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The Gentleman in the Parlour: A Record of a Journey from Rangoon to Haiphong

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  312 ratings  ·  42 reviews
Best known for his novels and plays, Somerset Maugham also produced delightfully engaging and absorbing non-fiction, of which The Gentleman in the Parlour is a prime example. First published in 1935 it describes a journey the author took from Rangoon to Haipong. Whether by river to Mandalay, on horse through the mountains and forests of the Shan States to Bangkok, or ...more
Paperback, 300 pages
Published November 1st 1989 by Paragon House Publishers (first published January 1st 1930)
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W. Somerset Maugham writes here of his travels in Southeast Asia in 1922-1923. Not until 1930 was the book published. He mixes fact with fiction. He did travel from Burma through Thailand and Cambodia to present-day Vietnam, departing by ship to Hong Kong, but that he traveled with his partner Gerald Haxton is not once mentioned. Does this truly matter? I don’t think so. Many authors have left out such information before. Maugham does seem to honestly reveal what he saw and experienced, both the ...more
Mar 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maugham was not known as a travel writer, he wrote novels. But he did travel to exotic places, in an era when travel was grand and everyplace was exotic, and he wrote about it. This book is the story of several trips: One up the Irrawady river to Mandalay in Burma, then a trek across the Shan mountains into what was then Siam, after that down the Mekong to Saigon and up then up coast to Hue in Vietnam. I enjoyed reading it because I just got back from Burma and saw both the Irrawady and the Shan ...more
Aug 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The Gentleman in the Parlour by W. Somerset Maugham

A single man?

In 1922 William Somerset Maugham by then already a very successful playwright, short story teller and novelist. Makes a journey from London to Ceylon and onwards to Rangoon and Mandalay, by mule to Keng Tung in the Shan state of north east Burma, from where he continues to Bangkok, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and onwards to Saigon, Hue and Hanoi in Vietnam and finally to Hong Kong across the United States and finally back to London.

Jul 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: burma, se-asia
Reading Maugham's colorful descriptions of his travels in a small volume with yellowed pages easily lulled me back eighty years into the time he wrote which is so different from how one would go to SE Asia nowadays. Taking a break from writing fiction, he filled his journal with interesting stories of people he met along the way. I especially marveled at the former monk's recollection of collecting food in his begging bowl and the man who had to marry in a hurry in order to get a job. The beauty ...more
Patrick McCoy
Jan 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
W. Somerset Maugham's travel collection Gentleman In The Parlour (1930) is an uneven collection of stories from the author's trip through what was then Burma and Siam, ending in Haiphong, Vietnam. As Paul Theroux points out in the introduction, he wrote the book several yeas after the fact and wrote the story from the point of view of a solo traveler, even though he had a companion on that lengthy Asian journey. He does write about some of the local color, but he mostly focuses on cultural ...more
Thomas Barrett
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
I felt a bit sorry for Maugham here. The old boy doesn't really get much joy from any of the places he visits, and encounters several tragic and pathetic sorts of figures, who whilst he mocks, are really just a mirror of himself (maybe that was the point but I doubt it). I think his pompous prose is really overrated.
Julie Thomason
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I always enjoy his work and was delighted to find this book. Didn’t realise it was travel rather than a novel and found it a bit harder read though enjoyable and quite an insight to travelling between the wars. Would be interesting to try and cover his journey today.
Feb 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Agreed this is a book that will likely only be enjoyed by the uber-fan of Maugham. Essentially a travel diary filled with stories of Maugham's encounters with other Europeans along his travel route -- many of which become polished short stories at a later date. They are charming and insightful and witty, as one would expect, but sadly they are Anglocentric to the extreme. Maugham's world is one seen through thoroughly British eyes and his encounters with Asians are barely sketched in, something ...more
J. Joan
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read some of the more negative reviews with dismay, because I quite enjoyed this short little travelogue. I am a Maugham fan, absolutely adoring The Razors Edge, but not appreciating the Summing Up (perhaps because I hadn't read enough of his books yet). I love the story of Maugham and am intrigued by his time.

I moved from the US to Asia a few years ago and have been to some of the places Maugham describes in this book, and have yet to explore some of the others (namely Angkor Wat and Burma).
Jul 24, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
Having enjoyed The Painted Veil, set in China, I was expecting an interesting travel book, and was disappointed. I found the first section on his trip through colonial Burma annoying; Maugham came off as too bwana-ish for me. Thailand wasn't much better as he came off rather cranky. The (unfortunately shorter) sections on Cambodia and Vietnam were the highlight for me.
I had been unable to get through his autobiographical The Summing Up as too dense to be worth it, so ... I guess I'm just not a
Alison Smith
Dec 31, 2011 rated it liked it
Beautiful prose, gorgeous descriptions - how I wish I had travelled to Asia when Maugham did. Always a pleasure to read his Asian writings.
Paul Cornelius
On a Chinese Screen described Maugham's journey on the Yangtze to the Chinese interior. Shortly thereafter, in 1922, Maugham took another journey, travelling from Taunggyi in the Shan state of Burma to Kengtung and then into Siam, trekking from Lopburi to Ayutthaya and on into Bangkok. From there, he sailed to French Indochina, with stops at Angkor, Saigon, Hue, and, finally, Haiphong. This book, The Gentleman in the Parlour, was the result, although it was several years after the trip before it ...more
Brian Grover
Somerset Maugham was one of the most popular authors of the first half of the 20th century, and an interesting sounding guy to boot - trained as a physician, worked for British intelligence during WWI, traveled the world extensively. This "travelogue" describes his trekking through Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam in the 1920s. If you think that sounds interesting, sadly, you're in for some disappointment. He seems generally bored by his travels, and doesn't do much of interest - at one point he ...more
James Fountain
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully written travel book from a modernist master. Somerset Maugham devotes a great deal of his personality in guiding the reader through his fascinating travels through Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and finally on a boat from Haiphong to Hong Kong, introducing us to the wide range of characters which he meets on the way.
Anyone who has worked in, or visited and admired these countries as I have will find this a treat from start to finish, since Maugham adds to your knowledge of
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is one of the best travel books written at its time. Currently travelling through Southeast Asia (and being a fellow writer), I share many of the sentiments W. Somerset Maugham experienced. I am amazed about the timelessness of this novel even though so much has changed over the last 80 years since its publication. I'm so glad I found this in a Cambodian bookstore- it's a classic.
Timothy Leonard
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great travel book with vivid details of SEA in early 1900's.
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A marvelous work by Maugham. Even in something as pedestrian as one might think a travel book might be, his use of just the right phrase and his common sense humanity shine through.
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was in two minds about this one. At times he seemed to be merely reporting on his travels because he had been to exotic places and it would be wrong to waste the opportunity; yet at other times this book really sings, offering graphic descriptions and deep insights. Reading this book it is hard to imagine how much the world has changed (and changed for the better) in 100 years. The intro by Paul Theroux is excellent
Chapter four contains many instances of I; chapter five is problematic.
Sam Quixote
Aug 08, 2011 rated it liked it
On the face of it, it seems like a fine concept – one of the best writers in the world writing a travelogue of his journey across South East Asia in the early 20th century. But once I got into it, I was a bit disappointed with what was actually written inside.

Somerset Maugham is one of the finest writers I’ve ever read, “Of Human Bondage” is honestly one of the best novels I’ve ever read, more of the most memorable and soul wrenching stories ever set down on paper. His other works have been no
Apr 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book was a surprise.

Maugham's prose is perhaps his most finessed in this attempt at a travelogue. It is by no means as detailed nor sophisticated as Naipaul or moving as Mathiessen, but Maugham occasionally provides poignant insight into the human condition. Maugham himself deprecates his ability to write several times, claiming himself nothing compared to a poet. Yet he still attempts to find poetry in the people and places he visits. Sometimes it works, but other times, such as his visit
Streator Johnson
Jun 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Somerset Maugham is one of my favorite authors, so I was kind of looking forward to this book, but it wasn't nearly as great as I expected. However, I did find it fascinating. It is a travelogue of Mr. Maugham's solo trip from Rangoon to Hong Kong in 1920. Things were very different back then and his story of his trip traveling along as a privileged white English man captures a time, place and attitude that seems completely alien to my life. And the fact that Somerset seemed to know how strange ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: colonial
A rather humdrum account of mainland SE Asia in the early 20th C. Punctuated by occasional brilliantly insighful, yet tragic accounts of the lives of colonialists residing in foreign lands far from familiar environs. Maugham's expertise at narrating human drama is readily apparent even in his non-fiction work. Indeed, the people he met through his travels formed the basis for many of his short stories. Descriptions of scenery and surroundings are somewhat less memorable. Thankfully they are not ...more
Lee Anne
Jul 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who romanticize colonialism
Shelves: favorite-author
Probably for Maugham super-fans only, so that means I liked it. It's a travel memoir, and if you can imagine traveling through Burma (now Myanmar), Siam (Thailand), Vietnam, etc. by donkey and boat, then this is the book for you. Full of the usual Maugham stuff, of Englishmen in far-flung outposts of the empire, drinking and sweating and marrying the natives but still treating them as a lesser race.
Kealan O'ver
Brilliantly written as you'd expect from WSM but a bit plodding and uneventful.
He does however manage to perfectly capture a part of the world that is gone forever thanks to appalling conflict and awful politics.
vikram chandran
Apr 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding little gem of a book! A must-read for all those who enjoy travel writing and especially writing about the East. A very perspective book that is a perfect time capsule of Indo-China in the 1920s.
Nov 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: british-novels
This travelog reminds me of my own traveling - dealing briefly with the sights, while recounting the routine of travel, the people encountered and the details of a journey. Interesting to read about places he visited almost 100 years before we did.
Bham Amp
Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Uses a wonderful flowing language. The characters are a riot.

Oct 20, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Maugham's rather interesting, descriptive, and from another time travels across Asia. Beautiful prose.
Elsa Feiring
Apr 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
While this is definitely not my favorite Somerset Maugham's kind of ridiculous how much I love him.
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William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris in 1874. He spoke French even before he spoke a word of English, a fact to which some critics attribute the purity of his style.

His parents died early and, after an unhappy boyhood, which he recorded poignantly in Of Human Bondage, Maugham became a qualified physician. But writing was his true vocation. For ten years before his first success, he almost
“Pensei para mim que os homens são mais interessantes do que os livros, mas têm o defeito de não podermos saltar certos capítulos. Temos, no mínimo, de folhear o livro inteiro para encontrar uma página que valha a pena. E não podemos colocá-los numa estante e pegar neles quando nos apetece; é preciso lê-los quando a oportunidade se apresenta, à semelhança de um livro de uma biblioteca itinerante que é muito procurado, e temos de esperar a nossa vez para o ler e, quando o recebemos, não podemos ficar com ele mais de vinte e quatro horas. Podemos nem ter vontade de o ler naquele momento ou pode acontecer que, com a pressa, nos passe despercebida a única coisa que tinha para nos oferecer.” 2 likes
“He had the aloofness of manner you often find in those who have lived much alone in unfrequented places...they seem always to hold something back. They have a life in themselves that they keep apart...this hidden life is the only one that signifies to them. And no and then their eyes betray the weariness with the social round into which hazard or the fear of seeming odd has for a moment forced them. They seem then to long for the monotonous solitude of some place of their predilection where they can be once more alone with the reality they have found.” 1 likes
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