The Gentleman in the Parlour Paperback
This book includes an introduction by Paul Theroux.
Somerset Maugham's success as a writer enabled him to indulge his adventurous love of travel, and he recorded the sights and sounds of his wide-ranging journeys with an urbane, wry style all his own. "The Gentleman in the Parlour" is an account of the author's trip through what was then Burma and Siam, ending in Haiphong, Vietnam.
Whether by river to Mandalay, on horse through the mountains and forests of the Shan States to Bangkok, or onwards by sea, Maugham's vivid descriptions bring a lost world to life.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 240 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Publishing
- Publication Date: 06/09/2001
- Category: Travel writing
- ISBN: 9780099286776
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Review by edwinbcn
Many of Somerset Maugham novels and short stories were written against the backdrop of the Far East, often in very sensuous descriptions. After the First World War, Maugham travelled extensively in India, Southeast asia, the Pacific, China and Hong Kong. His travels in the Pacific found their way into The moon and sixpence, and more extensively in the beautiful, but less well-known novel The narrow corner, which is set in the region of the South China Sea, between China and Malaysia, the landscape of Joseph Conrad, so to speak. Impressions of his travels in China and Hong Kong were captured in On a Chinese screen, published in 1922, which later formed the basis for The Casuarina tree. In the same year, 1922, Maugham travelled throuh Burma and Thailand.However, although Maugham had kept a journal of his trip through Burma and Thailand, no books appeared based on or inspired by this journey. Maugham was at the height of his career, and settled in the south of France. The gentleman in the parlour was not written until seven years later, and published in 1930. It is often described as Maugham's best sample of travel writing, his other works of travelling literature being limited to the collection of vignettes in On a Chinese screem and Don Fernando, which records his travels through Spain. It seems an exaggeration to describe or consider Somerset Maugham as a travel writer of the same stature as Graham Greene. It is true Maugham travelled a lot, but he produced very little travel writing. Both in scope, volume and treatment, Maugham's travel writing takes up a marginal position.While Graham Greene's travel writing, at times seems uninspired, as, for instance in The lawless roads, which was a commissioned travelogue of a journey through Mexico (one can hear Greene's grumbling discontent throughout), Maugham has taken a lighter approach to his travel writings. Thus, The gentleman in the parlour is almost in equal measure a mixture of fact and fiction.As a writer of world class stature, it is obvious that Maugham's publishers would accept any type of work from the master's hand. The gentleman in the parlour is a travelogue, but the narrative of the journey is interspersed with prose fragments, which were written or even published earlier. Characters and experiences have been fictionalized, as noted by Paul Theroux in the introduction to the edition in Vintage Books. Nonetheless, the books forms a unity of travel writing.Maugham writes very well, and the largest part of the trip being in Burma, The gentleman in the parlour abounds in descriptions of the people, the Shans, and their culture, and the landscape in that country. Burma was a British colony at that time, so Maugham's writing may have been considered of educational value at the time. Fact, fiction and Maugham's ruminations, often mindfully glancing back at the old country over his shoulder, lent The gentleman in the parlour as much the air of an essay, and a travelogue.Theroux notes that in The gentleman in the parlour Maugham is extremely discrete, and that his gay travel companion was actually completely left out of the narrative. This observation seems to completely miss the point that The gentleman in the parlour must be read as an idealized colonial fairy-tale, not a real-life memoir of the emancipated gay author that Maugham was (not).