Liza of Lambeth by Somerset Maugham

It is his début novel – given its brief length its rather a novella. It rings real of working class neighbourhood of Lambeth in East End in 1897 when it made its appearance. It is based on Maugham’s own experiences when he worked as a doctor in Lambeth and went to deliver 62 babies.

  Image Courtesy – Khanya

Liza is an 18-year-old young girl who works in a factory and stays with her mother. She is particularly friends with Sally and Tom, who wants to marry her. But things take a bitter turn when she falls for a 40 year Jim Blakeston, a married man with 5 children. She pays the ultimate price for her folly.

Life is tough but it is fun as well for Liza. She is a young woman who is popular in her neighbourhood. She doesn’t mind dancing and strutting herself up – Tom is keen to marry her but she doesn’t like him that much. She goes along with the flow, spends time with her friend Sally and has a merry time in indulging in dancing, drinking and visiting the theatre. One wonder what future would hold for her but feels that she should do well since she knows her mind.

The coach trip on the Bank holiday is a perfect story. It highlights the excitement that even mild events can create in their lives and they sure enjoy the binge of eating and drinking while playing games at the fair and looking at the forest. It is such a hallmark event that Tom looks forward to take Liza with him and continues to egg her on for marriage. Unfortunately Liza chooses to snub Tom and initiates a friendship with Jim Blakeston instead.

And then it is all folly and madness. She falls for a married man in the neighbourhood and is mad enough to pursue it to the end. She has delusions about the life she can have with the man and it all comes to a rather pitiable end. It is such a pity the way she deludes herself and her mom as the rest of the neighbourhood soon learns of the affair and firmly expresses its disapproval.

A public brawl where Jim’s wife bashes her up and is egged all along by an excited group of watchers is the thin edge of the wedge. Liza never quite recovers from such a public humiliation. Tom offers to help and is willing to accept her notwithstanding the sordid story. It would have possibly been the best solution and led to redemption. Alas ! It is not meant to be as she has a miscarriage the very next day, slips into coma and then quietly passes away.

Maugham notched up a success on his début – the Cockney accent and local dialect that he employs does make it tough to follow the story. But the overall scene is well established and sustains our interest. There are not many twists n turns though we keep hoping that Liza will be able to mend things and salvage her life. Tom is simply besotted with Liza and that is possibly the optimistic line to give the tale a happy ending. And yet Maugham, groomed in the French style of naturalism, has no delusions – instead he chooses to serve us a cold reminder of the tough lives and choices that many young people make to regret it forever in life.


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