Thursday, August 08, 2013

18. The Explorer by W. Somerset Maugham

For some reason, I have a hard time getting W. Somerset Maugham into my head.  I get him (or is it her?) mixed up with Evelyn Waugh and Armistaud Maupin.  I really need to make the effort to do a bit of researcha and figure out who each one is.  I guess it is just because there names all sound similar, but it's also that Maugham seems so well known, but doesn't seem to have a specifically famous book, style, genre or period attached to him. This problem is so acute for me that I actually wrote this paragraph initally about Evelyn Waugh!

The Explorer is the story of Lucy Allerton, a young heiress to a large estate whose disollute father has run to the ground.  She is strong and selfless, loves her father unquestionably, even when she learns of all his faults.  She pins the hopes of her family's ressurection on her brother.  When the father is arrested for fraud, thus ruining the family's reputation as well, the brother is forced to join the expedition of an intrepid African explorer.  This explorer and the heroine up to this point had fallen in love, but she refused his hand in marriage because she could not love him until her family's name was restored.  Complications ensue on the voyage and the the explorer is left with a heavy burden and difficult moral choice.

I picked up the book because of the title in the hope that there would be some good colonial adventurism.  There was, but most of it was narrated by characters within the book, after the fact.  It was interesting nonetheless, as the explorer is portrayed as a hero, liberating the local tribespeople from the oppression of Arab slavery (I am thinking that he is supposed to be modeled after a real-world figure of the time).  This all seems good, if fantastic, but then his ultimate goal is to turn the territory over to the good hands of the British Empire, for the uitimate betterment of the native people!  Oh well, better than the Belgians at least.

It's an enjoyable read, very well-written, but ultimately a bit simplistic.  It is basically a romance, with the barrier being the aforementioned moral dilemma and a female character who is a bit one-dimensional.  This latter stands out because the rest of the characters are portrayed with nuance and richness.  I suspect a book like this was quite popular at the time, as it reads a bit like its period equivalent of today's best-seller, addressing popular themes in an easily-digestible way without challenging the average reader's thinking.

1 comment:

Kelly Robinson said...

Ha, I can't wrap my head around confusing Maugham and Maupin. I went through a phase of devouring Maupin, though. (The short chapters make him a great bathroom read!)