Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Least of Maugham

From Stranger in Paris (orig. Christmas Holiday)

“The comic one was the English communist. My dear, she was the daughter of a dean. She’d been to Oxford and she’d taken her degree in economics. She was terribly genteel, oh, a perfect lady, but she looked upon promiscuous fornication as a sacred duty. Every time she went to bed with a comrade she felt she was helping the Cause. \Vc were to be good pals, fight the good fight together, shoulder to shoulder, and all that sort of thing. The dean gave her an allowance and we were to pool our resources, make my studio a Centre, have the comrades in to afternoon tea and discuss the burning questions of the day. I just told her a few home truths and that finished her.” 

He lit his pipe again, smiling to himself quietly, with that painful smile of his, as though he were enjoying a joke that hurt him. Charley had several things to say, but did not know how to put them so that they should not sound affected and so arouse Simon’s irony. 

“But is it your wish to cut human relations out of your life altogether?” he asked, uncertainly. 

“Altogether. I’ve got to be free. I daren’t let another person get a hold over me. That’s why I turned out the little sempstress. She was the most dangefous of the lot. She was gentle and affectionate. She had the meekness of the poor who have never dreamt that life can be other than hard. I could never have loved her, but I knew that her gratitude, her adoration, her desire to please, her innocent cheerfulness, were dangerous. I could see that she might easily become a habit of which I couldn’t break myself. Nothing in the world is so insidious as a woman’s flattery; our need for it is so enormous that we become her slave. I must be as impervious to flattery as I am indifferent 

to abuse. There’s nothing that binds one to a woman like the benefits one confers on her. She would have owed me everything, that girl, I should never have been able to escape from her.” 

“But, Simon, you have human passions like the rest of of us. You’re twenty-three.” 

“And my sexual desires are urgent? Less urgent than you imagine. When you work from twelve to sixteen hours a day and sleep on an average six, when you content your: self with one meal a day, much as it may surprise you, your desires are much attenuated. Paris is singularly well arranged for the satisfaction of the sexual instinct at moderate expense and with the least possible waste of time. ' and when I find that my appetite is interfering with my work I have a woman just as when I’m constipated I take a purge.” . 

Charley’s clear blue eyes twinkled with amusement and a charming smile parting his lips displayed his strong white teeth.' 

“Aren’t you missing a lot of fun? You know, one’s young for such a little while.” 

“I may be. I know one can do nothing in the world unless one’s single-minded. Chesterfield said the last word about sexual congress: the pleasure is momentary, the position is ridiculous, and the expense is damnable. It may be an instinct that one can’t suppress, but the man’s a pitiful fool who allows it to divert him from his chosen path. I’m not afraid of it any more. In a few more years I shall be entirely free from its temptation.” 

“Are you sure you can prevent yourself from falling in love one of these days? Such things do happen, you know, even to the most prudent men.” 

Simon gave him a strange, one might even have thought a hostile, look. 

“I should tear it out of my heart as I’d wrench out of my mouth a rotten tooth.” 

“That’s easier said than done.” 
“An awful lot of hokum is talked about love, you know. 
An importance is ascribed to it that is entirely at variance with fact. People talk as though it were self-evidently the greatest of human values. Nothing is less self-evident. Until Plato dressed his sentimental sensuality in a captivating literary form the ancient world laid no more stress on it than was sensible; the healthy realism of the Muslims has never looked upon it as anything but a physical need; it was Christianity, buttressing its emotional claims with neo-Platonism, that made it in the end an aim, the reason, the justification of life. But Christianity was the religion of slaves. It offered the weary and the heavy-laden heaven to compensate them in the future for their misery in this world and the Opiate of love to enable them to bear it in the present. And like every drug it enervated and destroyed those who became subject to it. For two thousand years it’s suffocated us. It’s weakened our wills and lessened our courage. In this modern world we live in we know that almost everything is more important to us than love, we know that only the soft and the stupid allow it to affect their actions, and yet we pay it a foolish lip-service.  In books, on the stage, in the pulpit, on the platform the same old sentimental rubbish is talked that was used to hoowi’nk the slaves of Alexandria.” 

“But, Simon, the slave pOpulation of the ancient world was just the proletariat of today.” 

Simon’s lips trembled with a smile and the look be fixed 


For a while his restless eyes were still, but though he looked at Charley his gaze seemed fixed on something the far distance. Charley did not know of what he thought, but he was conscious of a faint malaise. 

“It may be that the habit of two thousand years has made love a human necessity and in that case it must be taken into account. But if dope must be administered the best person to do so is surely not a dope-fiend. If love can be put to some useful purpose it can only be by someone who is himself immune to it.” ' 

“You don’t seem to want to tell me what end you expect to attain by denying yourself everything that makes life pleasant. I wonder if any end can be worth it.” 

“What have you been doing with yourself for the last year, Charley?” ' 

The sudden question seemed inconsequential, but he answered it with his usual modest frankness. 

“Nothing very much, I’m afraid. I’ve been going to the office pretty well every day; I’ve spent a certain amount of time on the Estate getting to know the properties and all that sort of thing: I’ve. played golf with father. He likes to get in a round two or three days a week. And I’ve kept up with my piano-playing. I’ve been to a good many concerts. I’ve seen most of the picture shows. I’ve been to the Opera a bit and seen a certain number of plays.” 

“You’ve had a thoroughly good time?” 

“Not bad. I’ve enjoyed myself.” 

“And what d’you expect to do next year?” 

“More or less the same, I should think.” 

“And the year after, and the year after that?” 

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