, having seen different cultures and exposed to other worlds, she can hardly be confined in the little English countryside with old conventions and prejudices. It is just like a student who has gone for a year or two studying abroad and then suddenly finding himself criticizing everything that he used to see nothing wrong about. A not uncommon question he will ask at some stage is the same as Bertha's:
Ah, she wished she could; she hated the education in foreign countries that in the study of pictures and palaces and strange peoples had released her mind from its prison of darkness, yet had destroyed half her illusions; now she would far rather have retained the plain and unadorned illiteracy, the ingenuous ignorance of the typical and creamy English girl. What is the use of knowledge? Blessed are the poor in spirit; all that a woman really wants is purity and goodness and perhaps a certain acquaintance with plain cooking. (62)

And look at Edward, he is so pleased with himself, the farthest place that he has gone to is London:
Now Edward was always the same, contented equally with the world at large and with himself: there was no shadow of doubt about the fact that the world he lived in, the particular spot and period, were the very best possible, and that no existence could be more satisfactory than happily to cultivate one's garden. (188)

However, though she feels contempt towards her neighbours, she is haunted by self-doubt, which ironically is one of the components of being more intelligent and educated:
Why should she tremble before the opinion of a dozen stupid people? She could not help it. However much she despised her neighbours, she could not prevent herself from being miserably affected by their judgment. (87)

A valuable lesson that Bertha has learnt, after all the pain and suffering that she went through, is the importance of self-assertion. Self-sacrifice for love, as she did, has got her nowhere.
"It is because I asked so little that I have received nothing; in this world you must ask much, you must spread your praises abroad, you must trample underfoot those that stand in your path, you must take up all the room you can, or you will be elbowed away. You must be irredeemably selfish, or you will be a thing of no account, a frippery that man plays with and flings aside." (206)

Nevertheless, this is not what makes Bertha interesting. She is special. Maugham doesn't tell you that incessantly, or has his characters mouthing on every single page how special she is, just so you know.

I couldn't help getting irritated when reading A Room with a View, every single person who has seen Lucy tells you how special she is. It's sort of like this new trend of "young adult fiction" (our classification of today). How special all the protagonists are! Everyone knows it, and guess what, except themselves!

Bertha knows she is more intelligent than the rest of the people around her, and at times she despises them because of that. But what is so special about her is that she is able to realize that she could be wrong.

When Edward decides, or is coerced, to run for the County Council, Bertha is horrified, because of his ignorance, that he is going to make a fool of himself. She tries to educate him, to teach him how to speak, to read about politics, but he only trusts what mother nature has given him.

When the time comes for his first speech, Bertha is prepared for the worst. His speech is intolerable, a disaster. However, everyone loves it except her. It is a great success. She can hardly believe her eyes.
She asked herself uneasily whether she was doing him an injustice. Was he really as clever, had he indeed the virtues that common report ascribed to him? Perhaps she was prejudiced, and perhaps–he was cleverer than she. The possibility of this made her wince; she had never doubted that her intellect was superior to Edward's; their respective knowledge was not comparable; she occupied herself with thoughts that Edward did not conceive. He never interested himself in abstract things, and his conversation was tedious as only the absence of speculation can make it. It was extraordinary that everyone but she should so highly esteem his intelligence. Bertha knew that his mind was paltry and his ignorance egregious. His pretentiousness made him a charlatan. (244)

I think Maugham is more than just ridiculing the rest of the people. For how long can an individual hold his view when it is in contradiction with the rest? How can one reconcile this discrepancy of perspectives?

Bertha is giving up her own beliefs and begins to see things differently:
Had he always been kind and considerate; and had she, demanding a passion that it was not in him to feel, been blind to his deep tenderness? Expecting nothing from him now, she was astonished to find he had so much to offer. (306)

Bertha is special because she has the capacity to do so, endowed with the depth and complexities of self-reflection.

Nevertheless, the future that faces Bertha is grim.
She suffered intensely from loneliness of spirit, for she had no one to whom she could tell her unhappiness; it is terrible to have no means of expressing oneself, to keep imprisoned always the anguish that gnaws at one's heart-strings: it is well enough for the writer; he can find solace in his words, he can tell his secret and yet not betray it; but the woman has only silence. (246)

Maugham would seem to be saying that he is describing feelings that he himself has experienced. Bertha at the end of the book is around the same age as he.

With vividness Maugham draws Bertha's depression:
She knew the terrible distress of waking in the morning with the thought that still another day must be gone through, she knew the relief of bedtime, with the thought that she would enjoy a few hours of unconsciousness. She was racked with the imagination of the future's frightful monotony: night would follow day, and day would follow night, the months passing one by one and the years slowly, slowly. They say that life is short: to those who look back perhaps it is; but to those who look forward it is long, horribly long, endless. Sometimes Bertha felt it impossible to endure. She prayed that she might fall asleep at night and never awake. How happy must be the lives of those people who can look forward to eternity! To Bertha the idea of living for ever and ever was merely ghastly; she desired nothing but the long rest, the rest of an endless sleep, the dissolution into nothing. (311)

Eventually, with youth gone Bertha settles into the monotony of life, a life that seems terribly wasted. Maugham's final analysis tells us that her love wasn't just physical, despite its passionate manifestation and the tangibleness of emotions. It was an ardent attempt to connect with the world. It is the only way through which she knows how to express herself, her desire to reach out to another human soul.
Bertha remembered how ready in her girlhood she had been to give herself to the world. Feeling intense fellowship with all human beings, she wished to throw herself into their arms, thinking that they would stretch them out to receive her. Her life seemed to overflow into the lives of others, becoming one with theirs as the waters of rivers become one with the sea. But very soon the power she had felt of doing all this departed; she recognised a barrier between herself and human kind, and felt that they were strangers. Hardly understanding the impossibility of what she desired, she placed all her love, all her faculty of expansion, on one person, on Edward, making a final effort as it were to break the barrier of consciousness and unite her soul with his. She drew him towards her with all her might, Edward the man, seeking to know him in the depths of his heart, yearning to lose herself in him. But at last she saw that what she had striven for was unattainable. I myself stand on one side, and the rest of the world on the other. There is an abyss between that no power can cross, a strange barrier more insuperable than a mountain of fire. Husband and wife know nothing of one another. However ardently they love, however intimate their union, they are never one; they are scarcely more to one another than strangers.

And when she had discovered this, with many tears and after bitter heartache, Bertha retired into herself. But soon she found solace. In her silence she built a world of her own, and kept it from the eyes of every living soul, knowing that none could understand. And then all ties were irksome, all earthly attachments unnecessary. (338)

It is a terribly sad view of human relationship. The novel is about love, about the limited possibilities that a woman had at the turn of the century, about disillusionment, about the unconquerable loneliness.

As for the limited possibilities for women, interestingly in two contemporary reviews that I looked at, one talks about Edward as a better drawn character than Bertha,3 and another describes the novel as the "history of the relation of Craddock to his wife."4

There is a puzzling element that I am at a loss as to how to interpret it. Surprisingly, Maugham opens the book with: "This book might be called also The Triumph of Love" (1).

There is a French play by Pierre de Marivaux with the same title: Le triomphe de l'amour (1732). However, except the heroine, after all the confusions, gets to marry the man she has her eye on at the beginning, there isn't much that would fit into Bertha's story. Naturally, this great title eventually is used for a soap opera.

Is Maugham personalizing Love? That Love overrules Bertha and she is completely helpless in front of it? Twice she falls in love and twice she is defeated.

Mrs. Craddock - Editions


First editions of Mrs. Craddock in today's term are reasonable and they are still around. As for the later New and Revised editions copies with dust jacket are very cheap.

The first US edition is available for download on the Internet Archive; I proofread it some years ago and rendered it into an epub file. Links are on Free ebook - Novels page.

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How to cite this:


Mrs. Craddock, First Edition, at AbeBooks
Mrs. Craddock, New and Revised Edition, at Abebooks



Notes

1 Calder, Robert. Willie. The Life of W. Somerset Maugham. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990. 82–3.
2 Maugham, W. Somerset. The Summing Up. London: Heinemann, 1938. 313.
3 "The Strong Crude Novel." Academy and Literature LXIII (29 Nov. 1902): 577.
4 Watson, H.B. Marriott. "Fiction in 1902." The Pall Mall Magazine XXIX (Jan.–Apr. 1903): 131–5.

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