Theatre - W. Somerset Maugham

My first introduction to Maugham's work many years ago was with Of Human Bondage and I was so moved by this story of sexual obsession that although the details are fuzzy in my memory, the emotions evoked are still fresh in my mind. I think the ending had me crying for days. In a different way, The Razor's Edge proved itself to be a worthy classic and cemented in my opinion that Maugham is a supreme writer capable of bringing his characters to life with all the pain and passion that love can bring. I've read many times that the critics were not kind to his work citing his plain prose style and lack of a large vocabulary among some of his many literary failings. The reading public, however appreciated his work and to this day his books are still widely read and loved.

Theatre introduces us to Julia Lambert, the reigning queen of London stage who at the age of forty-six, after decades of always playing a part both on and off stage,starts to doubt herself as a person. Although adored by the theatre going public, she's been in a passionless yet highly successful marriage to a part-time actor, full-time theatre manager, Michael. To her one child, Roger, she's a distant mother who found the idea of having a child much more appealing than the reality of raising one.


After years of being virtuously faithful in her marriage, Julia finds herself totally enamored with a young man who sees his path to the society that he wishes to enter obtainable through her. Despite the difference in their ages, his attention is flattering and they begin an affair, so passionate that Julia finds herself looking and feeling 20 years younger until the time he rejects her, leaving Julia hurt, humiliated and at a loss. Is her sex appeal only on the stage? Can she be attractive to men as herself without the trappings of stage craft? Is she only bits and pieces of all the roles she has acted?

We are taken from the early days of the courtship between Michael and Julia, the beginnings of their long careers, their many successes and through Julia's eyes we see her act her way through life, her every studied gesture, every situation that arises becoming an opportunity to play a role, how real life and the make-believe world of the theatre are so intertwined as to become one and the same - reality blurred. Maugham took us behind the curtain, stripped away the glamour and revealed all the hard work and rehearsals required to be "natural" on stage.

I absolutely loved Julia with her total self absorption, her husband, son, friends, fellow cast members, and lover being only bit players to the grand act that she called her life. While not really connecting with others, she was never a snob and on the whole kind, loyal and generous to others but also capable of savage yet subtle revenge on those who she believes have wronged her. I loved this book, finding it impossible to put down, even re-reading several parts of it and would very happily have continued reading for another hundred or so pages...I didn't want it to end.! This book is one that is very easy to recommend to others who are interested in good literature.

Originally published on