Monday, April 27, 2009

Reading Together The Razor's Edge

In the next eight weeks, I am going to read again one of my favorite books, which I associate closely with Katie, W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge.  It is the story of several friends' attempts to find enlightenment and meaning in life by following different paths through the 1920s and 1930s. The central character (as imagined in the 1984 film adaptation starring Bill Murray) is Lawrence "Larry" Darrell, a socialite drifter whose tragic experiences during World War I lead him on a reclusive path across the world, while reading much of what we might now find in translation in the Norton Anthology of World Literature.  Here is a link about Maugham's life and here is a brief summary of the novel's plot.  The title of the novel comes from Isherwood's translation of The Upanishads, by way of an interesting story:

"The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over;
thus the wise say the Path to salvation is hard."
--"Katha-Upanishad" (Chapter 3, Verse 14, 1.iii.14)

If you'd like to read along with me, I will be reading roughly a chapter a week, and writing some commentary each Friday.  I'd love to hear what other people think of this book, its plot, characters, and thinking, though I guess I'm not really looking for treatises on Maugham's shortcomings as a novelist, thinker, etc. (mostly positive stuff, here).  The book is unusually organized with few chapters and many sub-chapters.  Roughly, I will try to read and respond to the following sections by the following dates:

Friday, May 8 - Chapters 1

Friday, May 15 - Chapter 2

Friday, May 22 - Chapter 3

Friday, May 29 - Chapter 4

Friday, June 5 - Chapter 5 (i-viii)

Friday, June 12 - Chapter 5 (viii-ix) and Chapter 6 (i-vii)

Friday, June 19 - Chapter 6 (vii-viii) and Chapter 7

Hope to hear from, and read with, any of you who are interested to do so!


Marcus said...

Awesome idea John! I will do it; have always wanted to read The Razor's Edge, but have only read Of Human Bondage.

Linda S. Socha said...

Sounds Good. Great idea. I would like to join the weekly reads.

Marcus said...

Brief comments on Chapter One:

ADMIN NOTE: The reading schedule promulgated by Prof. Evans is rather slow-paced. In just one day I finished the first chapter, and I even had time to go to a poetry reading. (As I race ahead of the syllabus I'll draft some notes, and post them at the appropriate time.)

COMMENTS: Maugham excels at introducing many characters, and establishing the upper class milieu, with grace and dispatch.

I particularly appreciated his candid confession towards the beginning: "I think I am justified in doing what I can to make the book readable. The intelligent reader will easily see for himself where I have used this artifice, and he is at perfect liberty to reject it." From the top we know that pure artistic fidelity is not the only consideration.

And yet this is no mere comedy of manners. Larry's battle experience registers with brutal clarity at the end of the chapter, and henceforth--although we should have known it already--it is clear that we're engaged with a serious work of literature.

Kelly Luce said...

hmm, my bedroom at jentel was called "somerset maughm." i wonder if that's a sign? i'll pick up the book from the library tomorrow and put "on the road" on hold, i GUESS.

Anonymous said...

Hey John,
Did you know that the person who introduced The Razor's Edge to our family - to Katie and me- was Katie's brother Richard?