Thursday, July 23, 2015
Liza of Lambeth - Somerset Maugham
This one was recommended to me. I don’t know why. It’s a slim volume as well as an easy read fortunately. That should summarize my review.
I have read much better works of Maugham.
This was his first novel.
Liza, a jolly young girl lives with her mother in London. Liza works in a factory and her mother goes charing to add to their income. Liza’s mother suffers from headaches, rheumatics, drinks spirits and complains constantly that her daughter isn’t dutiful enough.
Tom, a young boy loves Liza sincerely but she ignores him thinking him a bore.
She finds herself thinking about Jim instead, a big man with a beard who one day lifted her up to him and gave her two resounding kisses as she ran into his arm while she was escaping a gang of urchins chasing her on the street.
Jim is a married man with many children, the eldest of whom is almost Liza’s age.
Yet, Liza and Jim are attracted to each other. They start an innocent affair of secret meetings, kisses and cuddling that lead to more secret meetings. Word gets around and before long everyone knows. The two in love of course, think no one knows and try their defiant best to deny those who tease them.
Tom, hurt, distances himself from her.
One day, Jim’s wife, a burly woman confronts Liza on the street and attacks her with abuse and beatings. Liza fights back but the big woman is too much for her.
Jim arrives after sometime and stops his wife but Liza is already hurt; she is greasy and bleeding. No one in the crowd is sympathetic towards Liza, especially so the women who almost loathe her thinking that one day Liza might mess about with their husband.
Among all those gathered to watch the brawl, Tom takes a weeping Liza away from the scene and walks her home.
While nursing her, he reiterates his love for her.
She wishes she had accepted Tom earlier but she is reluctant to accept him now after all that has happened thinking it wouldn’t be fair to Tom since she might be on the family way now.
Tom assures her that it does not really matter to him.
They part for the evening.
Liza’s mother only knows that her daughter has had a fight with a woman on the street and consoles her by way of offering her spirits that Liza accepts and drinks, apparently for the first time in her life. She feels better soon after but the night that follows turns out to be miserable for her.
She feels very cold and very hot by turns. Her mother, too drunk to be conscious, does not wake up to help Liza. When she does, she summons Mrs Hodges, a midwife, living upstairs to help her with Liza. Mrs. Hodges announces that Liza has had an abortion.
Her mother is surprised as she never thought Liza to be of ‘that kind’.
Liza’s condition is really bad as she is very weak and pale.
Mrs Hodges is sure Liza will not survive. Liza’s mother begins discussing with Mrs Hodges, her daughter’s funeral preparations, hiring the services of the best undertaker and so on, while Mrs Hodges gives her generous suggestions and offering of help, even as Liza lies on the bed, still breathing, though her last.
And soon enough, the presence of death in the room pervades them all.
While the story itself did not seem remarkable to me, surely, the setting of the story must give it a distinct flavour.
Ladies wear dressy hats full of feathers. The street, at any time, is brimming with women who have many young ones and are expecting another. When the organ player arrives, men and women gather around him in the street and dance to his tunes. They go on picnics on horse driven carriages. The women going to the factory have to arrive before the gong is sounded or they will not be able to collect the token and will miss a day’s wages. Many married women have wife beating husbands. They speak in a distinct accent and perhaps their colloquial is distinct, both of which the author has tried his best to reproduce.
Perhaps, at the time, the story was published, there were elements respecting the story or the characters that were novel.
Lines that I caught my interest and attention for various reasons...
They began fooling, in reminiscence of a melodrama they had lately seen together.
'Is that yer new dress, Liza?'
'Well, it don't look like my old one, do it?' said Liza.
'Where did yer git it?' asked another friend, rather enviously.
'Picked it up in the street, of course,' scornfully answered Liza.
'I believe it's the same one as I saw in the pawnbroker's dahn the road,' said one of the men, to tease her.
'Thet's it; but wot was you doin' in there? Pledgin' yer shirt, or was it yer trousers?'
...the innuendo of French farce is not so unknown to the upright, honest Englishmanas might be supposed...
...gooseberry-tarts, cherry-tarts, butter, bread, more sausages, and yet again pork-pies! They devoured the provisions like ravening beasts, stolidly, silently, earnestly, in large mouthfuls
which they shoved down their throats unmasticated. The intelligent foreigner seeing them thus dispose of their food would have understood why England is a great nation. He would have
understood why Britons never, never will be slaves.
'Strikes me you got aht of bed the wrong way this mornin', she said to him.
..many were broken, but they had been mended with glue, and it is well known that pottery in the eyes of the connoisseur loses none of its value by a crack or two.
...she immediately dropped Jim's arm, and they both cast their eyes to the ground as the men passed, like ostriches, expecting that if they did not look they would not be seen.
'Liza 'as all the pleasures of a 'usband an' none of the trouble.'
...they hated the people perpetually coming in and out, opening the doors and letting in a blast of cold air...
...It was a Saturday night, the time when women in Vere Street weep.(husbands beating wives)
'Yus,' went on Mrs. Kemp, 'I've 'ad thirteen children an' I'm proud of it. As your poor dear father used ter sy, it shows as 'ow one's got the blood of a Briton in one...your father 'e used ter sy, "None of your small families for me, I don't approve of them,"..."when a man can 'ave a family risin' into double figures, it shows 'e's got the backbone of a Briton in 'im. That's the stuff as 'as built up England's nime and glory! When one thinks of the mighty British Hempire," says 'e, "on which the
sun never sets from mornin' till night, one 'as ter be proud of 'isself, an' one 'as ter do one's duty in thet walk of life in which it 'as pleased Providence ter set one—an' every man's fust duty
is ter get as many children as 'e bloomin' well can."...
She shouted out the tunes, beating time on the table,...
...said Mrs. Kemp—'wotever yer do when they're alive, an' we all know as children is very tryin'
sometimes, you should give them a good funeral when they dies. Thet's my motto, an' I've always acted up to it.'
A few lines from the Preface follow.
I was forced to stick to the facts by the miserable poverty of my imagination...
Youth is a lovely thing, it has a promptness of fancy, a liveliness, a freshness of outlook, a directness, which in some fortunate instances counterbalance the lack of skill and knowledge, which the author of twenty books brings to the composition of his later works. Sometimes of course youth is the author's only talent and when that leaves him he has nothing to fall back on. That is why so many young persons write one or two charming books that seem to have not only promise, but a delightful fulfilment, and then sink into a lamentable mediocrity. But if a writer is conscious that in his maturity he has produced works that are not without merit, he is wise to leave out from an edition like this such of his writings as were published before he was in full possession of his powers.
In the first 25 years of his life, the youth has gathered a multitude of impressions; if he has the novelist’s instinct, he will probably have felt them more vividly than he will ever feel anything again; and the persons he has known with an intimacy that in the turmoil and the hurry of afterlifehe never will achieve again. Whoever has known anyone later in such minute detail as a boy has known his relations, their friends and servants? People unconsciously reveal themselves to a child, a lad, with a freedom they guard against in their dealings with their contemporaries or elders. The advice to give a young writer is to write only about the things he knows. His imagination, unrooted in experience, is fantastical; his invention is indigent; surely he does best to stick very closely to reality such as he sees it. I should have thought on the other hand that it was impossible to write a historical novel without great knowledge of a period and a large fund of general information to back it up; and I do not see how a writer is going to give historical characters and ease without a very wide acquaintance with mankind. The historical novel needs not only force of imagination(for how else can you recreate the past?) but a science of human nature enable which may enable you to clothe with flesh and quicken with blood the dead bones of history.
It had struck me for some time that the novelist’s usual practice of taking two or three persons and treating them as though the world moved round them, bringing in others only in so far as the protagonists were concerned with them, gave a very false impression of the multifariousness of life. I am not alone in the world with the girl I love and the rival who is disturbing the course of my passion. All sorts of thrilling adventures are occurring to the people all round me and to them they are just as important as mine are to me. But the novelist writes as though his hero and heroine dwelt in a vaccum. I thought could give a much fuller effect of life by taking a number of people loosely connected as people are who live in the same world and giving all their stories with equal fullness, and telling all I knew about all of them. I chose the necessary number of persons and devised 4 series of events that occurred simultaneously. I saw my novel like one of those huge frescoes in an Italian cloister in which all manner of people are engaged in all manner of activities, but which the eye embraces in a single look. The scheme was too ambitious for my powers. I had not realised that one set of characters would prove more interesting than the rest and that the reader, wanting to know about them, would be impatient of the others. The books suffered also from the pernicious influence on me at the time of the writings of the aesthetes. The men were inanely handsome and the women peerlessly lovely. I wrote with affectation. My attitude was precious. I was afraid to let myself go. But still I think there was something in Idea. Perhaps it could be carried out successfully if the intertwined stories and the persons who acted them were seen rigidly through the eyes of one of the characters in the book. The interest of this character in the various events he was concerned in might give them unity and the dramatic value of his reactions towards the other persons of the novel hold the reader’s attention by giving him the illusion of a single theme.
Books to read – Rasselas – Dr Johnson