24 SEPTEMBER 1948, Page 24


Here and There. Selected Short Stories. By W. Somerset Maugham. (Heinemann. 8s. 6d.) The Servant. By Robin Maugham. (Falcon Press. 6s.)

Mn. SOMERSET MAUGHAM never fails to provide refreshment for the parched throats of civilised readers when he confines himself to the affairs of the humdrum well to do. The people in these stories are not worth very much, except perhaps financially, but how lovingly he combs them out and into what exquisite patterns of calamity, humour, selfishness, baseness and most surprising heroism. "The British Consul in Naples . . .", "Human nature is a funny thing' said the Colonel,as he sipped his brandy . . .", "What will you have, Lena dear, dry Martini or a White Lady ? . . .", "Do you play Vanderbilt or Culbertson ? . . ." "I haven't spoken to g white person for years; I've been longing for a good old talk . . .", "Au revoir, chere Madame. You will get a bus at the Avenue de Neuilly . . .", "Having T.B. is a whole-time job, my boy. There's my temperature to take, and then I weigh myself. I don't hurry over my dressing. . . ." How wholly Maugham and how irresistible are these casual pickings from flipped pages. What is his secret ? Deadly surely to meet-the people who do and say these things in Maugham's stories are eternally refreshing. The plots of the stories draw one on, the climaxes elate, but it is the characterisation that sets one questioning.- He knows these people and feeds upon them, loving while he eats.

Mr. Robin Maugham has some of his uncle's talent. This brief story is about a young man, Tony, whose fault to begin with is the venial one of liking to be comfortable. The mysterious manservant who comes to look after him is after the Devil's 'own heart, for in

catering to this weakness in his young master he ruins him. Barrett, as well as being everything that a gentleman's gentleman should be, also likes debauching young girls. Very soon Tony shares his servant's sinful tastes, and also the favours .of the servant's niece, who is, of course, no niece at all. The story is told with diabolical hesitancy (a powerful literary weapon in the hands of this writer) by Tony's young friend, who, with the help of the good girl Sally, tries to save him. We leave Tony doing crossword puzzles with the wicked servant in the basement, with his eye on the door for the new young girl. Mr. Maugham is brisk in his description of sin, but not so happy with virtue. Sally is off the stocks, and the charwoman is vintage Punch of a very bad year.

Mr. Beachcroft's talent is disarming. One thinks : thank heavens lust a simple tale, with people one knows and bits of scenery and a bit of human feeling, not much more, but very agreeable. It is not difficult to put the reader in this pleasantly superior frame of mind, and having got the donkey where You want him, the creature is in your power. "Hugh smiled and said Bonjour ' to a French boy of about his own age. . . . Bonjour, Monsieur' said the French boy. . . . Hugh wished he had thought of the monsieur." Mr. Beachcroft writes very well of young people like Hugh, and dogs, and children, and stiff old fathers, and aunts whose preoccupations are often tedious and sometimes scabrous, and he has two stories upon the theme of the young man or boy who is sorry for a girl who is being harshly treated. Disgraceful Episode is particularly good with this situation because, as, alas, so often in real life, the emotion roused in Derek's -breast by Aunt Carlotta's shameful treatment of the young maidservant serves only to improve his own relationship with his father, and brings disaster upon the girl. Simplicity is the word for Mr. Beachcroft's stories, but it is a poet's simplicity, the most subtle in the world.

The stories in Mr. Housman's book are very interesting because they are so out of date, and it is always interesting to think about what is out of date in writing and wonder why. They are mostly about a situation which Mr. H. G. Wells was very fond of at one time, the situation where God, or St. Peter, or the archangel Gabriel, has some recently dead people up before him and asks them what they have to say for themselves and whether they should be damned or not, and whether they could not have done better if only they had had a little more ,patience and, above all, "understanding," and would they not like to go back and try again. The stories are related with great good humour, there is no sense at all in them of God, sin or suffering, and you would think that all that was needed to set the world right was a bit more • "understanding." Yes, that is what dates them—the idea that "understanding" each other makes people sit down together in love and kindness. Of course, we know only too well by now that it does nothing of the sort. This type of story is also fraught with fearful peril, for too easily by far the author identifies himself with God—" Oh you silly, silly little people, run away and be happy." Polished, urbane, humorous "you know "—and as extinct as the Dodo is this book.

STEVIE Srarrx.