Orienting Masculinity, Orienting Nation: W. Somerset Maugham's Exotic Fiction

Orienting Masculinity, Orienting Nation: W. Somerset Maugham's Exotic Fiction

Orienting Masculinity, Orienting Nation: W. Somerset Maugham's Exotic Fiction

Orienting Masculinity, Orienting Nation: W. Somerset Maugham's Exotic Fiction

Synopsis

Although their settings span a wide geographical area, from the South Pacific to India, Maugham's exotic short stories, novels, and travelogues all, ultimately, focus on the creation of a masculine British identity. In this first book to address Maugham's fiction in light of recent developments in postcolonial, gender, and cultural theory, Holden argues that Maugham's work can be understood as an attempt to negotiate between two alternative masculine identities: those of private homosexual and public writer. Holden identifies Maugham's attempts to cultivate a public persona as a writer whose heterosexuality is confirmed through a process of control of language. Furthermore, Holden illuminates the fluidity of language that Maugham, in contrast to his public persona, associated with homosexuality. The basis of this study is the provocative notion that Maugham's texts, despite their exotic locations, ultimately dramatize a struggle over masculine British identity.

Excerpt

"Is it all right," American critic Joseph Epstein wonders in an essay written in the mid-eighties, "to read Somerset Maugham?" (1) Despite increasing academic interest in the analysis of colonial discourse, Maugham's colonial, and indeed metropolitan, fiction is yet to receive sustained critical investigation. in the past, Maugham's short stories and novels were excluded on aesthetic grounds from the modern fiction canon at British and North American universities. in traditional literary criticism, and also in the implicit evaluative agenda of New Criticism, Maugham's work is lacking in texture and depth. Its symbolism is clumsily obvious, plots contrived, language polished and euphonious but tending towards the cliché. in Maugham's fiction, meaning is often on the surface, and the text itself needs little explication or annotation, in contrast to the modernist fiction and metaphysical poetry upon which British New Criticism cut its analytic teeth.

Maugham's writings, having never been part of the canon, do not present ready targets for contemporary critical interventions which attempt to decentre, deconstruct, or rewrite literary history. No real case can be made, it seems, for including Maugham in a newly expanded canon constructed around an acknowledgement of difference. Poststructuralist analysis, in the age of the death of the author, finds Maugham's confidence in intentionality and writerly craftsmanship misplaced, if not naive. If Maugham's intervention in the "woman question" through his plays and early novels such as Mrs. Craddock (1902) seems initially amenable to feminist analysis, the relentless misogyny of the later fiction closes down this possibility. Analysis of the production of gender and sexuality is more easily done through examination of the fissured surfaces of high cultural icons such as James Joyce Ulysses or D. H. Lawrence Women in Love rather than in futile attempts to breach . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.