Somerset Maugham se soeke na helderheid
Die gevierde skrywer, William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), het erken dat al sy skryfwerk in meerdere of mindere mate outobiografies is. Die bekendste hiervan is seker die roman, Of Human Bondage (1915). Maar hy was geneig om eksplisiete outobiografiese inligting, soos sy homoseksualiteit en sy kortstondige huwelik (1917-1928) met Syrie Wellcome (gebore Barnardo, 1879-1955), te verswyg of te verdoesel. Inligting oor hulle dogter, bekend as Liza (1915-1998), is ook skraps.
Na die groot publisiteit wat die hofsaak (1895) oor Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) geniet het, is Maugham se terughoudendheid oor sulke sake te begrype. Dit is ook verstaanbaar dat Maugham hom (soos Wilde) eerder in Frankryk as in Engeland gevestig het. Daar was veral een persoon wat Maugham se lewe oorheers en sy huwelik gekelder het, naamlik Gerald Haxton (1892-1944). Amptelik was sy status, soos dié van sy opvolger Alan Searle, nie dié van lewensmaat nie, maar sekretaris.
Maugham het in sy lang lewe ook ander intieme mansvriende gehad. Een van hulle, Beverley Nichols (1898-1983), het kort na Maugham se dood 'n boek met die titel, A Case of Human Bondage (London: Secker & Warburg, 1966, 153p), gepubliseer. Daarin het hy hom uiters krities oor Maugham as mens uitgelaat. Nichols se verontwaardiging is gevoed deur sy simpatie met Syrie, met wie hy belangstelling in bv binnenshuise versiering, blommerangskikking en tuinbou gedeel het. Op die stofomslag lui die boek se newetitel: "The tragic marriage of Somerset Maugham."
Die aanleiding vir Nichols se boek was die publikasie van Looking Back (1962) in boekvorm in die VSA teen die einde van Maugham se lewe. In Brittanje is hierdie teks net in die Sunday Express gepubliseer, vandaar die voortgesette mate van onkunde oor Maugham se huwelik; ook natuurlik omdat 'n mens nie geneig is om Maugham met 'n konvensionele huwelik te assosieer nie. Nichols vermoed dat Haxton die eintlike outeur van hierdie teks is (p 134), waarin selfs Maugham se vaderskap van Liza ontken word (p 8). Syrie het Haxton 'n syspan ("sidecar") genoem (p 73). Hoewel Nichols se boek uitstekend geskryf en gestruktureer is, laat die geheel in te 'n groot mate die indruk van 'n skinderstorie wat uit weerwraak gepubliseer is.
Wat vir my van meer belang is, is wat Nichols oor Maugham se eintlike outobiografiese boek (naas A Writer's Note-book: Memoires and Thoughts, 1949), naamlik The Summing Up (1938), geskryf het: "This was the only book in which he ever tried to superimpose upon his vision of life - which was essentially kaleidoscopic - some sort of pattern, some sort of dramatic unity. He was always seeking this pattern, but he never found it. I am not sure that he ever really wanted to find it. He probably said his final word about life, death, and the hereafter in Of Human Bondage, in the celebrated passage where he compares life with a Turkey carpet, which presents us with exquisite designs and fascinating problems, woven in intricate and alluring colours, but - in the end - remains 'totally meaningless'" (p 103).
Nichols se kritiese gevolgtrekking oor The Summing Up is: Maugham "had not the spiritual endowment for such a book" (p 104). Later haal hy Maugham soos volg aan: "I think that life has a great deal of rhyme and absolutely no reason. I entirely fail to see that it means anything whatever. It justifies itself only by the amusement that it gives" (p 110).
In The Summing Up (London: Pan Books, 1976, 203p) skryf Maugham onderhoudend oor sy skryfarbeid. "To write ... was a delicate art that must be painfully acquired" (p 19). "Perfection has one grave defect: it is apt to be dull" (p 21). "I began with the impossible aim of using no adjectives at all" (p 22). "A plot is merely the pattern on which the story is arranged" (p 145). "A plot ... is a line to direct the reader's interest" (p 147). "The artist does not copy life, he makes an arrangement out of it to suit his own purposes" (p 146). "The best way of learning how to write a play is to see one of your own produced ... I think the secret of play-writing can be given in two maxims: stick to the point, and, whenever you can, cut" (p 83).
"I could arrive at writing as well as my natural defects allowed ... I must aim at lucidity, simplicity, and euphony" (p 23). "Words are tyrannical things, they exist for their meanings" (p 26). "Words are not important, but their meanings" (p 69). "Even in my lightest pieces, I had put in so much of myself that I was embarrassed to hear it disclosed to a crowd of people. Because they were words I had written myself they had for me an intimacy that I shrank from sharing with all and sundry" (p 73).
"Many people think that a style that does not attract notice is not style" (p 27). Hy haal Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) aan: "He that has once studiously formed a style, rarely writes afterwards with complete ease" (p 31). Maugham: "A good style should show no sign of effort ... it does not matter how one gets the effect of ease. For my part, if I get it at all, it is only by strenuous effort" (p 32). "Simplicity and naturalness are the truest mark of distinction" (p 28). "Good prose should resemble the conversation of a well-bred man" (p 29). "Words have weight, sound and appearance; it is only by considering these that you can write a sentence that is good to look at and good to listen to" (p 30).
"The literary world somewhat lacks balance, and when a fancy takes it, is apt to regard it not as a passing fashion, but as Heaven's first law" (p 138). "What makes genius is the combination of natural gifts for creation with an idiosyncrasy that enables its possessor to see the world personally in the highest degree, and yet with such catholicity that his appeal is ... to all men" (p 53). "To me reading is a rest as to other people conversation or a game of cards. It is more than that; it is a necessity, and if I am deprived of it for a little while I find myself as irritable as the addict deprived of his drug" (p 61). "The only important thing in a book is the meaning it has for you" (p 63).
Anders as Nichols het ek baie wysheid in The Summing Up gevind, al het ek my aanhalings beperk tot dié wat Maugham as skrywer belig. Maugham raak egter ook 'n groot dwaasheid kwyt, wat weereens toon hoe uit pas hy met die wesenlike aard van die huwelik was: "I sought freedom and thought I could find it in marriage" (p 128-129). Die huwelik is nie die bakermat van vryheid nie.
Ivor Brown noem in W Somerset Maugham (London: International Textbook Company, 1970, 85p) dat Maugham "had survived the common critical folly which regards a wide popularity as a proof of second-rate work" (p 21). "He detested the view that quantity is inimical to quality and that to be prolific is a sign of carelessness and a cause of second-rate work" (p 26). Maugham was oortuig "the really great and enduring novel cannot be a closely dated one and the novelist who stops to pronounce on issues of the time will be forgotten when 'the problem of the day' has become the problem of yesterday" (p 22). Die fout wat die politiek-betrokke skrywer begaan, is "mistaking his desk for a secular pulpit" (p 23).
"To provide intelligent and stimulating entertainment was the function of fiction at its best ... He wrote directly and concisely. He never wrapped an opinion in verbal flannel ... This may have hampered his acceptance in the higher circles of criticism where a pretentious mistiness was taken to be evidence of deep wisdom ... Maugham's rationalism was bone-hard and crystal clear" (p 24). Sy skryfwerk is "as translucent as clear water over pebbles" (p 27).