Sunday, August 16, 2009
Weekly Geeks: An Open Letter to W. Somerset Maugham
(This post is written in response to this week's Weekly Geeks prompt which asks whether we have or would consider giving a book or an author whose work we really did not appreciate the first go round a second chance.)
Dear Mr. Maugham,
I did not like your book, Of Human Bondage. In fact, I loathed it vehemently. My experience with said lengthy novel continues to color my opinion of you to this very day. While I've forgotten many of the finer details of the book's plot and characters, my feeling of loathing toward what is arguably your most famous and prestigious work remains intact. There is no doubt that Whatshisname (the narrator? or merely the main character?) was certainly enslaved to the severely unpleasant, ugly, and fittingly named Mildred. I have many crosses to bear in life, but I am thankful that I haven't been saddled with so dreadful a name as Mildred. I fear that any small chance I might have of one day acquiring a husband would certainly have been reduced to nil if my name were Mildred unless some fool like Whosywhatsit was lurking around throwing himself at my feet despite my utter lack of desirability. This is not meant to offend any girls who may happen to be named Mildred or to imply that they will not be desirable enough to engage in matrimony. Besides, who am I to talk being so firmly convinced that I will eventually end up a cat lady despite having a name that I personally don't find terribly off-putting? Which is not to imply that people who like cats and/or have off-putting names will be unfit for marriage, but...oh nevermind.
Ah, but I digress. Mr. Maugham, I now realize that your intention was for Mildred to be dreadful and for old Whaddyacallhim to be totally stuck on her in keeping with the title though I don't claim to know why, nor did or do I particularly care to explore this question. What I really can't abide by, then, is the mind-numbing boredom that your 600 or so page tome plunged my poor young life into (ack! It's a dangling preposition! Horrors!). I tried with stunning force of will to finish this book in hopes that I would find it an ultimately rewarding experience. Instead I suffered through 400 or so pages and gave up in a state of utter wretchedness.
Ah, but wait, my intention here, Mr. Maugham, is not merely to deride your masterwork of which many readers are great fans. My purpose is to consider the possibility that I could ever give you another chance to win back my love. Now, I realize that this book was in a category of assigned high school summer reading which automatically has the odds stacked against it. As an almost senior in high school and to this very day, I resent being told what to read in what should be my free time. I love to read, but I, like many, prefer to read books of my own choosing. So, then, it's possible that I disliked your book and your writing because I didn't want to see the good in it. I just wanted to get it over with and get back to the fiction of my own choosing. Perhaps the pain of a coming deadline for reading Of Human Bondage prevented me from even attempting to enjoy it, and perhaps my very youth at the time of my reading precluded me from understanding the depth of meaning in your prose.
Now, I can't say that I'll be in a rush to give Of Human Bondage another shot. Even now, the pain is still too fresh. That said, I have found myself more or less recently to be attracted to the possibility of reading several of your other works. I'll admit that the premise of the recently converted to film The Painted Veil does entice me as does the premise of The Moon and Sixpence. I must say also that Matt and his mention of The Gentleman in the Parlour definitely put chinks in the wall that I'd put up to prevent my having another negative reading experience caused by you. As an older, wiser, less time constrained version of myself who ever has the freedom to choose what she wants to read, I can see that perhaps...perhaps I may be inclined to give you another chance to win my love, Mr. Maugham. I know that there are many readers out there that seem to think that you could be capable of doing just that, and I sincerely hope they are correct.