Somerset Maugham Short Stories -‘Creature of Circumstance’

The master’s final collection of short stories – it includes tales set in the East and the West. Maugham’s trademark style is stamped all across – the title is an apt illustration of the premise. Ordinary folks are confronted by extraordinary circumstances and the story is but a narrative of what happens after that.

Most of them are tragedies and burnish Maugham’s established image of being a heartless cynic when it comes to affairs of the human heart. And yet there are a few comic gems tucked in as well. They may appear to be frivolous but they do entertain the average reader.

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Maugham is generous in providing us a bigger collection to savour this round – in all we have 15 stories. And quite a few are short tales by Maugham’s standards – but his standard formula still applies as they all have a beginning, middle and an end.

The stories are a collection of tales that were published in various magazines and then finally got consolidated herein.

  1. The Colonel’s Lady – An ironic tale that is a devastating satire of an ageing colonel who never realized the passionate affair his wife had with a young man. Maugham’s classic touch is at work in the surprising climax wherein the Colonel reconciles to his humiliation.
  2. Flotsam and Jetsam – An intriguing setting on a rubber plantation. A mismatched couple and the wife appearing to have a guilty secret to share. More intrigue on account of a passionate affair that led to the murder. And now the couple are left together in sufferance – the husband cannot let go of his wife without it looking suspicious, the wife finds in mere existence and presence, a way to punish him for ruining her life.
  3. Appearance and Reality – A modern satire based on French naturalism – it is meant to be a light-hearted story.
  4. The Mother – A gruesome tale of competing female interests between a mother and the prospective wife, the tale comes to a sordid end.
  5. Sanatorium – It is marked with cynicism and a keen insight of human nature. And for once, it ends of a note of optimism and positivity.
  6. A woman of Fifty – Classic tale in Maupassant style – there is a sting in the tale and we think we know it too. Not quite, for the writer throws in yet another delicious twist at the very end of it.
  7. The Romantic Young Lady – Spanish fairy tale – it is strange and yet intoxicating. Maugham specialized in the vein regarding passion and romance when it came to narrating Spanish tales.
  8. A Casual Affair – Angst of a sacrifice made for a genuine first love of your life. To see it go waste can wrought such a despair in your heart so that you never quite recover from it.
  9. The Point of Honour – A Spanish tale again and with the same elements. Honour and revenge prevail over even common sense when the affairs of the heart are at stake.
  10. Winter Cruise – A lovely comic piece – the insight into human nature are amazing. At the heart of it, it is a simple tale of an middle-aged spinster who spends a winter vacation including Christmas on a cargo ship with only the Ship officers being her hosts and company.
  11. The Happy Couple – Standard textbook narrative from Maugham’s stock – the twist in interesting but just about.
  12. A Man From Glasgow –  A horror story for a change – Maugham sustains our interest right till the end. He doesn’t end it well though for one is left hankering to know what happened finally.
  13. The Unconquered – A war tragedy – possibly the best case study of a person combating her circumstances. As the title says it all – she remains unconquered.
  14. Episode – The tale wrings your heart. It starts like a fairy tale, then there is a bit of a struggle but seemingly true love should triumph. Alas – it is not meant to be as everything falters at the fag-end of the story. And then one is left so disappointed.
  15. The Kite – A masterclass in human psychology – the Freudian syndrome of a son holding onto his mother’s apron is portrayed in a classic manner.
Credit: Transcendental Graphics Courtesy: Getty Images
Credit: Transcendental Graphics
Courtesy: Getty Images

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