The story of French post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin is one of the most remarkable tales of an artist that one can contemplate. It fired the imagination of W.S. Maugham to the extent that he wrote this fictionalized account of Gauguin's bizarre, sybaritic life. Although names and nationalities have been changed, there can be no doubt about the real identity of the principle character of this fascinating novel.Throughout his long life, Maugham was an interested observer of the creative impulse. But he did not attribute this prolific energy merely to the desire of the artist to produce art that satisfied common notions of aesthetic delight. Real artists of genuine ability and intellectual vigor are seldom driven by forces that most people can comprehend. It was this dichotomy between the ordinary and the driven that attracted Maugham. And it was in The Moon and Sixpence that Maugham showed how this tension plays itself out, and how it affects the lives of everyone associated with artists of genius who try to harness the creative demons that drive them.
In place of Paul Gauguin, Maugham presents us with Englishman Charles Strickland, who leads the life of a mundane London stockbroker. He has a wife and two lovely children and enjoys a settled life with the prospect of a prosperous retirement. However, Strickland throws it all over and abandons his family to become an artist in Paris. But that is only the beginning.
In a novel rich with the kind of characters and conversations that only Maugham could conjure up, we follow Strickland's path of hedonism and sheer creative verve as he moves from Paris to Marseilles to Tahiti, where the drama finally plays itself out on a lonely island paradise far from any contact with European civilization.
"[Maugham is] the modern writer who has influenced me the most." (George Orwell)
"An expert craftsman....His style is sharp, quick, subdued, casual."(New York Times)
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Maugham is an artist with his words